NORTH KOREA'S '94 TRADE FELL, JAPAN SAYS

NORTH KOREA'S '94 TRADE FELL, JAPAN SAYS

North Korea's 1994 foreign trade shrank by 15.5 percent from the previous year, with a sharp decline in imports suggesting hard currency shortages in the communist state, a Japanese state agency reported on Thursday.

The Japan External Trade Organisation (Jetro) said North Korea's 1994 trade totaled US$2.23 billion on a customs-cleared basis.Exports were $979 million, down 3.5 percent from 1993, while imports fell a drastic 22.9 percent to $1.25 billion, the Jetro's annual North Korean trade survey said.

Trade with China, North Korea's largest trade partner, totaled $648 million, a drop of 30.5 percent.

Japan was Pyongyang's second largest trade partner with two-way trade of $481 million. South Korea was third largest with two-way trade of $180 million, replacing Russia, which fell to seventh among the 50 countries in the survey, Jetro said.

North Korea's economy and trade relations are thought to have deteriorated sharply since the early 1990s, when former allies Russia and China began demanding hard currency and world prices in their transactions with North Korea.

"Although we don't have an accurate grasp of Pyongyang's foreign reserves, the decline in imports is seen as an indication of foreign currency shortages," said a Jetro official.

The North Korean economy as a whole has experienced negative annual growth in recent years.