Korea Summit Press Pool via Reuters
- North Korea's economy saw its sharpest decline in two decades last year.
- The United Nations tightened sanctions against the country in August.
- The sanctions look poised to remain in place until North Korea makes moves toward denuclearization.
The North Korean economy saw its steepest decline in 20 years in 2017, according to South Korea's central bank, as the isolated country faces mounting sanctions.
Real gross domestic product in North Korea fell by 3.5% last year, the Bank of Korea said in a statement Friday, the largest decline since 1997 when the country suffered a devastating famine. North Korea doesn't independently publish figures on economic growth.
Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, an associate at the Foreign Policy Research Institute who tracks the North Korean economy, said increasing economic penalties seemed to be the main cause of the decline.
"The difference was in the fall of 2017 when China started to enforce some of these sanctions in a much more stringent way than they had in the past," Silberstein said.
The United Nations Security Council tightened sanctions on North Korea in August in efforts to contain its nuclear weapons and ballistic-missile program, appearing to remove some exceptions for penalties that might cause "adverse humanitarian consequence."
The Security Council agreement led China, North Korea's largest trade partner, to ban imports of key goods from the country including iron and lead. It had earlier blocked imports of coal, North Korea's largest export product.
The central bank data showed mining output subsequently fell 11%, mainly due to a dropoff in coal production. Total exports in the country plunged by a staggering 37.2%, while imports rose by 1.8%.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has traveled to North Korea for discussions several times this year, reiterated on Friday that "strict enforcement of sanctions" should remain until the country denuclearizes.
There is no evidence North Korea has made any concrete moves toward dismantling its nuclear weapons program so far. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un signed an agreement at a summit in June that said Pyongyang will "work toward complete denuclearization," but it did not provide details on when or how this might happen.
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