Trump's trade tweet on North Korea and China misses the mark

Trump's trade tweet on North Korea and China misses the mark
US President Donald Trump delivers a speech on June 7, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

President Donald Trump's latest Twitter broadside accused Chinese officials of boosting trade with North Korea as global leaders seek to boost pressure on Pyongyang to curb its nuclear ambitions.

But the latest trade data suggest that Trump's tweet missed its mark. In fact, Chinese trade flows with North Korea have been shrinking for the last three years.

A day after North Korea apparently tested a long-range missile that could extend the range of its nuclear threat, Trump chided Chinese officials for failing to restrict cross-border trade.

on Twitter

It's true that trade flows perked up in the first quarter of the year, with imports up 18 per cent and exports up 55 per cent, when valued in Chinese yuan. But that uptick followed a steady decline that has continued in the second quarter of this year.

In April, Chinese imports from North Korea fell below US$100 million (S$138 million), to the lowest level in nearly three years, Reuters reported.

According to the latest data available, China's imports of North Korean goods fell by more than 30 per cent in May from a year ago, after Beijing banned coal purchases from the neighbouring country, Reuters said.

China's customs department issued an official order on April 7 telling trading companies to return their North Korean coal cargoes, Reuters reported last month

By halting those coal shipments, China has hampered Pyongyang's effort to raise hard currency through the sale of one of the country's exports.

Despite the shrinking trade volumes, China remains North Korea's largest trading partner, by far, accounting for roughly 85 per cent of overall volume in 2015, according to data from the United Nation's Comtrade database.

Coal and other minerals accounted for more than 40 per cent of North Korea exports in 2015, followed by textiles (29 per cent), metals (7 per cent) and machinery (6 per cent)

North Korea's biggest imports included textiles, machinery, and raw materials including minerals, metals and plastics.

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