Recent Chinese imports are causing a dramatic drop in the prices of certain food products

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FILE PHOTO: North Koreans are seen peddling goods at a street market in Hyesan, Yanggang province. (NK daily)

The recent expansion of food imports from China has recently led to a dramatic drop in the prices of some food products in North Korean markets, a Daily NK source in the country reported on Wednesday.

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

Moreover, there is so much cooking oil in circulation that Pyongyang residents say they have “never seen so much soybean oil on market stalls in the past two years.”

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

Chinese sugar – which had become scarce for some time in North Korean markets after the country’s borders were closed due to COVID-19 – was trading at 22,000 KPW per kilogram in Pyongyang on Sunday.

In mid-October, sugar was trading between 25,000 KPW and 28,000 KPW per kilogram. However, after the increase in imports, the price instantly dropped to 6,000 KPW.

The food products made in China whose price fell the most are soybean paste and red pepper paste.

Imports of soybean paste and red pepper paste made in China were so low at one point that the price of soybean paste soared to 15,000 KPW per kilogram and that of red pepper paste to 20,000 KPW the kilogram.

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

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

Pyongyang residents call falling prices for soybean paste and red pepper paste “revolutionary”.

The NK daily 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 for these food items appear to have fallen because Chinese food imported in mid-October reached local markets.

CEREAL PRICES ONLY SLIGHTLY DROP

Meanwhile, grain prices in North Korean markets fell only slightly.

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

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

The price of maize also fell only slightly, despite the end of the autumn harvest and the appearance of freshly picked maize on local markets.

Large quantities of maize were put on the markets after the autumn harvest. However, the declining purchasing power of North Koreans meant they preferred corn instead of the more expensive rice. This resulted in only small changes in the price of maize.

In fact, a kilogram of maize cost 2,750 KPW in Pyongyang’s markets on Sunday, only 20 KPW less than what it cost in the October 16 survey.

In Sinuiju, one kilogram of maize costs 2,800 KPW, the same price recorded in the previous Daily NK survey.

In Yanggang province, however, the price of rice and maize fell a little more than in Pyongyang or Sinuiju, thanks to the arrival of more potatoes in local markets.

Until a few years ago, few people except low-income people ate potatoes as a staple food in Yanggang Province.

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

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

“The townspeople who survived through smuggling activities were unable to do so, which created an increase in the number of people who are going through hard times,” he added.

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