April 19, 2019 10:15
The North Korean regime believes imports are "urgently needed" to stem a potential food crisis in the renegade country, according to a leaked document.
The country's grain production fell about 10 percent last year, according to the North Korean Foreign Ministry memo obtained by NK News last week, and there is an "urgent need" for imports and a plan to increase production.
Last month, North Korea's Ambassador to the UN Kim Song sent a letter to international agencies pleading for food assistance. By some estimates the North's remaining foreign currency, oil and food reserves will not last a year.
"The North's economy shrank 3.5 percent in 2017 and five percent in 2018 and will likely shrink even further this year," said Cho Han-bum at the Korea Institute for National Unification. "It seems that they're trying to stock up food to hold out until late this year."
But there are no signs yet of a massive famine, and grain prices seem stable in the North's open-air markets.
Kwon Tae-jin of GS & J Institute, an expert on North Korean agriculture, said, "Food prices are probably stable only because people's overall purchasing power has declined as a result of international sanctions," so traders cannot hike prices.
Meanwhile, the Unification Ministry here on Thursday said Seoul will cooperate with Pyongyang to prevent African swine fever, which is raging through China, Vietnam and Mongolia, from spreading to South Korea.
But it has not been confirmed whether the disease has broken out in the North. ASF is a highly contagious viral disease that kills nearly 100 percent of the pigs it affects.
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