Commodity prices have skyrocketed at local markets throughout North Korea following the North Korea’s closure of the country’s border with China as part of efforts to prevent an outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus, Daily NK has learned.
The shutdown of Sinuiju Port in North Pyongan Province – a major trade hub that sits across from China’s city of Dandong and accounts for more than 70% of trade with China – along with closures of customs offices in the border region, have led to halts in imports of Chinese goods and shortages in raw materials required by North Korean factories to operate.
Smuggling along the Sino-Chinese border has also disappeared following the shutdown of the border. Daily NK sources report that North Koreans are calling the “coronavirus [a punishment worse] than [international] sanctions.”
COMMODITY PRICES SKYROCKET
The Sino-North Korean border region along with areas in the northeastern part of the country and even places as far south as Pyongyang and Pyongsong, in South Pyongan Province, have reportedly witnessed major spikes in commodity prices.
Foodstuffs and Chinese-made goods have reportedly skyrocketed to around 60% of their costs before the border was shutdown, Daily NK sources in various areas of the country said.
“One kilogram of fuel cost KPW 12,800 just a week ago, but has risen 30% and now costs KPW 16,300,” a Ryanggang Province told Daily NK on Feb. 6. “Diesel fuel now costs 60% more than it used to, increasing from KPW 7,500 to KPW 11,315.”
Fuel pipelines running from China into North Korea have not been shut off, but fuel is reportedly no longer entering the country through other [smuggling] routes and fuel prices have skyrocketed as a result.
The price increases have also impacted commodities such as sugar and rice, Daily NK sources reported.
“Sugar that sold for KPW 5,500 to KPW 6,000 [in early to mid-January] a kilogram now goes for KPW 7,500,” the Ryanggang Province-based source told Daily NK.
“Rice imported from China cost KPW 4,000 [in January] but has now increased in price by KPW 2,000 [to become KPW 6,000],” a Daily NK source in South Hamgyong Province reported on Feb. 7.
“Rice soup [gukbap] sellers can’t buy as much rice as before and are putting more broth into their soups for customers,” he added.
Chinese-made soybean oil, which had typically sold for KPW 8,000 to KPW 9,000 at the Sapo Market in Hamhung, is now selling for KPW 15,600, according to sources in the area.
Sellers of twisted bread sticks (ggwabaegi) and wanja (meatballs fried in egg butter), both foods that required a great deal of oil to make, have reportedly lowered their prices to retain customers at the market.
A Sinuiju-based source told Daily NK on Feb. 4 that flour had risen to KPW 6,175 from KPW 4,200 in early January, while soybean oil had risen to 15,570 (from KPW 9,350) and sugar now costs KPW 6,400 (from KPW 5,250).
CHINESE-MADE GOODS IMPACTED THE MOST
The increase in commodity prices at North Korea’s markets has largely impacted goods imported from China, sources told Daily NK.
One kilogram of Chinese rice at the Hyesan Market now reportedly costs KPW 6,000 while North Korean rice costs KPW 5,850.
“Generally speaking, North Korean rice is more expensive than Chinese rice, but now Chinese rice is more expensive,” the Ryanggang Province-based source told Daily NK. “It’s natural for the price of sugar, flour and other commodities imported from China to increase in price as long as the border remains closed.”
The source noted that the anxiety felt by North Koreans is increasing alongside the rising commodity prices because “no one knows when this crisis will end.”
“People can’t move around as they used to because of the disease [Wuhan coronavirus] in China, and people are increasingly worried about how they’ll earn money with the market prices skyrocketing so much,” he added.
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