Swelling markets shift perceptions

The number of markets and stalls across
North Korea has been increasing at a faster pace since Kim Jong Un came into
power, as unlike his father Kim Jong Il, the young Kim has left market
activities mostly untouched by regulations. This has given people more room to
improve their livelihoods and tame their disgruntlement towards the leadership. 

For some years now, the state has not
placed heavy restrictions on market activity, resulting in a jump in the number
of stalls across all marketplaces, sources from within North Korea have told
Daily NK. The relaxed environment has prompted many people to start selling at
the market, leading to a gradual expansion in operations.

The number of stalls at markets in South
Hamgyong, South Pyongan, Yanggang, and Kangwon Provinces has swelled significantly,
according to multiple sources in each of these areas. In the case of Hyesan in
Yanggang Province, the stall count across five markets has gone from 6,326 in
2012 to 7,627 this year, posting a rough 20 percent increase.

Deoksan Market, located in the Okjeon District of South Pyongan Province’s Pyongsong City, saw stall numbers jump from anywhere between 3,000 to 4,000 over the same period, recently reaching 13,510; a stall tally at Munhwa Market in South Pyongan Province revealed that stands there blossomed from around 700 to 800 a few years ago to a current total of 2,560.

With the rise of new stalls at the Bukchong
market in South Hamgyong Province, rice stalls have been set off into a
separate section. Some 350 vendors as of now are just selling rice, according
to a number of sources. The Wonsan Market in Kangwon Province has also gone
from around 3,000-4,000 vendors to 5,700, recording a steady expansion.

The loose grip on the markets ties back to
better profits for the state, as it is able to collect stall operation fees
from vendors. Struggling to secure state funds on the trade front, relaxing
market regulations and collecting money for its coffers become a more
attractive option for the leadership, sources explained.

More specifically, average market fees
collected from vendors at the Hyesan General Market in Yanggang Province add up
to over 4 million KPW [463 USD] a day. In a one-month period, this amount reaches over
100 million KPW, which is worth 20,000 tons of rice according to current rates.
Given there are five markets in Hyesan City, the total income produced just from
these fees would be worth roughly 100,000 tons of rice, according to reports
from sources.

This markedly more relaxed market
environment has given people more breathing room, alleviating some of the
strong sentiments residents had against the leadership after going through a
failed currency reform back in 2009. The changes have also given people a
greater belief in self-provision, watering down their reliance on the state
along with their loyalty as well, sources have explained. 

Running a business at
the market is now considered a right rather than an illicit activity, marking a
stark change in attitude among the public from some years ago.

Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.