Markets Mired in Mournful Turmoil

Early last month, as preparations to commemorate the passing of Kim Jong Il began to gather speed, all North Korean traders in China were ordered to return home and all customs checks were suspended.

Traders, many of whom had taken on losses during the 100-day mourning period following Kim Jong Il’s death in 2011, immediately started hoarding goods, triggering inflation. This has continued into the New Year, despite the fact that frightened officials re-opened customs houses to limited traffic just days after the original order was issued.

A source from Pyongyang told Daily NK about the current situation on the 4th, explaining, “The price of rice is 6,700 won now, 300 won more than it was two weeks ago. The markets weren’t able to operate properly while the people were being made to attend events for the mourning, and that lasted until the 18th. But even now there are people who are still hoarding food, so the situation is not getting any better.”

According to the source, there was word that rice would arrive in bulk from China after the Kim Jong Il mourning period, but supplies to markets barely changed despite evidence that some rice did arrive. Not only that, “Even though prices went on rising, the upper (the authorities) still tried to control areas of market operation during the mourning period, so there were traders selling rice secretly, and some alley traders (those operating beyond the market walls) asking for more than 8,000 won a kilo.”

“Municipal Party cadres kept telling us to try and wait because the Marshal (Kim Jong Eun) had issued an order to ‘ensure rice for the people,’” she mused. “But nobody believes that kind of talk anymore. Rice will be in short supply during January, and this is likely to go on into February given study sessions for the New Year’s Address and then preparation for Kim Jong Il’s birthday.”

“The U.S. Dollar exchange rate here is out of control, and has reached 9,100 won per dollar. Speculation has it that they will try yet again to control exchange rates this month, and this is making the exchange rate problem even worse,” she concluded. “In just Pyongyang’s markets, about 50% of the money in circulation is U.S. Dollars, 25% is Yuan and 25% is from here. I guess people want to have foreign currency more and more because they cannot foresee what will happen next.”

“People from this city can easily distinguish a real dollar from a counterfeit one, and people soon learn about traders who dare to deal in fakes,” she added.