North Koreans work in the fields near the North Korean city Sinuiju, across the Yalu River from Dandong, China's largest border city with North Korea. North Korea drastically reduced grain imports from China in 2015. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo
SEOUL, Dec. 1 (UPI) -- North Korea drastically reduced grain imports from China in 2015, and a South Korean analyst said the decrease is a sign North Korea's food situation could be improving.
Kwon Tae-jin, director of East Asia research at GS&J Institute in South Korea, said grain imports were down 71 percent between January and October 2015, Voice of America reported.
South Korean newspaper Segye Ilbo reported Kwon used data from China's customs authorities – which indicated imports of Chinese corn, rice, flour and soybeans had fallen to 42,000 tons, down from 144,000 tons in 2014.
Soybeans, or legumes, were the only category of grain imports that did not register a decrease, tripling in volume to 5,640 tons in 2015. Wheat flour imports dropped 80 percent, but it was unclear why some imports were more in demand than others.
The value of total grain imports was down 72 percent from the prior year, to $2.04 million, according to Kwon.
Imports of fertilizer used to grow crops also were down 41 percent between January and October, a trend that shadowed overall China-North Korea trade and investment activities, which have declined for two consecutive years, VOA reported.
China is North Korea's No. 1 trading partner, but Pyongyang has been working to move away from economic dependency.
Kwon said that inside North Korea grain prices are very stable, and the food supply situation is not bad, judging by the numbers.
"This year [North Korea] did not need to import much grain, or receive a lot of support from the international community, in order to stabilize food prices," Kwon said.
The South Korean analyst said the stable prices could be a sign the North Korean market has confidence in the regime in Pyongyang. The drop in demand for imported grain also indicates the supply situation is quite stable in North Korea.
Kwon said that North Korea's dry spell in 2015 could have had a negative impact on the country's harvest, but overall the situation is "probably not as dire as many fear."
The researcher said the market also prices in future uncertainty into grain value, and stable prices indicate buyers are less concerned about future scarcity.