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N. Korea's food imports from China more than triple in January: expert

All Headlines 14:27 March 12, 2010

SEOUL, March 12 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's food imports from China more than tripled in January from a year earlier, an indication the impoverished nation is bracing for serious food shortages, an agricultural expert said Friday.

North Korea brought in 13,834 tons of grain from the neighboring ally in January, a 3.6-fold increase from 3,869 tons in January last year, said Kwon Tae-jin, a senior researcher on the North's agricultural sector at the South's Korea Rural Economic Institute in a posting on his blog.

Rice accounted for about 61 percent or 8,425 tons of the North's grain import from China, followed by corn with 3,448 tons, beans with 1,553 tons and wheat with 304 tons, Kwon said, citing data from the Korea International Trade Association.

"The big rise in imports of corn and beans, which the North didn't bring in last year, appears to be not only because corn harvests were not good, but it also suggests the North increased imports over concerns about possible food shortages," he said.

Kwon also said that the North's regime could have increased imports to enlarge state food rations after last year's currency reform caused strains on the country's food supply system.

North Korea has relied on foreign handouts to feed its 24 million population after natural disasters and mismanagement devastated its economy. The situation worsened in recent years as South Korea halted regular food aid to the North after President Lee Myung-bak took office in early 2008 under a policy to link aid to Pyongyang's process in ending its nuclear weapons programs.

Deepening Pyongyang's economic woes were U.N. sanctions imposed for the North's nuclear test last year.

The U.N. food agency, Food and Agriculture Organization, said early this month that the North is expected to be short of about 1-1.2 million tons of food this year.

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