How will Trump’s tariffs affect North Korea? Do tariffs mainly worsen the condition of the North Korean economy?

  • 9
    Uh, it’s not like there is a lot of trade happening between North Korea and the US …
    – chirlu
    Apr 20, 2018 at 10:18
  • 8
    NK is the target of international sanctions. US companies aren't even allowed to do business with it. Apr 20, 2018 at 10:36

1 Answer 1


It won't have any direct effect at all, because North Korea does not export anything to the United States. The new US import tariffs might at best have an indirect effect on the North Korean economy, but even that effect will likely be negligible.

My source is the import/export database Observatory of Economic Complexity, namely the following visualizations:

The US trade tariffs might hurt the Chinese economy which might then import less from North Korea. The most important export from North Korea is coal to China, which is used in steel production, and raw metals which are processed into metal products in China. So the North Korean economy has some dependency on the Chinese metal industry. But if we look at the Chinese exports of "metal mountings" (main "metals"-category export from China to US), the United States account for just 19% of the Chinese exports.

Worst case back-of-the-envelope calculation for North Korea:

  1. China loses 20% of its metal industry (very pessimistic - the tariffs won't reduce the Chinese steel exports to the US to zero and there is also a domestic market for metal products in China)
  2. China reduces its coal and ore imports by 20% (super pessimistic - there are other uses for coal than the steel industry. Also, China has a geopolitical interest in keeping North Korea alive, so they will likely rather buy less from someone else)
  3. North Korea loses 20% of its coal and metal exports to china, which is 12% of its overall exports to china and 10% of its exports worldwide. And that's the worst case based on the worst possible assumptions.

tl;dr: There are a lot of reasons why the relations between North Korea and the United States are bad, but the new trade tariffs aren't one of them.

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