On November 23rd, Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper released a report in which it claimed that Choco-Pies, the snack food offered to workers in the Kaesong Industrial Complex by South Korean enterprises, are being sold for as much as $10 in the market.
The Daily Telegraph article explained, “The chocolate-coated biscuit and marshmallow snacks are made by Orion Confectionery in South Korea, where they sell for around 300 won (16p) each, but are a much sought-after luxury in the impoverished North. On the black market, according to the Asahi newspaper, single Choco-Pies are reportedly changing hands for as much as $10 (£6.40).”
However, while Choco-Pies are indeed a popular product in North Korea, the Telegraph claim is an exaggeration. In North Korea, one US Dollar currently trades on the black market for around 3,800 won, making it only marginally more expensive than a kilo of rice at the time of writing. Therefore, if one Choco-Pie were selling for $10, then that would be the equivalent of 38,000 won, or enough to buy 10kg of rice.
The reality is slightly different. One official with an enterprise operating in the complex recently explained to Daily NK, “The Shin Ramyun (instant noodles) that the workers take with them is sold in the jangmadang for the price of a kilo of rice. It is not only Shin Ramyun, though; Choco-Pies are also very popular with the workers.”
In reality, sources say that among those South Korean snacks that leak into the markets of North Korea from the Kaesong Industrial Complex, Shin Ramyun fetches $1 (3,800 North Korean won) and Choco-Pies actually sell for around 80 cents (around 3,000 won), while mixed coffee sachets are somewhat cheaper than both.
It is worth noting also that of the official wages paid to North Korean workers in the Kaesong Complex, approximately $100 per month, take-home pay is actually only around 30% of that due to deductions taken by the North Korean state under various pretexts.