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Foreign Trade in Figures

North Korea has one of the least open economies in the world. The government does not intend to create an economy that conforms to market laws. The country is not readily accessible for foreign trade. Strict and unfavorable regulations imposed by the Government create trade barriers. North Korea's economic relations are limited to its neighboring countries (China in particular, along Myanmar and Russia). The country's diplomatic isolation, which prevents it from developing economically, puts the nation at a great disadvantage. Nonetheless, its economic ties with China and Russia have deepened in recent years. According to figures from OEC, in 2022, North Korea’s main exports were tungsten ore (12.5%), refined petroleum (11.0%), ferroalloys (10.2%), electricity (8.2%), and molybdenum ore (5.5%); whereas imports were led by soybean oil (5.4%), rubber tires (4.9%), packaged medicaments (4.5%), light rubberized knitted fabric (3.7%), and rice (3.7%).

In terms of trade partners, the main exporting countries in 2022 were China (52.8%), Senegal (10.9%), Nigeria (5.6%), Poland (3.9%), and Netherlands (3.1%). Concerning imports, they came from China (98.4%), Zimbabwe (0.3%), Netherlands (0.3%), India (0.2%), and Colombia (0.2% - data OEC).

Since Resolution 2270 in 2016, the U.N. Security Council has enacted several resolutions to sanction critical sectors of North Korea’s global trade due to its escalated ballistic missile and nuclear weapons testing. These measures have progressively restricted North Korea’s lawful export revenues. According to WTO, in 2022, exports of merchandise totaled USD 123 million against USD 1.3 billion in imports. Despite the implementation of U.N. sanctions, North Korea's exports to China surged to USD 267 million through November 2023, surpassing the total for 2018. This figure marks a 133% increase compared to the same period in 2022. Monthly exports averaged nearly USD 27 million over the last six months, indicating a likely annual total of just under USD 300 million. While still below pre-sanction levels, North Korea has adapted its export strategy by diversifying its product mix. For instance, it shifted to exporting items like watch movements, tungsten, and molybdenum after sanctions restricted coal and seafood exports. Presently, a notable resurgence is driven primarily by exports of wigs, false beards, eyebrows, and lashes, constituting 57% of North Korea’s exports to China, totaling USD 151.8 million in 2023. Apart from wigs and related products, North Korea's significant exports, valued at over USD 10 million, include ferroalloys, tungsten, molybdenum, and electricity.

Foreign Trade Indicators 20192020202120222023
Imports of Goods (million USD) 2,9777746311,4302,726
Exports of Goods (million USD) 2809080160347

Source: WTO – World Trade Organisation ; World Bank - Latest available data.

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List of tariffs and local taxes that apply to your product on our service Customs Duties and Local Taxes


Trade Compliance

International Economic Cooperation
The country have signed a trade agreement with 21 other countries in the São Paulo Round of the Global System of Trade Preferences among Developing Countries (GSTP).
Useful Resources
National Organisation of Intellectual Property
Invention Office of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

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Latest Update: May 2024

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