Would-be food exports to China popping up in jangmadang

Choi Song Min  |  2016-03-11 11:49
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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 theyre 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 merchants. 

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. Theyre actually welcoming the sanctions now saying that for average people theyre 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 prices soon. 

*Translated by Jiyeon Lee

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