Want To Buy Stuff From North Korea? Fill Out An Application

North Korea isn’t a country where Americans are all that keen to shop, what with commerce with the country being officially banned. They also don’t make a lot of things that we want to buy. There are some, though, and prospective importers have to send a letter to the Treasury Department making their case.

Specifically, here’s what the federal government says about importing stuff from North Korea:

Pursuant to [Executive Order] 13570, goods, services, and technology from North Korea may not be imported into the United States, directly or indirectly, without a license from [the Office of Foreign Assets Control]. This broad prohibition applies to goods, services, and technology from North Korea that are used as components of finished products of, or substantially transformed in, a third country.

These letters are available if you’re resourceful and obsessed enough with North Korea to fill out a Freedom of Information request. The team over at Planet Money really is that interested on the economics of being a closed-off Communist society, and wanted to know what people are importing. So they asked for the letters, and got redacted versions.

The answer: jeans, beer, postage stamps, and shoes. Normal stuff. But normal stuff from North Korea.

The jeans are an interesting case, since North Koreans aren’t even allowed to wear jeans. Some entrepreneurs from Sweden hired workers in a special economic zone to make black denim pants that were, as far as North Korean authorities were concerned, totally not jeans. They’re still available…if you happen to be one of our European readers.

It’s obvious why stamp collectors would be interested in North Korean stamps: they’ve even made postage featuring people other than the Kim dynasty. Like the late Diana, Princess of Wales.

Episode 474: The North Korea Files [NPR]
North Korea Sanctions [Treasury Department]