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North Korea

Record of Economic Performance

A lack of reliable data inhibits an accurate quantitative assessment of North Korea's economic performance. In mid-1993 North Korea remains one of the most secretive nations in the world, limiting the release of its economic data to the outside world and, for that matter, to its own population. Until about 1960, North Korea released economic data relatively more freely. Beginning in the 1960s, the publication of economic data began to dwindle dramatically; the withholding of information coincided with the beginning of the economy's slowdown.

The small amount of data that is published suffers from ambiguities and gaps and--more often than not--is in the form of percentages that do not provide base figures or explain the precise meaning of aggregated data. Moreover, North Korean macroeconomic aggregates such as national income, which is based on Marxist definitions, has to be modified in order to be comparable to customary Western standards. In the 1980s and early 1990s, only limited quantitative or qualitative information about the North Korean economy was available. Quantitative information on foreign trade is a welcome exception because the statistical returns from North Korea's trade partners are gathered by such international organizations as the United Nations (UN) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF--see Glossary), and South Korean organizations such as the National Unification Board.

Estimating gross national product (GNP--see Glossary) is a difficult task because of the dearth of economic data, the national income accounting procedures based on the Marxist definition of production, and the problem of choosing an appropriate rate of exchange for the wn (see Glossary)-- the nonconvertible North Korean currency. The South Korean government's estimate placed North Korea's GNP in 1991 at US$22.9 billion, or US$1,038 per capita. This estimate of economic accomplishment pales next to South Korea's GNP of US$237.9 billion with a per capita income of US$5,569 that same year. North Korea's GNP in 1991 showed a 5.2 percent decline over 1989, and preliminary indications were that the decline would continue. In contrast, South Korea's GNP grew by 9.3 percent and 8.4 percent, respectively, in 1990 and 1991.

Data as of June 1993