The following data come from sources outside the secretive communist state which publishes almost no information about the condition of its centrally planned economy.
SIZE OF ECONOMY
Annual gross domestic product in 2007 was just over $20 billion, a fall of 2.3 percent from the previous year due to the effects of widespread flooding, according to South Korea's central bank. However, a report commissioned by a former South Korean unification minister estimated it was less than half that.
HOW MUCH DO NORTH KOREANS HAVE
Estimates of per capita income range from $400 to $1,000. Whichever figure is true, the population of around 23 million is one of the world's most destitute. That compares to around $20,000 in capitalist South Korea, once the poorer of the two halves of the Korean peninsula. North Korea's economy has declined over the past two decades.
North Korea's state doctrine preaches self-reliance. But for years it has been unable to produce enough food for its people and relies heavily on foreign aid. Even in good harvests, it produces about 20 percent less than it needs. An estimated 1 million North Koreans perished during famine in the 1990s.
Last month, the U.N. World Food Programme estimated that North Korea would need some $500 million in food aid over the next year to avoid a humanitarian crisis.
WHO TRADES WITH NORTH KOREA AND WHAT CAN IT SELL?
Constantly running a trade deficit, North Korea offers cheap labour mostly for relatively low-skilled manufacturing industries, such as textiles. Its chief attraction, especially to neighbouring China, is its natural resources, especially coal and minerals.
Some sources, including the U.S. government, believe it bolsters its trade through the illicit exports of weaponry, drugs and counterfeit U.S. dollars.
Its biggest trade partner is China which, by one estimate, accounted for an estimated two-thirds of its total foreign trade last year. By contrast, in the first eight months of this year, Pyongyang accounted for just 0.12 percent of China's total foreign trade.
Of China's imports from the North, close to 60 percent were coal and minerals such as iron ore, zinc, lead, molybdenum and precious metals.
South Korea is Pyongyang's other main trade partner. The two operate an industrial park on the northern side of the border where manufacturers from the South use cheap local labour.
(Sources: Bank of Korea, Korea Institute for National Unification, the Unification Ministry, the U.S. Congressional Research Service, CIA Factbook, Reuters reports) (Reporting by Jonathan Thatcher, editing by Roger Crabb)
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
- For more humanitarian news and analysis, please visit https://www.trust.org/alertnet