price controls
FILE PHOTO: The Tongil Market in Pyongyang. (Daily NK)

Market prices in North Korea are skyrocketing, including the price of grains such as rice and corn.

According to Daily NK’s regular survey of prices in North Korea, a kilogram of rice in North Korean markets cost KPW 5,500 in Pyongyang, KPW 5,600 in Sinuiju and KPW 5,800 in Hyesan as of Sunday.

That represents an 8% to 10% increase across all regions from a survey taken at the end of last month.

After climbing continuously from January, the market price of rice temporarily fell in late May before restarting its upward trajectory in early June.

Corn — the staple of low income families — has also climbed. As of Sunday, a kilogram of corn cost KPW 2,850 in Pyongyang, KPW 2,900 in Sinuiju and KPW 3,100 in Hyesan.

This represents the first time this year the price of corn has crossed the KPW 3,000 line.

The market price of rice and corn usually comes down a bit when fresh potatoes, wheat and barley hit the markets in early June. This year, however, prices are rising instead.

Multiple sources in North Korea said with food shortages intensifying this year, many potato fields suffered from frost, and even at farms where the fields were properly harvested, the military purchased all the potatoes.

This is to say, the poor potato harvest led to a situation where too few potatoes hit the markets to influence grain prices.

Meanwhile, exchange rates for the dollar and yuan climbed across all regions of North Korea. As of Sunday, the dollar was trading at KPW 7,200 in Pyongyang, KPW 7,230 in Sinuiju and KPW 7,250 in Hyesan.

The yuan was also higher, trading at KPW 900 in Pyongyang and KPW 920 in Sinuiju and Hyesan, the first time since June of last year that the yuan had crossed the KPW 900 line.

The climbing exchange rates for the dollar and yuan appear related to North Korea’s recently amended emergency quarantine law.

North Korea amended the law at the 20th Plenary Meeting of the 14th Standing Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly on May 31, and conveyed the changes to provincial party committees in mid-June.

In fact, North Korea made it clear that putting economic plans on the back burner due to emergency quarantine efforts, or the opposite — engaging in shoddy quarantine efforts, forgetting to put the lives and safety of the people first — represents a challenge to state quarantine policy.

The gist is that officials must faithfully carry out both quarantine efforts and economic development. Yet, some North Koreans say the amended law really puts the main emphasis on the economy.

Multiple sources in South Pyongan Province, North Hamgyong Province and elsewhere said that after receiving the changes in the amended law, major trade-related agencies in each region received an order to survey which imports their provinces need before submitting lists of these items to the government. 

Trading companies are responding by buying up foreign exchange and expanding moves to restart trade. This situation appears to be a factor in rising exchange rates.

Although there is currently no regular freight train service between North Korea and China, seaborne trade is reportedly brisk at the North Korean ports of Songnim and Nampo. One Daily NK source even said the number of ships entering Songnim and Nampo has doubled since last month.

“There’s a finite amount of imports you can bring in by train, but by sea, you can import a lot more, and more kinds of items, too,” she said. “There’s more prying eyes with train-based trade, which means the outside world often learns what’s been imported. But when you bring things in by ship, the advantage is that you can do so under the nose of sanctions.”

Daily NK’s latest market price survey also found that the price of diesel — for which North Korea relies entirely on imports — fell slightly.

As of Sunday, a kilogram of gasoline cost KPW 12,500 in Pyongyang and KPW 12,300 in Sinuiju and Hyesan, about KPW 100 to 300 more than it did in the middle of the month. In contrast, a kilogram of diesel cost KPW 10,000 in Pyongyang, KPW 9,800 in Sinuiju and KPW 9,900 in Hyesan, less than it did in the previous survey, when it cost KPW 10,040 in Pyongyang, KPW 10,200 in Sinuiju and KPW 10,060 in Hyesan.

A source in Pyongyang said the falling diesel prices during the farming season, when demand for diesel climbs, was because of increased supply due to imports.

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.