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Recent Chinese imports lead to dramatic price falls of certain food items

The recent expansion of food imports from China recently has led to dramatic price falls of certain food items in North Korea’s markets, a Daily NK source in the country reported on Wednesday.

As recently as mid-October, a kilogram of Chinese-made soybean oil cost KPW 28,000 in Pyongyang, but that had fallen to KPW 23,000 as of last Sunday. 

Moreover, so much cooking oil is in circulation that Pyongyang residents say they have “never seen so much soybean oil at market stands in the last couple of years.” 

Ordinary North Koreans unable to eat much meat often supplement their fat intake with soybean oil, and some even engage in hoarding when prices temporarily fall like this, said the source.

Chinese sugar — which had grown scarce for a time in North Korean markets after the closure of the country’s borders due to COVID-19 — was trading at KPW 22,000 a kilogram in Pyongyang as of Sunday.

In mid-October, sugar was trading from KPW 25,000 to KPW 28,000 a kilogram. After imports increased, however, the price instantly fell by as much as KPW 6,000.

The Chinese-made food items that have fallen most dramatically in price are soybean paste and red pepper paste.

Imports of Chinese-made soybean paste and red pepper paste were so small at one time that the price of soybean paste spiked to KPW 15,000 a kilogram and that of red pepper paste to KPW 20,000 a kilogram.

Recently, however, the price of both has collapsed by 50%.

In fact, a kilogram of soybean paste was trading at KPW 8,000 in Pyongyang markets as of Sunday, while a kilogram of red pepper paste was trading at KPW 10,000.

Pyongyang residents are calling the fall in prices of soybean paste and red pepper paste “revolutionary.”

Daily NK reported last month that North Korean imports via China-North Korea freight trains have largely focused on foodstuffs such as soybean oil, sugar and seasonings.

Prices of these food items appear to have fallen because Chinese food imported in mid-October has been hitting local markets.


Meanwhile, grain prices in North Korean markets have fallen only slightly. 

According to Daily NK’s regular survey of North Korean market prices, a kilogram of rice cost KPW 5,840 in Pyongyang as of Oct. 30.

Compared to the previous survey on Oct. 16, when rice cost KPW 5,870 a kilogram, the price has fallen by only a small amount. 

The price of corn has fallen only slightly as well, despite the end of the fall harvest and the appearance of freshly picked corn in local markets. 

Large amounts of corn were released into markets after the fall harvest. However, decreasing purchasing power among North Koreans means that they have sought out corn instead of more expensive rice. This has resulted in only small changes in the price of corn.

In fact, a kilogram of corn cost KPW 2,750 in Pyongyang markets as of Sunday, just KPW 20 less than it cost in Oct. 16’s survey.

In Sinuiju, a kilogram of corn cost KPW 2,800, the same price recorded in Daily NK’s previous survey.

In Yanggang Province, however, the price of rice and corn has fallen a bit more than in Pyongyang or Sinuiju, thanks to more potatoes hitting local markets.

As recently as a few years ago, few people except for low income earners ate potatoes as a staple in Yanggang Province.

Recently, more people in Hyesan – the province’s administrative center – are eating rice mixed with potatoes. 

“Even though Hyesan is close to potato growing areas, few people ate potatoes as a staple before because they lived in a city. But now many people are buying potatoes,” said the source.

“People in the city who survived on smuggling activities have not been able to do so, creating a surge in people who are suffering tough times,” he added.

Source: Daily NK