Sanctions lead to continued stagnation of North Korea’s markets

Rason Market. Image: Daily NK
Rason Market. Image: Daily NK

International sanctions have led to a rising number of empty stalls appearing in local markets and fewer consumers. Merchants at the markets are facing a drastic reduction in profits as a result.

Daily NK conducted an interview with a local in Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province, to better understand conditions on the ground in the country’s local markets.

Daily NK: How are the markets going these days?

Sinuiju Resident: There may be a lot of people at the markets but they are not buying much. There are empty stalls all over the place. These days the government has forcibly mobilized people in campaigns to respond to droughts or the rainy season, so there’s been a reduction in consumers. There are also product distribution problems. The sanctions have led to a fall in profits for merchants. That being said, this area [North Pyongan Province] is on the border with China so it’s in better shape than the inner regions of the country.

Daily NK: Have merchant profits fallen significantly?

Sinuiju Resident: They need to earn at least 200 yuan a month, but these days they barely earn 80 yuan. When they are not mobilized by the state, merchants generally begin work at 9 AM. During mobilizations, the markets don’t open until 5 PM. So they are suffering a lot financially.

Daily NK: Are people able to get enough to eat?

Sinuiju Resident: When times are good, merchants will put more effort into their businesses than toward their farming activities, but because business is bad now they are focusing on farming. They are out weeding their farms. Government rations are only given to those working at military factories, or members of the police and military. Everyone has to be self-sufficient, so people are out in the fields harvesting food. They aren’t suffering from hunger.

Daily NK: What kind of farming do you and those around you do?

Sinuiju Resident: Mainly corn, beans and sweet potatoes. People adhere to the “garden plot system” and collective farms have given land to enterprises for farming. Each person gets around 3,000 pyong (9917.3 square meters) to farm. Those who can’t work are given a little less than that. My family and I work on our plot of land and have a private plot of land we farm as well. We are able to survive off the land just fine.

Daily NK: Following the implementation of the “pojon damdangje” (literally, “vegetable garden responsibility system,” also known as the field management system), has there been an increase in agricultural production?

Sinuiju Resident: The technology used to farm corn has improved since the system was implemented so there’s been a gradual increase in production. People spend most of their time on their own plots of land, so production has increased for that reason. Families that produce a lot of food harvest around one ton in the fall. They have no desire to live off of salaried positions (at state-run factories or enterprises). We also produced quite a bit last year: one ton of corn, and an extra 600 kilograms [compared to the year before]. We ended up taking home around one ton because we had to give 30% of what we produced to the state.

Daily NK: Have the sanctions affected your business at the local market? 

Sinuiju Resident: Business is definitely in worse shape since the sanctions came into effect. And we have to pay more in bribes than before. The bribes go up every year. The sanctions are making people’s lives more difficult and the blame is going to the “American bastards.”

Daily NK: Why are they blaming the US? 

Sinuiju Resident: Rumors say that the General [Kim Jong Un] is willing to give up the country’s nukes, but the US hasn’t promised anything in return for abandoning the nuclear program and is just demanding North Korea give up its nukes unconditionally. We will give up the nukes if there’s something in it for us. We tried to patch things up, but the Americans slapped sanctions on us. People are saying that the Americans are just wolves that want to take away our nuclear program without giving anything to us in return.

Daily NK: What does the future look like for North Korea? 

Sinuiju Resident: If the US just stops interfering in North and South Korean efforts to cooperate, things will go well. But the US just keeps interfering. The General continues to hold summit meetings with the US and South Korean presidents, so I am hopeful for the future.

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