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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 unfavourable regulations imposed by the Government create trade barriers. North Korea's economic relations are limited to its neighbouring 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 the recent years, along with Senegal with refined petroleum (20.7% of all exports), Ferroalloys (14.2%) and Electricity (9.39%) being the main items exported. In 2021 North Korea imported mainly essential goods, such as molluscs (51.6% of all imports) and non-fillet frozen fish(42.3%). Although North Korean exports bounced back by 30% in 2019, they were still almost five times lower than their level in 2017, prior to the UN Security Council vote to impose sanctions to significantly reduce trade with the country. During the pandemic, exports to China fell by 72% in the first half of 2020, whereas imports dropped by 67% in the same period.

The government spends massive amounts of money on military activities. Despite a national policy of self-sufficiency, the country imports much more than it exports, which results in a sizable trade deficit. Each year North Korea has to import large quantities of grain to compensate for the lack of domestic production.

While there is no complete set of statistics on North Korea's foreign trade, trade trends with China are particularly revealing. China is basically the country's only supplier, representing 95.9% of imports in 2021, and its primary market, taking 31.2% of exports, ahead of Nigeria with 20.4% and Poland with 5.48% (OEC, 2023).

In 2021, North Korea exported a total of 181 million USD and imported 271 million USD. It is also important to highlight that all publicly available statistics exclude trade in services, illicit activities, informal border trade as well as re-exports from third countries to North Korea via China.

Foreign Trade Indicators 20182019202020212022
Imports of Goods (million USD) 2,6212,9777746311,341
Exports of Goods (million USD) 2512809080123

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

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To go further, check out our service Import Controls and Export Controls

To go further, check out our service Import Export Flows


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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: November 2023

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