China-North Korea trade soars but still falls short of pre-Covid levels
Trade between China and North Korea in January and February increased forty-fold compared to the same period last year, according to Chinese customs, pointing to the partial restoration of overland commerce after the North reopened rail links early this year.
Data released by the Chinese General Administration of Customs showed trade between North Korea and China increased 40.7 times from $3.27 million in January and February last year to $136.5 million for the same time frame this year.
Chinese exports to North Korea accounted for approximately $116.3 million of trade in the first two months of the year, while North Korea exported $19.96 million worth of goods in the same period.
According to the Chinese customs bureau, Chinese exports to the North were mostly comprised of essential foodstuffs, such as soybean oil and flour, and other necessities such as construction materials, pharmaceuticals and agricultural-purpose chemicals.
According to Radio Free Asia, soybean oil purchases by the North were worth $7.73 million, while pharmaceuticals comprised $10.5 million.
In February alone, construction materials accounted for the largest portion of North Korea's total imports at $8.28 million. The North also imported chemical fertilizer ammonium sulfate worth $1.96 million and herbicides worth $3.17 million.
The renewed trade shows the impact of the reopening on the rail freight route between the two countries.
Overland trade between China and the North plummeted in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the first outbreak of which was reported in Wuhan, China.
The North sealed its borders in response to the pandemic in January 2020, and bilateral trade plunged nearly 90 percent in 2021 from 2019.
China is North Korea's closest and most influential ally in economic terms, accounting for more than 90 percent of its trade.
Limited trade between the North and China continued, but the North allowed imports only by sea from early 2021 until January this year, when it restarted rail freight operations between Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province, and the Chinese border city of Dandong.
However, the recent customs figures show that trade between the two countries has recovered only about 50 percent of pre-coronavirus pandemic levels.
With the 110th anniversary of deceased North Korean leader Kim Il Sung's birthday and the rice planting season approaching, trade between the two countries is expected to expand.
However, the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 in China could throw a wrench in North Korea’s attempts to open up trade after an almost 2-year-long self-imposed blockade.
Although the North has officially reported zero Covid-19 cases since the pandemic began, China currently faces its largest outbreak of Covid-19 since the first outbreak was reported in Wuhan more than two years ago, with many of the 32,000 cases reported across the country in recent weeks being of the highly contagious Omicron variant.
Of the 4,000 new cases reported in the country over the weekend, more than two-thirds were in Jilin Province, which borders North Korea and Russia.
Jilin, the second-biggest city in Jilin Province, has locked down about 4.5 million inhabitants for three days starting on Monday night.
The provincial capital Changchun has been under strict anti-virus measures since March 11, with its 9 million residents allowed out only once every two days to buy food.
BY MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]