Seoul and Washington want more stringent trade and financial sanctions to punish the North’s nuclear and missile adventures, but some question whether sanctions will ever meaningfully influence one of the least trade-dependent economies on the planet.
North Korea’s main exports to China, Pyongyang’s last major ally and by far its largest trading partner, include coal, minerals, clothing and textile, and foodstuff. Transactions with China accounted for more than 74 percent of North Korea’s trade in 2014.
The South’s Unification Ministry says the Kaesong Industrial Park has provided $560 million of cash to the North since its establishment in 2004.
Outside experts say that North Korea since the mid-2000s has been increasing the number of workers sent for contract labor overseas in an attempt to bring in more hard currency. South Korea’s government-funded Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency estimates that there are about 60,000 to 100,000 North Koreans working in 40 different countries.
Marzuki Darusman, a U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, said in a report last year that more than 50,000 North Korean are working overseas and earning the country something between $1.2 billion and $2.3 billion annually in foreign currency. North Korean workers overseas often face harsh working conditions and abuse, said the U.N. report.
And what of the North Korean economy? South Korea’s central bank has been publishing estimates of North Korea’s economy since 1991. In its latest report, it said it believes the North’s economy grew by 1 percent in 2014 to $28.5 billion, or about 2 percent of South Korea’s economy.
[The Times of India]