The DPRK's principal exports include rice, pig iron, rolled steel, cement, machinery of various types, chemicals, magnetite, textiles, armaments, and gold. Imports include petroleum, coking coal, wheat, cotton, and machinery. A steep drop in the DPRK's trade earnings in the early 1990s was primarily a result of a policy shift by Russia and the CIS countries requiring trade to be denominated in hard currency at world prices, ending a previous goods exchange arrangement much more favorable to the DPRK situation. No published trade figures were available from the DPRK government as of 2003.
With the change in Russian-North Korean trade relations, China took the lead as the DPRK's largest trading partner in 1992, followed by Japan and Russia. Inter-Korean trade expanded particularly rapidly after 1988. By 1992, the ROK became the DPRK's fourth-largest trading partner, behind China, Japan, and Russia. Total trade between the two countries was reported to have reached $199 million, 90% of which consisted of exports from north to south. However, after tensions flared in the late 1990s, inter-Korean trade slowed.
As the the DPRK economy has deteriorated, smuggling activity across the Chinese border has increased. An estimated 100,000 people are involved in illegal trade across the border, which may be worth as much as $30 to $300 million per year.
Principal trading partners in 1998 (in millions of US dollars) were as follows:
|China (inc. Hong Kong)||83||425||-342|