Pyongyang residents continue to hoard various imported products, which has led to spikes in the prices of imported food items and even the closure of some of the city’s stores due to lack of stock, Daily NK has learned.
“There are a lot of ordinary stores that have closed or are unable to sell anything because they have no stock left,” a Pyongyang-based source told Daily NK on Apr. 30. “Right now 100 grams of imported pepper costs KPW 40,000, 450 to 500 grams of MSG costs KPW 48,000 and sugar can’t be found at all.”
The prices of imported food items nearly doubled after Apr. 17, when the North Korean government announced restrictions on imported goods deemed “unnecessary” for the North Korean economy. Prices began to rise rapidly once more before the publishing of this article in Korean on May 1.
According to Daily NK’s Pyongyang source, the price of imported pepper was just KPW 8,000 per 100 grams before the announcement, but doubled to KPW 16,000 after the decision was released. Now, the price has reportedly risen to KPW 40,000.
“The price of watch batteries and other small batteries for common household appliances like remote controllers for TVs have tripled or quadrupled,” the source further reported. “The price of batteries had remained stable even after the announcement, but several days ago it started to rise suddenly. The spike is probably because so many people began hoarding them.”
Although the price of batteries has risen to an unprecedented degree, Pyongyang residents reportedly continue to buy them in bulk, in boxes of 50, and as much as 10 boxes at a time. The hoarding is likely due to concerns that the price will only continue to rise and that soon there may not be any batteries left to buy.
“Many of the electronics stores throughout the city have closed down,” the source said, adding, “Stores that still have stock have closed perhaps because of rumors that Chinese products will no longer enter the country.”
In short, the source’s report suggests that state-run electronics stores, which command 20% of the market, have no stock left, while privately-run stores that take up the remaining 80% of the market have closed up despite still having stock on hand.
Based on the source’s report, owners of privately-run stores may have closed down their shops with the intent to sell their goods at prices even higher than they are now. The owners are likely under the belief that the recent import restrictions announcement means that various electronics accessories will no longer enter the country from China for some time.
On Apr. 25, a YouTube account called “Echo DPRK,” allegedly run by North Korea, uploaded a video with the title “True or False (Panic buying)” to refute rumors of panic buying in Pyongyang.
The video features scenes from the well-stocked grocery section of Pyongyang’s Daesong Department Store on Sanwon Street. The interviewer asked shoppers whether products had gotten more expensive recently. She received responses ranging from, “I didn’t notice” and “Imported goods might get expensive. But why should domestic products?”
The video does not prove anything, according to Daily NK’s Pyongyang source.
“All department stores, including Daesong, as well as other stores that only accept foreign currency, are there to lure overseas visitors into spending foreign currency. The products on display are made domestically and sold at state-fixed prices,” he told Daily NK.
“Ordinary citizens don’t shop there because the products are so expensive and you have to pay with foreign currency,” he added, speculating that less than eight percent of Pyongyangites actually buy necessities at department stores in the city.
*Translated by Violet Kim
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