North Korea begins closing wholesale markets

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No.10-01-08-1
2010-01-08

North Korean authorities appear to be closing regional, large-scale wholesale markets, one after another. According to the latest newsletter from the North Korean human rights group Good Friends (January 6), “Based on a Cabinet measure passed on December 30 of last year, North Korean authorities will suspend operations management of the Sunam Market in Cheongjin [LOCATION HERE] from the end of this March, effectively deciding to close [the market].”

Like the South Pyeongan Province Pyeongseong Market [LOCATION HERE] reportedly closed last year, the Sunam Market, North Korea’s representative wholesale market, was built less than five years ago. Good Friends reported that provincial authorities from North Hamgyeong Province plan to raze the market, located between Chumok and Cheongnam neighborhoods, and build a modern park and residential housing.

The newsletter revealed, “More than 40 percent of Cheongjin residents rely on the Sunam Market to maintain their lifestyles, and if the market is closed, there will be considerable consequences,” and added that those who trade in the market or rely on it for their shopping are already worried about how they will continue to put food on the table if the market gets shut down.

It has also been reported that the Chupyeong Market [LOCATION HERE], in the Sapo district of Hamheung City, South Hamgyeong Province, will also be closed. The Chupyeong Market, which attracts as many traders as the Pyeongseong Market, apparently specializes in the wholesale trade of imitation goods. Good Friends explains that the Chupyeong Market is a very busy and crowded market, with many shoppers coming and going, and this has also led to an increase in scams, thefts and other crimes. It is anticipated that following the closing of the Sunam Market early in the year, the next move authorities make will be to shut down the Chupyeong Market, as well.

A directive has been issued that North Korean authorities are to ban the sale of manufactured goods in the country’s permanent markets, and that all goods are to be sold only in state-sanctioned retail stores, and at state-set prices. However, sources inside the North report that traders are gauging the attitudes of local authorities, and often not turning over their goods for sale in retail stores. This, along with the North’s currency reform and ban on foreign currency, as well as the increase in farmers’ wages, has led to huge increases in exchange rates and prices.

Currently, workers in state-operated enterprises are being paid anywhere from 1,500 won to as much as 5,000 won per month. With the currency revaluation, this is considerably more than they were making before, but taking into account the massive increases in prices, as well, the impact of the higher wages is negligible.

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