North Korea’s sanctions-hit economy last year defied the effects of international restrictions to grow for the first time in three years, the South Korean central bank said yesterday.
Pyongyang is highly secretive and refuses to publish growth statistics of its own, leaving outsiders reliant on estimates drawn up from other sources.
In Seoul, the Bank of Korea (BOK) said that North Korea’s GDP last year rose by 0.4 percent, after shrinking by 4.1 percent the previous year.
The 2018 figure represented the second consecutive contraction in the face of increasingly tough international sanctions over its banned weapons programs.
However, construction turned positive last year, the BOK said in a statement, as did the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector, while contraction in mining and manufacturing narrowed.
North Korea is banned from exporting coal, iron and lead under UN Security Council measures imposed in 2017, and their sales slumped in the following year, setting a low comparative base for the latest figures.
Trade in textiles, once a key export, is banned in both directions.
Nonetheless, total exports last year rose by 14.4 percent to US$280 million, with the biggest increases in clocks and watches, along with footwear, hats and wigs, the BOK said.
Under leader Kim Jong-un, North Korea has repeatedly promised to raise living standards and has quietly sought to liberalize its long-moribund economy to allow market forces to play a greater role.
However, it has not proclaimed widespread reforms, insisting that it is following the ideological path of Kim’s grandfather and father.
The country remains deeply impoverished, with about 40 percent of the population in need of food aid, UN estimates show.
North Korea’s economy is less than one-fiftieth the size of South Korea’s, which ranks 12th in the world, while the North’s gross national income per capita stands at about 1.4 million North Korean won (US$1,556), 26 times less than the South’s, the BOK said.
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