North Korea may be sitting on a $6 trillion resources stockpile

Chris McGrath/Getty ImagesKim Jong Un and Donald Trump impersonators pose for photographers.
  • Research from Credit Suisse suggests North Korea could become a $100 billion economy within 10 years if it opens its borders to foreign investment.
  • Industry experts have speculated the country may also be sitting on $US6 trillion in resources – 190 times its 2016 GDP .

Recent negotiations between North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump have provided a glimmer of hope for the hermit kingdom’s economic outlook.

Markets are now watching to see whether the North Korean leader follows through with his pledge to denuclearise. The next step will be policy reforms which will open North Korea’s economy to foreign investors.

Credit Suisse analyst Trang Thuy Le estimates North Korea could become a $US100 billion economy within 10 years if it takes a path towards modernisation.

Even it happens, a $US100 billion economy still comprises just 0.1% of today’s global GDP.

And Le cited another interesting fact about North Korea: some industry experts speculate that it may be sitting on a vast amount of untapped natural resources.

“South Korea’s state-owned mining company Korea Resources estimates that North Korea’s mineral reserves — coal, iron ore, zinc, lead, copper and rare minerals — could be worth in excess of $US6 trillion,” Le said.

That amounts to 190 times North Korea’s 2016 GDP of around $US32 billion.

“Mining already contributed 13% of 2016 GDP, but output has been constrained due to lack of buyers as a result of the recent economic sanctions as well as lack of investment in mining equipment and resources,” Le said.

To get a gauge on how North Korea’s growth projections would look if it opens its economy, Le compared it to three other countries that went through a similar moderinisation process.

“We take the experiences of South Korea in the 1970’s, China in the early 1990’s and Vietnam in the late 1990’s as guides to the potential for North Korean growth to rise,” she said.

Based on the experiences of those countries, Le said North Korea could generate real GDP growth of 7-8% per year in local currency terms.

At that rate, the economy would grow to around $US100 billion in size, which would see per capita income would rise from $US1,258 to around $US4,000.

Despite some positive overtones, Le added that a quick reunification with South Korea remains a highly unlikely prospect.

She cited the influence of China, which appears to want North Korea to remain as a buffer state and would probably rather avoid a land border with South Korea.

In addition, she said South Korea’s government appears to appreciate that a fast reunification would create a fiscal burden and cause significant disruption in South Korea’s labour market.

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