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Bright Spots Seen in North Korea Economy

Bright Spots Seen  in North Korea Economy Bright Spots Seen  in North Korea Economy

North Korea’s economy remains a fraction of its southern neighbor’s, but it showed improvement last year in some sectors including agriculture—and more people than ever have mobile phones.

In a report published by South Korea’s statistics office Friday, per capita income in North Korea in 2016 was estimated at 1.46 million South Korean won ($1,340), or about 4.5% of that of the South. Total trade volume was less than 1% of South Korea, Bloomberg reported.

Data was compiled from both external and local organizations, with some of it coming from indirect estimates due to lack of information.

The situation might get worse as the effect of international sanctions over the isolated nation’s nuclear tests and missile launches take effect. The United Nations Security Council was meeting Friday to discuss additional punitive measures, after Japan announced its own unilateral sanctions. The report didn’t make projections for this year or next. Even so, resource-rich North Korea continued to outperform South Korea in terms of coal and iron ore production, with output rising by 13% and 7% respectively. Production volumes of both mineral are more than 10 times that in the South.

The number of mobile phone users in North Korea rose 11% in 2016 from a year earlier. That’s 14 for every 100 people, while in South Korea the figure was 123.

Amnesty International said last year that North Koreans caught using mobile phones to call families abroad risk being sent to political prison camps under an increasingly iron-fisted regime that is jamming devices and stepping up surveillance. Analysts say that mobile phones have the potential to empower North Korean citizens.

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