Dated January 29, 2010, the Foreign Trade Bank of the DPRK (North Korea) issued document No. DC033 10-004 to diplomatic missions and international organizations present in North Korea. They were informed that the use of foreign currency was to be stopped, payments were to be made in the form of non-cash cheques, and that the official exchange rate of the Euro to the North Korean Won was changed from 188.2 KPW to 140 KPW, effective January 2, 2010.
Foreign institutions and organizations now have to obtain non-cash cheques from the Foreign Trade Bank, denominated in KPW, in order to pay for accommodations, meals and service fees in hotels, fares for transport services like railways and airlines, communication charges, inspection fees, registration fees and commissions paid to institutions and enterprises in the DPRK, fuel, office materials, spare parts for vehicles, electricity, water, heating charges and rent. Bank transfers are now mandatory for any transfers between international organizations and all money paid to institutions and organizations of the DPRK (including the salary of DPRK citizens working in embassies or international organizations).
A recent visitor to Pyongyang confirmed in a talk with the author that individuals are subject to a cumbersome process if they wish to purchase anything. Rather than using a standard hard currency or exchanging it into the new Won, they now have to obtain a receipt stating the price of the good they want to buy, then present this at a desk where they exchange their money into exactly the needed amount of North Korean money, and finally return to the shop assistant, hand over the exact amount, and receive the product.
In the preceding weeks, North Korea had made international headlines related to what seems to be a concerted economic policy initiative. The domestic currency was reformed in a way that obviously aimed at reducing the amount of money in circulation. A few weeks later news emerged that the use of foreign currencies was banned. This is no doubt a dramatic move with far-reaching consequences. Money matters for personal lives and for society, so when a country initiates a currency reform, it has significant repercussions.
But what are these consequences for the specific case of North Korea in early 2010? Are people in various sectors of society better off now, or worse? Will the economy benefit or suffer? Do the reforms promote or impede foreign trade and investment? Will the domestic political situation become more stable, or will it deteriorate? Are the economic reforms of 2002 reversed, or were they intended to be a temporary measure from the outset? Should we even interpret the currency reforms as part of the process of power succession?…