PYONGYANG – While countries have begun drawing up lists of luxury items they will deny North Korea in response to the country’s nuclear test, the impact has yet to be seen in the handful of stores that sell imported goods in Pyongyang.
During a recent visit, store shelves in the Koryo Hotel in central Pyongyang were well stocked with French perfume, Russian vodka and Japanese sake; restaurants in the North Korean capital still served foreign beer.
Nor were there changes in the exchange rates for the, yen euro or yuan, which have held steady, more or less, at the level of previous months in several hotels that cater to foreign visitors and tourists.
“I would have thought that there would be a run on foreign goods by expatriates here, but so far there has been no major change,” a diplomat living in Pyongyang said. “The stores visited by the foreign community here still have, for example, chocolate and wine.”
After North Korea carried out its first nuclear test in October, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1718, which condemned the test and called on member states to cut off trade with Pyongyang in military hardware, nuclear technology and luxury goods.
The ban on luxury goods is aimed at pressuring North Korea’s elite, rather than the public, in a country that faces chronic food shortages.
While the U.N. Security Council resolution detailed the military and nuclear goods U.N. member countries must not sell to North Korea, it left the question of which luxury goods to ban to the discretion of each country.
Japan’s list of 24 items, for example, includes high-quality beef and tuna, caviar, fur products and jewelry. Many other countries have yet to complete their lists.
One foreign aid worker in Pyongyang has noticed a change — a sharp rise in the price of Japanese cigarettes.
There has been a threefold increase in the price over the past few months, he said.
While cigarettes are among the luxury items Japan has denied North Korea under the U.N. resolution, there could be another reason for the price hike: a ban on port calls in Japan by the North Korean ferry Mangyongbong-92 that has been in place since the North test-fired missiles in July.
The ferry, the only passenger link between the two countries, is also used to ship goods into North Korea.
“The impact of the denial of luxury goods would not be very visible” in the streets of Pyongyang as they target the country’s elite, said Noriyuki Suzuki, a senior analyst at Radiopress, which monitors North Korean media in Tokyo.
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