N. Korea's trade growth with China slows sharply in 2012

SEOUL (REUTERS) - North Korea's trade with its biggest ally and business partner China barely grew in 2012 compared to a year earlier as growth in the world's second-biggest economy slowed, according to South Korean calculations.

Trade between the two countries rose an annual 5.4 per cent in 2012 to a total of US$5.93 billion (S$7.4 billion), compared with 62.4 per cent growth in 2011, according to a report released on Thursday by the Korea International Trade Association (KITA).

North Korea does not release any economic statistics.

The trade body said the fall was due lower global prices for coal and steel - the of the two main resources China imports from North Korea - and due to weaker demand as China's economy grew just 7.8 per cent in 2012, its weakest level since 1999, the report said.

North Korean exports to China stood at US$2.48 billion in 2012, up just 0.8 per cent from a year earlier, the South Korean data showed.

Imports from China rose 8.9 percent in 2012 year-on-year to US$3.45 billion, compared to a 38.9 per cent rise in the previous year. China had a $960 million trade surplus as a result in 2012.

Despite last year's slowing, KITA said it expects trade to pick up soon as economic cooperation in border cities between North Korea and China were on the rise, with North Korea opening up some for outside investment.

Trade between the two Koreas in 2012 stood at just US$1.98 billion, or about a third of that between China and North Korea.

The impoverished North is a miniscule trading partner for South Korea, an industrial giant that exports around US$45 billion a month.

"North Korea's economic reliance on China is expected to become heavier in the future, with the gap between bilateral trade with South Korea and China growing wider," the association said.

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