Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
A new shopping website, ‘Manmulsang’, has been launched in North Korea. The North Korean site, announced that there is “recently in our republic a new shopping website [e-commerce] offering a wide variety of commercial services through the state computer network and mobile telecoms network.”
According to the site, Manmulsang was developed by Yonpung Commercial Information Technology Company, and allows users to find information about domestically produced and imported products, as well as to read information about the economic activities of vendors registered on the website. Additionally, it has features including an ‘e-shop’, ‘economic information’, ‘upload product’, ‘announcements’, ‘my products’, ‘restaurant information’ and ‘food order’.
There are hundreds of products available in the ‘e-shop’, with the site saying “this site has new and special service features that distinguish it from sites that have existed before: it allows users to read domestic and foreign economic information – economic information services – and to order food via food order services.”
North Korea has demonstrated an interest in e-commerce since 2005. In an article entitled ‘The features of e-commerce and issues with its development’ published in Sahoegwahakwon hakbo [Social Science Studies Review] (Issue 2, 2005), the author, North Korean professor Ri Haeng Ho, says “With the rapid development of information technology, new phenomena are evident that were not previously visible in the economy”. In the article, Ri introduces the features, advantages and tasks related to e-commerce.
Ri also says that “beyond the development of e-commerce, commercial distribution is expanding into previously unimaginable areas. . . . Trade is expanding through the internet, and e-markets are being launched, providing information relevant to the market price of traded goods and thus facilitating trade.” Thus, Ri states e-transactions are characterized by the openness of commercial activity, the centrality of small, specialized retailers, and the emergence new specialist brokerage services.
Ri also argued that “the introduction of e-commerce will, with the aid of information technology, maximize effectiveness in commercial transactions, reduce production costs and raise profit. . . . E-commerce can cut waste and maximize cost reduction.”
As advantages he listed: (1) saving manpower and time through overcoming physical distance, standards and divisions; (2) reducing prices through using virtual shops; and (3) minimize unnecessary production and waste.
Ri goes on to emphasize that while company-company and company-individual transactions are highly active, there is a need to expand electronic payment systems, deal with tax payment issues, revise relevant laws, and establish computer security systems.
An article entitled “General Understanding of e-commerce” carried in Social Science Studies Review (Issue 3, 2005) also asserts that “In order to creatively apply the results of e-commerce transactions to our country’s specific trade conditions and circumstances, there is a need to deepen research into e-commerce transactions.”
At the same time, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) opened the Pyongyang Business School in July 2005, and the school has taught e-commerce, advertising and public relations management, new product development and marketing strategy, among other subjects, to North Korean government cadres, trade company personnel, and foreign trade research institution personnel, most of whom are in their forties and fifties.