N. Korea Bans Domestic Use of Foreign Currency

Korea Times
Lee Jin-woo

North Korea recently banned the domestic use of all foreign currency in a desperate effort to get hold of U.S. dollars possessed by individuals amid strict financial sanctions imposed by the outside world, reports said.

South Korea’s Ministry of Unification that deals with inter-Korean affairs said it is trying to clarify whether the report is based on the truth or not.

According to the Dong-a Ilbo, a vernacular daily, the Stalinist state Wednesday announced a ban on its people from paying with foreign currency without getting prior approval.

The decision will be applied to all kinds of foreign currency including the greenback and euro as well as the Chinese yuan, it said.

“It seems Pyongyang is trying to overcome its shortage of foreign reserves by gathering what its people are keeping at home,” a North Korean expert was quoted as saying on condition of anonymity by the newspaper.

Those who wish to pay with foreign currency must convert their foreign money into a sort of gift certificate at designated money exchange spots.

Back in the late 1980s, the North maintained a similar regulation, but later withdrew the decision. The measure was shunned in its socialist market.

Shops in the downtown shopping district of Pyongyang, the North’s capital, have sold goods priced in both North Korean won and U.S. dollars.

With the reintroduction of the measure, the North Korean won-U.S. dollar exchange rate in the North’s black market plunged from 3,285 won to 2,800 won, according to the report.

The North’s official, but not internationally accepted, currency ratio is $1 to 143 North Korean won.

However, the decision is unlikely to influence the two inter-Korean projects _ the Kaesong industrial complex and the tourism project to Mt. Kumgang _ as Pyongyang has not informed Seoul of any decision to ban the use of foreign currency including the South Korean won at the two sites.

South Korean companies in the Kaesong industrial complex pay $57.50 per month to their North Korean workers.

The Unification Ministry has explained that most of the U.S. dollars paid in wages to North Korean workers have been used to provide daily necessities for the workers, not to benefit Kim Jong-il’s regime or its nuclear and other weapons programs.


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