Prices on some goods have risen dramatically in North Korea recently, according to various news outlets. The price increases come amid North Korea’s continued border closures and stalled foreign trade as the country continues to take efforts to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus within its borders.
Prices for food and other imported retail goods in North Korea have spiked recently, with items such as shampoo now selling for as much as $200 at Pyongyang markets, and imported food items such as bananas going for $45 a kilogram. Other reports suggest that the price of both rice and corn have jumped up in recent weeks, with rice rising in price from around 3,000 won to closer to 4,000 won per kilogram between June 2 and 6, while corn prices are now reaching 3,000 won per kilogram.
Price fluctuations have also been seen for food staples such as rice as well as on the exchange rate for foreign currency. Prices have been changing daily, with the price of rice in Pyongyang dropping from $1.04 per kilogram to $0.94 over the course of a single day alongside a drop in the exchange rate for U.S. dollars from 6,100 won to 5,300 won in one day.
North Korea was one of the first countries around the world to enter into a widespread lockdown following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has included an ongoing halt in foreign trade. These efforts have had significant ramifications for the North Korean economy, as well as for the country’s food situation. Grain imports have likely fallen off substantially, while the lack of imported goods left shelves in Pyongyang supermarkets virtually empty earlier on in the pandemic.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has acknowledged North Korea’s difficult situation, recently holding meetings with top party officials in the politburo to discuss the country’s economic challenges as well as calling for a plenary meeting of the Workers’ Party of Korea Central Committee.
Some indicators of a potential resumption in North Korean foreign trade have emerged recently, including the return of many items to Pyongyang stores. Satellite imagery has found an increase in the number of rail cars at transit facilities near the border in both China and North Korea, while ship traffic between the two countries also appears to be increasing.
Eli Fuhrman is a contributing writer for The National Interest.