It has been reported that the North Korean authorities in Ryanggang Province have initiated a crackdown on so-called grasshopper vendors who conduct unregistered business near state-sanctioned General Markets.
“The number of people selling goods in the town streets near the markets and bridges has declined noticeably because the Provincial People’s Committee has issued instructions to crack down on grasshopper vendors. There are many of these sorts of vendors, who opt to pay bribes in return for being excused from agricultural mobilization during the harvest season,” a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK on September 18.
“The residents who used to conduct business on the streets are now moving around to avoid the crackdowns that begin early in the morning. Some residents who used to trade under the Uiyeon Baekchol bridge have become fed up with running away and have moved to rural areas.”
“The grasshopper vendors often say that it’s ‘doubly tiring’ as they have to stay constantly on the move to avoid the crackdowns.”
The regime has previously refrained from crackdowns on independent traders, while promoting Kim Jong Un’s image as a leader for the people who allows free market activities. It has also enabled the government to generate revenue with a quasi-income tax income leveled at these traders at the same time. The tax has also been applied to all grasshopper vendors outside the markets, who are required to pay 50-70% of the ordinary market tax.
However, the measures have proven to be a double-edged sword for Kim Jong Un, as these vendors have acquired greater freedom of movement, residence, and even occupations that were once strictly controlled by the authorities.
“The crackdowns on grasshopper vendors may have been implemented in haste to prevent a perceived ideological weakening which has arisen from the increase in market activity,” the source said.
However, it remains unclear how long the North Korean authorities will seek to crack down on the grasshopper vendors. A restriction on commercial activities was initiated at the beginning of the year, but soon turned into a practice of paying fees as a market tax. The same compromise may also arise for the grasshopper vendors in due course.
“Most residents believe that such crackdowns are only temporary campaigns. They know that the authorities will not be able to give up the tax income they receive from these merchants,” a separate source in Ryanggang Province said.
“Some residents are complaining that life has not gotten any easier under Kim Jong Un. In order to appease such discontent, it’s likely that the crackdowns will loosen after the autumn harvest mobilizations are completed.”