July 31 (UPI) -- North Korea's economy grew for the first time in three years in 2019 even as heavy sanctions took a toll on the country.
Bank of Korea data released Friday indicate key North Korean sectors contracted while others grew last year under changing circumstances, Yonhap reported.
North Korea's total gross domestic product grew 0.4% after years of negative growth. In 2016, GDP grew an estimated 3.9%, according to Seoul.
Pyongyang was hit with additional sanctions in 2017, when it launched intercontinental ballistic missiles and conducted its sixth nuclear test. That year the United Nations Security Council limited North Korea-bound exports of refined petroleum products. The Security Council also banned all North Korea coal exports.
The sanctions may have had an immediate impact, but no new U.N. sanctions after 2018 may have helped North Korean growth recover by 2019, a Bank of Korea official said.
The ban on North Korean coal exports did continue to hurt the industry last year, but the rate of contraction for the regime's mines slowed, from -12.3% to -0.9%, year on year, according to South Korea's central bank.
Construction and the service sector are taking up a larger share of North Korea industry. Construction's share rose to 9.7% from 8.9%, while the service sector's increased from 33% to 34.1%, the Bank of Korea said.
North Korea's nominal gross national income was also estimated to be about $30 billion, or 1.8% of South Korea's GNI. GNI per capita in North Korea is about $1,200, or about 3.8% of South Korea's, according to Seoul government data.
Economic development has been a top priority for Kim Jong Un, and land use policies may be changing as Pyongyang seeks investments.
South Korean news service NK Economy reported Friday North Korea could be exploring extending land use rights to foreign investors in special economic zones.
An article uploaded to the website of Kim Il Sung University called for guarantee of land use rights to "third parties," a definition that includes foreign investors, according to the report.