Products manufactured at the inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial
Complex [KIC], evident of their growing popularity, are said to fetch more than
triple the price of China-produced goods in North Korean markets.
Also, the much loved South Korean Choco Pie snack that
previously sold for exorbitant prices in the North’s markets have taken a
tumble, now lagging behind the popularity of bread made in the North, Daily
NK’s source reported.
A source based in North Pyongan Province reported to Daily
NK on September 22nd, “A new snack that closely resembles the taste of the
Choco Pie from the South has been introduced in Pyongyang, and it has overtaken
the chocolate-covered treat. But when it comes to KIC-produced goods, there is
no match, leaving them in the top tier.”
He further elaborated, “These days, there are all kinds of
goods in the markets,” adding that “no matter what kind of foreign products
come in, they cannot beat KIC goods, which sell out due to high demand.” In
North Korean markets, goods from South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, and
elsewhere are brought in either through official or illicit trade routes. The
products are then sorted by quality into “good, average, and poor” with
“With the KIC now back in full operation, products are
spilling into the markets,” he explained. “The goods produced there are not
found in the Kaesong markets but areas such as Sinuiju [near the northwestern
border] and Pyongsong [located an hour North of Pyongyang].”
Merchandise from the joint complex, such as clothes, shoes,
and other mass-produced goods, sell for much higher prices compared to those
from China, because not only are they new in the market, they are also
considered scarce. The hefty price tag is believed to include a premium for the
risk of smuggling the goods out of the heavily guarded industrial park and the
bribes required to gain entry.
The items most popular with men are hiking boots, especially
those made with special materials to withstand cuts from sharp objects like
knives, and pants. Women, on the other hand, prefer goods for around the home,
such as high-quality and sanitary cutting boards, the source told Daily NK.
“Top-quality pants from China in the Pyongsong market sell
for a rather high price of roughly $10 USD, but KIC products sell for $30 USD,”
he said. “Although Chinese products use the best material they have, there’s a
big difference in the quality and degree of processing,” justifying why those
who have used KIC-produced goods will invariably opt for them again, even if it
means they need to pay more.
Authorities in the North try to keep a tight lid on goods
from KIC trickling into the black market in an effort to prevent people from
longing about life in the South. According to the source, this is why sellers
or buyers refrain from using the word “Kaesong” and simply say, “Do you have
goods from the Complex? Complex pants, or Complex shoes?”
While KIC products fetch good prices, the once popular South
Korean snack Choco Pie is seeing a decline in its asking price. In June,
Pyongyang demanded that South Korean companies at the industrial complex stop
distributing Choco Pies to workers there, as officials had found it problematic
that North Korean workers were saving the snacks and selling them in the
markets. More recently, the northern workers have been receiving Chaltteok Pie
[a chocolate covered rice cake from the South], individually packaged coffee,
yulmucha [grainy tea made with Job’s Tears], and candy bars.
“In Pyongyang, at the ‘Geumeunsan Trade Company,’ they have
been baking bread for about a year,” the source said, adding, “Of all the
different kinds of bread, the most popular are the ones with butter inside, and
they are less than 1000 KPW– much cheaper than Choco Pie.”
The trade company is an affiliate of the Military
Mobilization Department [Military Manpower Administration in South Korea],
which deals with the procurement of military supplies among its many functions.
They either directly import the goods or obtain them from military factories in
various locations across the country, and oversee the manufacturing of military
equipment and machinery.
Geumeunsan Trade Company maintains branches in multiple
areas, including Rasun and Cheongjin, and the office in Pyongyang imports
ingredients such as flour, sugar, and cooking oil directly from China.
According to the source, the raw material prices are cheaper than in the North’s markets, and the products taste
good, allowing it to monopolize the confectionery market there.
“The company has brought in foreign equipment and
technology, putting it ahead of the South’s Choco Pie in price and taste,” he
said, concluding, “This is why with the introduction of these different breads
in Pyongyang, the price of Choco Pie [from the South] has dropped to 500 KPW
from 1,200 KPW.”