Where is this data from?

This data is compiled from country-by-country mirror trade data reported by the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA), the UN Comtrade database, and the ROK Ministry of Unification for inter-Korean trade. Data that is clearly erroneous has been excluded. When country data reported by KOTRA and Comtrade conflict, this collection gives precedence to the KOTRA figures in most instances. (While the Comtrade database includes a broader range of countries, the KOTRA database is more closely vetted.)

Trade from the Kaesong Industrial Zone is included in the inter-Korean trade data in this chart.

How reliable are these numbers?

At the country-by-country level, trade with North Korea is frequently misreported. Much of this misreporting appears to be caused by confusion of North and South Korea in trade statistics. This dataset excludes country-level data that is obviously flawed, such as when abnormally high trade data matches South Korea's general trade profile, rather than North Korea's. (For example, data indicating that a country has imported a high volume of mobile phones or automobiles from North Korea is likely misreported.) This type of misreporting occurs most frequently for North Korean trade with Africa, the Middle East, and South America. Additionally, there are other systemic problems with North Korea mirror trade statistics that this dataset does not attempt to correct for, such as unreported trade, differentials in import/export valuations due to shipping and insurance costs, Chinese re-exports to North Korea that are not attributed to their country of origin, etc... 

Accordingly, this data should be regarded only as a general estimate of North Korea's regional or country-level merchandise trade.

Who are North Korea's main trading partners, other than China?

For the past several years, inter-Korea trade taking place through the Kaesong Industrial Complex has accounted for a substantial share of reported North Korean trade, although the complex shut down in February 2016, and no inter-Korean trade (other than some private humanitarian aid and indirect trade through China) is currently being conducted. Recent major trading partners other than China and South Korea have been Russia, India, Thailand, Ukraine, Taiwan, Singapore, the Philippines, Pakistan, and Hong Kong. (In 2017, both Singapore and the Philippines prohibited all trade with North Korea.)

What are the trends in North Korea's trade with regions other than Northeast Asia?

Discerning trends in North Korea's regional and country-by-country trade patterns can be difficult due to the unreliability of country-level mirror trade statistics with North Korea and low baseline figures. However, it is clear that there has been a long-term decline in North Korean trade with Europe, which is now a fraction of what is was a decade ago. Reported North Korean trade with much of South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and the Western hemisphere has also declined considerably since 2015, with a particularly sharp drop coming with the onset of wide-ranging UN sanctions on North Korean commercial trade in 2017.