Market prices so far showing resilience against sanctions

Market prices in North Korea have remained
relatively stable despite stronger sanctions enforced by the international
community, including China, as well as greater limitations on market operations
due to nationwide preparation for Pyongyang’s May Party Congress

Multiple Daily NK sources within the
country have confirmed that rice prices in Pyongyang, South Pyongan Province’s
Sinuiju, and Ryanggang Province’s Hyesan are trading at 5,100 KPW, 5,150 KPW,
and 5,080 KPW per kilogram, respectively, similar to levels before sanctions
were stepped up (5,100 KPW, 5,100 KPW, 5,260 KPW).

This is also the case on the foreign
exchange front, with 1 USD trading for 8,150 KPW in Pyongyang, 8,200 KPW in
Sinuiju, and 8,170 KPW in Hyesan, showing some signs of strengthening for the
local currency from pre-sanction rates (Pyongyang 8,200 KPW, Sinuiju·Hyesan
8,290 KPW).

“There had been concern we would see fewer
goods in the market because of UN sanctions, but in reality, there hasn’t been
much difference,” a source from North Pyongan Province told Daily NK in a
telephone conversation on Sunday. “The state is placing restrictions on opening
hours for the market for the ‘70-day battle’ (mobilization for the Party
Congress), but the markets have remained lively, and there’s not much change in
terms of market prices.”

Further confirming trends previously reported by Daily NK last week, an additional source in North Hamgyong Province
reported yesterday that some people had stocked up food worried about sanctions from the
UN, but that this hasn’t led to a violent gyration in prices. “Actually, in some
regions, we’re seeing prices of certain products drop,” he noted.

This price stability seen in the
marketplace, in spite of the sanctions having kicked in earlier this month, can
be attributed to the fact that most products are still trading as they would
have save one of the North’s main export items: minerals.

The simple reality that people have
experienced similar times before is also at play. “In the past, people who had stockpiled food
during other sanctions discovered that after the political climate evened out a
bit they were unable to get their money’s worth for everything they bought.
This is why we’re seeing less of it,” a source from Ryanggang Province
explained. “Initially there was a little bit of noise, but in general people
are remaining calm.”

Trade with China had already
been stymied since last year, she said, positing less of an impact to be felt domestically as a result. She added that most people believe that even if trade through official channels is cut off, smugglers will press on, drawing on years of experience and connections to carve out new routes as soon as others are blocked. 

Sources also agreed that the longstanding
experience of market vendors, who have enjoyed relatively unfettered operations for some time, is another factor that has contributed to market

“In the past, if there was talk about
exports being cut off or markets being restricted, prices would have spiked
almost immediately. But now most people believe that barring a state mandate to
ban all market operations, there won’t be any insurmountable problems,” the source from North
Hamgyong asserted.

“That said, if China keeps this grip on
sanctions up going forward, some are worried about the other
implications: namely, the future and existence of our country itself.”

Kang Mi Jin
Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to