Money On The Mine: North Korea’s Overlooked Economic Growth Potential

Unlike South Korea, North Korea boasts vast mineral wealth; experts estimate that there is over 6 trillion dollars worth of minerals, including magnesite, zinc, tungsten, iron, coal, copper, and limestone, to list a few. There is also rumored to exist a highly concentrated supply of rare earth metals, materials that are foundational for advancement in technology because of their use in lightweight semi-conductors (you can find these in your smartphone, for example). Despite these geographical blessings, mining accounts for only 14% of the North Korean economy.
Currently, the PRC holds a near global monopoly over semiconductor supply, and domestic production generally originates from the Inner Mongolia province. Mining these commodities is challenging due its electric and heavy machinery costs (which granted, North Korea cannot address). Mining is also heavy in environmental cost, which puts strain and scrutiny upon developed nations. As a clever remedy, the PRC heavily invests in foreign rare metal mines, which not only lowers domestic environmental costs but also increases their overall metal supply.

If international sanctions were to be lifted, North Korea’s undeveloped mining industry would stand out as one of the most potentially lucrative investments in the region. That’s not all, however; the technology sector is just one of the many industries that North Korea, given adequate investments and ripe consumer base, could utilize. North Korea’s economy and its potential for growth continue to be dramatically overlooked.
China accounts for over 80% of North Korea’s imports and exports — constituting the majority of its financial interaction with the global community. Despite this, North Korean products do, indeed, end up in the rest of the world. Cheap North Korean labor costs attract bordering Chinese companies to outsource their textiles to the sheltered country, where finished products are re-imported into China for distribution. The fishing industry, as well, is a substantial export to neighboring China — where the products are then, following the now-common narrative, redistributed domestically and internationally.

Heavy sanctions stunt the growth of the North Korean economy, but with communication increasing between North Korea and the international community, North Korean economic growth opportunity could very much be foundational in a unified Korea’s Korean Dream.