As the international community tightens its
grip on Pyongyang, challenging its coal and mineral exports as well as
intensifying restrictions on port entry of its trade vessels, people are
starting to see goods previously not found at markets surface. North Koreans
who had remained on edge about the prospect of hardships triggered by stronger
international sanctions have been pleasantly surprised by this unexpected change.
“These days items that were previously hard to find because they were earmarked for export are suddenly emerging at the markets,” a
source from North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Thursday. “The prices haven’t gone down enough yet, so you don’t see too many people actually buying [these products]. But you do see flocks of curious people coming out to the markets to see all the delicacies for sale.”
She added, “High-end marine goods like roe, sea urchin
eggs, hairy crab, and jumbo shrimp, and produce like pine nuts, bracken, and
salted pine mushrooms were once considered to be strictly for export, but now
they’re easy to find. The number of such products, referred to as ‘sent back goods,’ at Sunam Market and other markets around
Chongjin is growing by the day.”
Additional sources in both North and South
Hwanghae Provinces reported the same developments in those regions.
Despite the sanctions that have already
kicked in, products from China are still flowing into North Korea; however, the
goods sold in bulk to China–minerals like coal, marine products, etc.– have
nowhere to go and are therefore making their way back into the country.
“In the past, you would only see carts with
low-heat coal around the markets and village, but these days, you see lines of
carts with high-heat coal and firewood as well,” said the source. “Firewood and
coal prices fluctuate by the season, but despite it being cold now, things are
selling for cheap, around summer prices.”
Trade companies and state foreign-currency earning firms
have long dominated fish and farm produce domains. More recently, however, wholesale merchants who travel nationwide to provide goods are also
gaining a foothold in these sectors thanks to the sanctions-related shifts. Operators of fisheries and individual boat
owners, too, are finding it easier to sell their goods. Unlike in the past, when
they had to pick out the high-end seafood and hand over to state
foreign-currency earning enterprises, now they can sell the entire load to wholesale
“People are getting their hopes up, saying
they might be able to eat some of the highest quality fish for a cheap price if the UN sanctions continue to carry weight until the summer,” she explained. “They’re actually welcoming the sanctions
now saying that for average people they’re bringing good fortune since the
number of goods they can get their hands on are continually on the rise.”
However, there is some cause for concern. The authorities are placing more restrictions on market operations, and in some
places, sellers are hoarding food in the hopes
of bumping up prices during the projected dip in supply and spike in demand. Many consumers, caught on
the wrong side of that equation, are stockpiling what they can now in order to mitigate the financial blow they would absorb on the back of these vendors’ financial gain.
If North Korea’s mining industry suffers under the sanctions, as evidence thus far indicates is already the case, the potential lack of cash from China and–of arguably more immediate consequence–cessation of the sizable provisions of rice it provides for the scores of North Korean workers toiling to extract these valuable resources, more than provide a clear rationale for the fear and panic behaviors enveloping some corners of the jangmadang currently.
“This is why,” she explained, “most are
worried that rice and other ingredients for side dishes may see a hike in