North Korea’s Top 10 Exports

North Korean flag (Wikimedia Commons)

Wikimedia Commons

Located in East Asia, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea shipped US$2.9 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2016. That dollar amount represents a 91.7% uptick since 2009 when the Great Recession kicked in but a -6.6% decline from 2015 to 2016.

North Korea’s top 10 exports are highly concentrated accounting for 87.9% of the overall value of its global shipments.

Based on statistics from the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, North Korea’s total Gross Domestic Product amounted to an estimated $40 billion in 2014 (on a purchasing power parity basis). Therefore, exports represent roughly 7.2% of total North Korean economic output.

From a continental perspective, 96.2% of North Korean exports by value were delivered to other Asian countries. A much smaller 1.5% was sold to European importers. North Korea shipped another 1.1% worth of goods to Africa with 1% going to Latin America (excluding Mexico) and the Caribbean. North America bought a mere 0.2% of North Korean exports.

Given North Korea’s population of 25.1 million people, its total $2.9 billion in 2016 exports translates to roughly $120 for every resident in that country.

Trading Economics projects that North Korea’s unemployment rate was an estimated 4.2% as of April 2017.

North Korea’s Top 10 Exports

Top 10

The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in North Korean global shipments during 2016. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from North Korea.

At the more granular four-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level, North Korea’s number 1 exported product is coal followed by clothing then molluscs including scallops, cuttle fish and octopuses.

  1. Mineral fuels including oil: US$1.2 billion (43% of total exports)
  2. Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $500 million (17.5%)
  3. Ores, slag, ash: $226.7 million (7.9%)
  4. Fish: $196.3 million (6.9%)
  5. Knit or crochet clothing, accessories: $94 million (3.3%)
  6. Electrical machinery, equipment: $69.9 million (2.4%)
  7. Iron, steel: $60.9 million (2.1%)
  8. Fruits, nuts: $51 million (1.8%)
  9. Machinery including computers: $45.2 million (1.6%)
  10. Zinc: $41.1 million (1.4%)

Knit or crochet clothing or accessories was the fastest-growing among the top 10 export categories, up by 855.5% for the 7-year period starting in 2009.

In second place for improving export sales were mineral fuels including oil up by 309.6% led by coal.

North Korea’s unknit and non-crocheted clothing or accessories posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 291.1%.

The leading decliner among the top 10 North Korean export categories was machinery including computers down by -63.5%.


The following types of North Korean product shipments represent positive net exports or a trade balance surplus. Investopedia defines net exports as the value of a country’s total exports minus the value of its total imports.

In a nutshell, net exports is the amount by which foreign spending on a home country’s goods or services exceeds or lags the home country’s spending on foreign goods or services.

  1. Mineral fuels including oil: US$1 billion (Down by -324.8% since 2009)
  2. Clothing, accessories (not knit or crochet): $449.1 million (Up by 353.8%)
  3. Ores, slag, ash: $220.1 million (Up by 1,585%)
  4. Fish: $117.3 million (Up by 335.1%)
  5. Zinc: $39.3 million (Up by 125.8%)
  6. Ships, boats: $26 million (Up by 2,623%)
  7. Salt, sulphur, stone, cement: $18.2 million (Down by -48.7%)
  8. Oil seeds: $9.8 million (Down by -250.8%)
  9. Copper: $6.2 million (Down by -134.3%)
  10. Gems, precious metals: $4.9 million (Down by -67.2%)

North Korea has highly positive net exports in the international trade of coal. In turn, these cashflows indicate North Korea’s strong competitive advantages under the mineral fuels including oil category.


Overall, North Korea incurred a -$344.8 million trade deficit for 2016 down by -77.1% from the -$1.5 billion deficit during 2009.

Below are exports from North Korea that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country North Korea’s goods trail North Korean importer spending on foreign products.

  1. Vehicles : -US$240.2 million (Up by 196.7% since 2009)
  2. Electrical machinery, equipment: -$239.5 million (Up by 251%)
  3. Machinery including computers: -$215.4 million (Up by 192.1%)
  4. Plastics, plastic articles: -$177.9 million (Up by 611.9%)
  5. Manmade filaments: -$177.7 million (Up by 190.9%)
  6. Rubber, rubber articles: -$81 million (Up by 498.8%)
  7. Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: -$80.8 million (Up by 85.1%)
  8. Knit or crochet fabric: -$78.7 million (Up by 225.2%)
  9. Manmade staple fibers: -$69.4 million (Up by 128.7%)
  10. Paper, paper items: -$63.2 million (Up by 116.6%)

North Korea has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits under the vehicles category, particularly trucks.


North Korean Export Companies

Not one North Korean corporation ranks among Forbes Global 2000 for 2016.

According to global trading e-commerce platform Alibaba, the following are examples of exports-related companies from North Korea.

  • Korea Ryonghung Trading Corporation (anthracite coal, lead)
  • Kim’s Enterprise & Supplying Co. Ltd (construction machinery)
  • Pishon Technology (LCD panels)
  • Elpis Corporation (engine oil)
  • KQ Earphone (earphones, headphones)
  • Groon Co. Ltd (metal scrap including electronics scrap)
  • Hai Dan (cosmetics)

North Korea’s capital city is Pyongyang.

Please note that the results listed above are at the 2-digit Harmonized Tariff System code level.

See also North Korea’s Top Trading Partners, Highest Value North Korean Export Products and Capital Facts for Pyongyang, North Korea

Research Sources:
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on April 28, 2017

The World Factbook, Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on April 28, 2017

Trade Map, International Trade Centre. Accessed on April 28, 2017

Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on April 28, 2017

Wikipedia, List of Companies of North Korea. Accessed on April 28, 2017

Forbes 2016 Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on April 28, 2017