In the capital Pyongyang, prices of some staple goods are reportedly skyrocketing. Experts say rice and fuel prices are relatively stable still but imported staples such as sugar, soy bean oil and flour prices have gone up.
The costs associated with some locally produced staples have also soared in recent months. Potato prices have tripled at the well-known Tongil market, where both locals and foreigners can shop, Pyongyang residents said.
Residents also revealed that non staple items such as a small packet of black tea can sell for around $70, while a packet of coffee can fetch more than $100.
Kim did not disclose the scale of the shortages, but the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recently estimated North Korea is short of approximately 860,000 tons of food, or equivalent to just over two months of nationwide supplies.
The situation was serious enough in April for Kim to urge North Koreans to undertake another “arduous march,” the term used to refer to the devastating famine in North Korea in the 1990s that killed hundreds of thousands of people.
The admission that the state’s centrally planned economy cannot even feed its people may seem out of place for a leader whose family are portrayed in propaganda as infallible and almost God-like.
Kim has fashioned his domestic image as a man of the people, a leader constantly meeting with the public and dedicated to improving the everyday lives of one of the most impoverished countries on the planet. His stated goal since taking power in 2011 was to improve the lives of most North Koreans.
However, short of drastically altering North Korea’s inefficient centrally planned economy, freeing the nearly 120,000 political prisoners believed to be held in gulags, or pulling back on its nuclear weapons program, experts believe Pyongyang will struggle to achieve Kim’s aim.
Relations with Washington and negotiations on sanctions relief appear to be a distant concern, at least for now. Kim did not mention talks with the United States until Thursday, day three of this week’s important political meeting and item four of the agenda.
According to state media, Kim reportedly analyzed US President Joe Biden’s North Korea policy and now believes Pyongyang needs to “get prepared for both dialogue and confrontation.”
The Biden administration has made it clear that North Korea, its nuclear program and allegations of large-scale human rights abuses in the country are an important part of its foreign policy agenda.
Though the White House says it plans to pursue a “calibrated, practical approach” that differs from the strategies employed by the Trump and Obama administrations, North Korea remains the same intractable foreign policy issue that has bedeviled Biden’s recent predecessors.
CNN’s Yoonjung Seo and Gawon Bae contributed reporting.