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North Korea imports of Chinese grain soaring, data show

By Elizabeth Shim
North Korea imports of Chinese grain soaring, data show
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. Pyongyang has emphasized self-sufficiency in agriculture, but the country has been increasing imports of grain from China. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

SEOUL, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- North Korea's imports of grain from China are soaring, doubling in November from a year ago.

It could be an indication the country cannot keep up with domestic demand despite an official policy of self-sufficient agriculture.

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According to Korea International Trade Association, a South Korean government agency, an analysis of Chinese customs data shows North Korea imported 3,400 tons of grain last month, Voice of America reported Wednesday.

That amount is about $1.62 million worth of food, according to the report.

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In November 2015, North Korea imported 1,742 tons of grain, or about half the volume of commodities Pyongyang recently shipped across the China border.

Imported grains include rice, flour, corn, starch and beans.

Rice topped the list of imports. In November, North Korea imported 1,863 tons, or more than three times the volume of the same period last year.

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Imports of rice have fluctuated month to month. In September, rice accounted for 16,000 tons of imported food, an unusually high volume that surpassed total rice imports from January to August.

In November, a South Korean analyst said the value of the imported rice in September is about $990,000.

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On Wednesday, Voice of America reported total grain imports from January to November was 48,805 tons, up 9 percent from the same time period in 2015.

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But South Korea's unification ministry stated the high volume of grain imports is not unusual.

Unification ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-hee told reporters North Korea "has previously imported as much as 100,000-200,000 tons of grains" annually.

Jeong said Wednesday the more important change is the recent increase in fertilizer imports.

North Korea shipped in 158,000 tons of fertilizer from China January to November, twice the amount it imported in 2015, according to VOA.

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