North Korea's Demand for Chinese Corn Soars 4,600 Percent

  • North Korea was biggest market for Chinese corn shipments
  • China is North Korea’s biggest trading partner, supplies food

China’s shipments of corn and wheat to North Korea surged as the nation in the center of a global nuclear standoff struggled with drought at home.

Corn exports increased 4,586 percent in August from a year earlier to 14,057 metric tons, accounting for 97 percent of the total, according to customs data published on Tuesday. Wheat shipments climbed 5,405 percent from a year earlier to 6,001 tons, making North Korea the biggest buyer after Hong Kong, according to the data.

The volumes compared with 21,006 tons of corn and 2,382 tons of wheat in July. North Korean demand for corn imports more typically peaks in September, seasonality analysis shows.

China is North Korea’s biggest trading partner, supplying it with about 90 percent of its energy and much of its food. Tensions have escalated in recent months as North Korea accelerated its nuclear program, fired missiles over Japan and threatened the U.S. territory of Guam. The United Nations and the U.S. have imposed economic sanctions.

The UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization warned in July that North Korea’s crop production could be severely damaged by prolonged dry weather. Rain in the first half of the month was generally too late to allow normal planting and development of this year’s main-season crops to be harvested in October to November, it said.

Chinese customs data also showed rice shipments to North Korea rose 15 percent in August from a year earlier to 7,399 tons. Exports were 10,476 tons in July. Total exports from China to North Korea rose 25.3 percent in the year to August compared with the same period in 2016, to $2.28 billion.

— With assistance by Shuping Niu, Eric Tang, Xin Li, and Lawrence Lam

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