Following the country’s sixth nuclear test on September 3, fuel prices in North Korea have been subject to unusual volatility. The price of fuel soared in April and rose again slightly in September. But it has been reported that gasoline coupons have not been influenced by the price fluctuations, and are being actively traded on the North Korean black markets.
“As fuel prices have been fluctuating, gasoline coupons have become popular items in Pyongyang’s black markets. The merchants who previously bought dozens of coupons have started offering them for sale as the prices began to rise,” a source familiar with North Korean affairs in China told Daily NK on September 20.
According to the source, gasoline can be purchased for the same price at the time that the coupon was issued. For example, if a 15 kg gasoline coupon was previously purchased for 30 USD, the same amount of fuel can be obtained even if the price rises suddenly to 35 USD. In this way, the dealers can make a profit by selling the coupon for 32 USD.
“The coupons are especially popular when the gasoline prices are unstable. The merchants are selling the coupons on the black markets as the fuel prices rise,” the source said.
Originally, gasoline coupons were issued from North Korea’s central government organizations and were sold to officials or foreign embassy staff in Pyongyang. But now the foreign currency earning companies are issuing the coupons themselves. The authorities have actively encouraged new strategies to earn foreign currency.
These foreign currency earning companies are said to be profiting from the fluctuating fuel prices, regardless of efforts to limit the sales of coupons.
“If the authorities move to restrict the sales of coupons, the companies will just sell the coupons on the black market. Despite strong sanctions being imposed on fuel, the major companies that are still holding a large amount of fuel become more powerful in times of fuel crisis,” a source in South Pyongan Province explained.
“Even the Pyongyang cadres have no choice but to purchase coupons on the black market.”
For these reasons, she said, most of the gasoline coupons are often valued at their equivalent in USD.
“Recently, people have been able to use the gasoline coupons for their USD value at restaurants and stores. They can even exchange the coupons for money. It has become a common practice to provide gasoline coupons to officials in Pyongyang as a bribe,” she concluded.