Archive for the ‘Black markets’ Category

DPRK apparently easing up on market restrictions

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

The Daily NK gives us some relatively good news on North Korean market operations.

First, it appears there is an informal easing up on unauthorized street vendors near marketplaces. According to the Daily NK:

Alley merchants [also known as grasshopper merchants]– those who sell goods in alleyways to avoid crackdowns by Ministry of People’s Safety [MPS] officials–are now referred to as “tick merchants,” a term coined after their rapid proliferation, according to sources within North Korea.

Affiliated with city and county People’s Committees throughout North Korea, official marketplaces are run by a management center, charged with collecting and handling fees for vendors renting stalls from which to sell their sundry goods.

However, securing a location for their operations is not feasible for a multitude of residents. “Many don’t have enough money to afford to pay for a stall in the marketplace, so they either sell goods in the alleys of villages or by crossroads in close proximity to the jangmadang [North Korea’s system of markets],” a source in North Pyongan Province told Daily NK on February 9th.

Regulation of these “alley merchants,” of whom there are countless numbers, is carried out by the Ministry of People’s Safety and patrol units falling under its umbrella. Frequently, these officials are know to extort merchants under the pretense of regulating illegal market activity, confiscating their goods, only to turn around and return the merchandise as soon as their bribe demands have been met.

Despite the incessant threat of crackdowns and extortion by these officials, “grasshopper vendors” are determined to continue selling their items, desperate to hold onto their “lifelines,” according to the source, who noted a marked difference in this particular sector of the market economy since just last year.

Of this situation, she said, “With February 16th [Kim Jong Il’s birthday] fast approaching, the number of alley merchants has surged [to sell goods for residents preparing for the holiday], as has the number of MPS officials.” She went on to explain that last year, however, these “grasshopper merchants” largely abided orders, fleeing the premises after the MPS units arrived for fear of the repercussions. But this year most are staying put in these makeshift alleyway market areas, even saying things to the officials like, ‘If we got our rations, do you think we would be putting ourselves through this?’

This is how the newly coined term, ‘tick merchant’, came into existence: derived from a common expression in North Korea–regarding how impossible ticks are to remove and keep away before another comes along–these merchants are much the same–refusing to budge despite the consequences, determined to claim their spot in the market system.

Recently, investigations launched by the Central Party, aimed at rooting out reckless misconduct of MPS officials toward residents, are also thought to be contributing to the ease on regulation of these alley merchants. This, coupled with the bribe culture continually infiltrating the “tick merchant” realm–just as in the rest of North Korea–has seen the number of those engaged in these operations spike; nominal bribes of cash or goods ensure, at least for the time being, that they can do business in relative peace. Not unlike those with official stalls inside the market, some even reportedly pay periodic fees directly to the market management, all but guaranteeing their exemption from regulation.

The residents, and even the MPS officials themselves, are not overly preoccupied with regulations and clampdowns, because, as the source put it, “it becomes increasingly difficult for officials to crackdown on merchants selling in the surrounding areas of the markets, entirely reliant on selling goods to survive.”

Many are concerned that the leniency pervading these alley way operations may be fleeting, but the source asserted things will never return to the past. “When the investigations on the Ministry of People’s Safety officials are over, regulation of the alley markets is expected to become stringent again. Still, at this point, it’s next to impossible for these officials to make residents, largely dependent on business to maintain their livelihoods, obey them, meaning eradicating these ‘tick merchants’ is just as improbable,” she concluded.

And the DPRK has begun lifting age restrictions on market vendors. According to the Daily NK:

Amid relaxation of restrictions on market activities, the North Korean authorities began lifting age restrictions for vendors at the end of last year in some regions and, more recently, scrapping the ban nationwide.

“The authorities have been quite lax with clampdowns and regulations of official markets as of late,” a source in Yangkang Province reported to Daily NK on March 20th. “Those previously not permitted stall rights to sell their products are now being granted these privileges, greatly increasing the number of stalls. Also, women below the age of 50 are no longer prohibited from selling at the markets.”

In the absence of age restrictions, markets have seen a marked increase of women selling goods there. According to the source, the North Korean authorities previously regulated trade activities by women under 50 to deter shirking of ideological study sessions or–even more importantly– nationwide mobilization directives for agricultural or construction efforts, The authorities compromised by granting these women permission to participate in these compulsory organization activities only in the morning, freeing up the afternoon for market activities.

“Since last year, the authorities didn’t really implement clampdowns and have even showed a great deal of leniency to those selling in the alleys. As a result, women who previously idled away at home have been propelled into market life, selling everywhere they can,” she explained.

Unsurprisingly, most women are perplexed, if cautiously elated, by the leniency shown by a system that has wielded such stringent power and regulation over them for so long. “The shift in sanctions feels like hell has frozen over,” many have remarked, adding that they “finally have the opportunity to make ends meet.” Still, many are wary, noting that “you never know when the authorities will abruptly declare a new policy or revert to stringent clampdowns.”

She added that while the state did not lift the restriction to “improve people’s lives” as it claims, it has had a positive impact nevertheless. According to the source, North Korea’s motives for the lift begin and end with procuring funds. “There are thousands of stalls in Hyesan Market; this yields huge profits for the state who collect the fees vendors pay to use the space,” she pointed out.

That said, she maintained a sanguine outlook, remarking how empowering it is to see women effecting change in the markets by expanding their inroads into this sector, while making significant, if not dominant, fiscal contributions within their individual households. “Whereas there were only older women in the markets in the past, you can now easily spot women in their 20s and 30s in the industry,” she explained.

Surprisingly, the reduced regulations have increased rather than diminished participation in state mobilization efforts– such as compost collection or “loyalty singing sessions”– because women are afforded a bit more breathing room from unceasing concerns about how to secure their next meal. The positive results are already palpable, according to the source, who said that “most families are better off now due to women’s increased forays into the market domain.”

Read the full story here:
Crackdowns Ease Up on Alley Merchants
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah
2015-02-11

NK Lifts Market Age Restrictions
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin
2015-03-23

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‘Donju’ step in on state construction

Monday, March 16th, 2015

Sunchon-power-plant-health-complex-2014-12-31

Pictured Above (Google Earth): The Sunchon Thermal Power Plant Health complex

According to the Daily NK:

The donju —North Korea’s nouveau riche — have recently been expanding their business inroads. Whereas this contingent previously forayed in wholesale/retail businesses, the burgeoning real estate market, and transportation, they are now yielding profits by increasingly partaking in state construction projects, Daily NK has learned.

“The South Pyongan Sunchon Thermal Power Plant recently built swimming pools and bathhouses by utilizing waste heat recovery, a project in which several of the donju invested,” a source in South Pyongan Province informed Daily NK on the 16th. “The authorities merely granted permission—the entire project was undertaken with the money invested by the donju.”

The recently constructed swimming pool can hold up to 200 people, creating potential for significant financial profits to be split 50/50 between the state-run power plant and the donju investors, according to the source. She noted that since last year, the Sunchon Thermal Power Plant has already reaped in significant construction funds through residual revenue from the swimming pool.

“The swimming pools, bathhouses, and steam room facilities boast modern amenities, such as restaurants and snack bars, attracting scores of patrons,” she explained. “All the waste heat from the power plant turbines was squandered until the launch of this construction project, which was based on a proposal by the donju to redirect the secondary heat in order to establish swimming pools and steam bathhouses.”

Those members of the donju with more expendable wealth have impressive business acumen, utilizing connections with executives of state-run enterprises in order to partake in various profitable ventures. “The donju are doing what the state cannot ,” the source pointed out.

She expounded on this by saying that donju business domains are rapidly expanding to encompass state construction endeavors. Beset by financial difficulties, North Korean officials are heavily reliant on the donju to implement state-run construction projects, creating a de facto “public-private partnership.” Party cadres forge a symbiotic relationship with the donju: the former receive immense kickbacks from the latter, who are more than willing to pay for the opportunity to expand their business terrains.

“The city of Sinuiju has been carrying out a large-scale national project of building apartments recently,” a different source based in the city told Daily NK. As previously reported by Daily NK, a multitude of the donju have invested in this large-scale venture.

“The donju are investing in the apartment construction under the condition of attaining a certain degree of leasing rights; in other words, they will effectively own the place and charge rent to individuals to reap in profits,” she concluded.

Read the full story here:
‘Donju’ Step In on State Construction
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah
2015-3-16

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New apartment construction in Sinuiju

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

Chaeha-sinuiju-apartments

Pictured above (Google Earth: 2014-8-6): New apartment housing in Chaeha-dong, Sinuiju.

According to the Daily NK:

The real estate market in a strategic location of North Korea is heating up, with a recently new venture seeing apartment units being traded for up to 30,000 USD , the Daily NK has learned.

“Real estate development in Sinuiju City has been pretty active since two years ago,” a source based in the province told the Daily NK on Tuesday. “Starting last July or August, construction for high-rises has been underway in the Chaeha-dong neighborhood.”

The apartments in Chaeha-dong are being built on joint investments from foreign currency-earning enterprises and the donju [the new affluent middle class], according to the source. To clear the way for the lucrative project, Chaeha Market, the largest distribution market in the city, has been relocated to park grounds located in Namsang-dong.

While private property purchases remain illegal in North Korea, beleaguered by economic hardship, the state dolls out tacit consent to these endeavors, encouraging increasingly more illicit trade within the burgeoning real estate market.

In areas like Sinuiju, a main portal to and from China, there is no shortage of solvent buyers eager and willing to pay for property in the area, knowing its value will only continue to increase. The apartments taking over the Chaeha Market grounds are modern buildings of roughly 100 square meters, constructed from materials exclusively imported from China. Situated in a prime location near Sinuiju Customs House, the complex offers convenient transportation options compared to other locations, warranting the relative high prices, according to the source.

Units in the complex come in three varieties, depending on their stage of completion: “If only the framework of the apartment is put up, it is sold for 20,000 USD; if interior construction is completed, it trades for 25,000 USD; and if decorative touches are added, it fetches 30,000 USD,” she explained. According to exchange rates in North Korean markets on the 7th, 1 USD trades for roughly 8,000 KPW.

Labor for the cause consists of workers from state-run enterprises and “8.3 Workers” with special expertise. The term, “8.3 Workers,” stems from a system where workers earn money outside their state-mandated workplaces and present de facto tax payments back to their employers but also keep a portion of the profits. In this case, the “8.3 Workers” are sectioned off into “8.3 Units” of five to eight people, tasked with plastering or putting down tiles in one unit within the residential complex.

Regarding compensation for their work on the new building, “8.3 Groups” reach an agreement with the construction company, affiliated with a foreign-currency earning enterprise, on rates and then work around the clock once ground breaks on the project. “Time equals money,” as the source said, adding that one worker is estimated to receive roughly 30,000 [3.75 USd] to 50,000 KPW [6.25 USD] a day of work and is guaranteed rations and meals.

For investors, however, the project yields far more significant returns. “If an individual invests in one of these companies’ real estate construction project, the profits are divided up 3:7 and the investor receives a 30 percent share from sales of the completed property,” the source explained.

Donju invest in housing construction projects with these firms because they are unable to receive legal permission from the Ministry of Construction to engage in such personal investments. Although donju involvement in these undertakings has been known to sometimes take the form of loans offered to construction firms at lofty interest rates, this method proves less popular for the simple fact that there is less guarantee for them to receive what they are owed; needless to say, no laws exist to protect these–by official North Korean law–illicit transactions.

This fact propels most of the donju to invest in the permanence and relative stability property offers, all while skimming 30 percent of the overall profits from the sale; it is also why the source speculated this form of investment to continue to gain traction.

She added that demand for news persists on with unhindered growth. Party cadres and the donju continue to purchase completed units; in fact, many even buying two or three units using their relatives’ names to ensure future usage.

Meanwhile, residents of Chaeha-dong in Sinuiju are currently residing at the Sinuiju Medical University dorms or at homes of their relatives. The source reported that these temporarily displaced persons will be moving in, free of charge, to the newly built apartments following their completion. She noted, however, that this contingent forms a disproportionate percentage to those who have purchased units within the complex.

Read the full story here:
Real Estate Market Booming in Sinuiju
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah
2015-01-14

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Smuggling between China and North Korea still prevalent

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern studies (IFES)

On October 15, 2014 Chinese media reported that smuggling along the China-North Korea border, which responds sensitively to North Korea’s situation, is still prevalent and that no particular changes have been detected internally within North Korea.

According to Huanqiu, the website of the Chinese nationalistic tabloid The Global Times, smuggling along the borders of the Liaoning and Dandong provinces has continued to persist in spite of recent flurry of rumors over Kim Jong Un’s whereabouts.

A source familiar with the smuggling situation on the border was quoted as saying, “If tensions were truly rising within North Korea, the very first thing to react would be the border guards, quickly followed by the suspension of smuggling activities.” The source continued, “However, smuggling has so far been unaffected.”

The newspaper captures the scene of a smuggling operation which took place on the night of the 13th near Wollyang Island, a small island on the Yalu (Amnok) River between Dandong and the North Korean city of Sinuiju. North Korean residents send signals to the Chinese on the other side of the river with a red light, to which the Chinese fishing boat responds with a green light. After exchanging signals back and forth, the two parties meet and the deal is finished quickly.

Smuggling along the China-North Korea border has been occurring for quite some time. Besides the smuggling of drugs, which the Chinese government punishes severely, trade products such as food and other daily necessities dear to the North Korean lifestyle have been overlooked for the most part.

Previously, commonly smuggled goods consisted of cooking oil, rice, clothes, and used electronics. However, according to the Huanqiu news, products such as cellphones, PCs, washing machines and refrigerators are also being traded for.

Local sources explained that high ranking “level 1” officials at the provincial and county levels are mainly responsible for ordering these types of products, and that many of the tablet PCs used by high level executives in Pyongyang have been smuggled in through China.

Huanqiu news also introduced another source, who was quoted as saying, “Pyongyang officials are involved in all large scale trade operations along the border. We have connections to high officials in North Korea’s State Security Department, but without them, we cannot do anything.”

Despite the fact that smuggling has been occurring for quite some time, there was a brief slowdown after border security was strengthened immediately following the execution of Jang Song Thaek, former vice chairman of the National Defense Commission in late 2013.

Meanwhile, Huanqiu news also reported that the Third Annual North Korea-China Economic, Trade, Culture and Tourism Expo opened as planned from October 16 – 20 in China’s Dandong province. It was also reported that both legal trade between the two nations and Chinese tourism to North Korea are progressing normally, regardless of recent speculations.

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DPRK reportedly bans unauthorized wireless networks at foreign embassies

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

According to Itar-Tass (Russia):

North Korean authorities have banned foreign diplomatic missions and branches of international humanitarian organizations working in the country from using any kind of wireless communications without government approval, starting from Monday.

The state department regulating radio frequencies said controls extending to satellite and Wi-Fi were in the interests of national security.

Regulations demand that foreign missions immediately dismantle all equipment providing such means of communication or face penalties including a substantial fine, enforced suspension of those systems and their confiscation.

Officials said foreign representations would be allowed to use equipment only after authorization.

A recent report in The Diplomat claimed that the black market price of housing near the Munsu diplomatic compound had gone up as people sought residencies that could access the internet.

Housing prices have skyrocketed in a residential area of Pyongyang where the foreign embassies are located as North Koreans are scrambling to move to that area, expecting to use the embassies’ Wi-Fi, North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity (NKIS) — a Seoul-based think tank — reported on August 6. The world wide web has long been totally banned in North Korea.

NKIS said the phenomenon became apparent in June when North Korean authorities arrested a broker who enriched himself by facilitating the purchase of housing in that area.

A man with the surname Cho helped people living in Pyongyang’s rich districts such as Central District and Potonggang District sell their houses and move in near the foreign embassies, NKIS reported. It is illegal for people to make real estate deals among individuals.

NKIS added that the reason why North Korean people want to move to the area where the foreign embassies are located is that they are able to use the Wi-Fi coming from the embassies. Since some of embassies have very strong Wi-Fi signals and some don’t even have passwords, people living around the embassies are able to access the Internet using the embassies’ Wi-Fi.

NK News received a copy of the official order from the State Radio Regulatory Department:

All the Diplomatic Missions and International Organizations to

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

The State Radio Regulatory Department, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, presents its compliments to all the Diplomatic Missions and International Organizations to the DPRK and has the honour to inform that the signals of regional wireless network, installed and being used without licence, produce some effect upon our surroundings.

Therefore, it is kindly notified that the regional wireless network is abolished here according to Article 18, Chapter 3 of the Law on Radio Regulation, and that the Missions, who would like to use the regional wireless network in future, should seek a consultation with the State Radio Regulatory Department.

It would be appreciated if the Missions could positively co-operate in the current measures taken for the security of the DPRK.

The State Radio Regulatory Department, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, avails itself of this opportunity to renew to all the Diplomatic Missions and International Organizations to the DPRK the assurances of its highest consideration.

The State Radio
Regulatory
Department,

Democratic People’s
Republic of Korea

Pyongyang
August 13,
2014

Appendix

Article 18, Chapter 3 of the DPRK Law on Radio Regulation; The institution, enterprise, organization and citizen who would like to form or use the wireless communication network and satellite communication network here should seek the licence from the Radio Regulatory body.

Article 61, Chapter 4 of the enforcement regulations for the DPRK Law on Radio Regulation; In case of having violated this rules and regulations relative to the application of the Law on Radio Regulation, a fine amounting up to 1,500,000 Wons will be imposed , or such punishment as interrupting the operation or forfeiting the equipment will be inflicted according to the circumstances.

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Competition rises among factories and department stores in North Korea: Delivery services now available

Friday, September 5th, 2014

Institute for Far Easter Studies (IFES)
2014-9-4

It appears that some factories and department stores in North Korea have begun to implement a delivery service in response to customer demand. This new customer-oriented service seems to have arisen out of the Kim Jong Un regime’s goal of increasing autonomy and competition among businesses.

According to the newest issue of “Choguk” [Joguk] (“Motherland”, September 2014), a media outlet associated with the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, North Korea’s representative state-run department store Pyongyang Department Store No. 1 has been making efforts to diversify the services offered to its customers. The article specifically revealed a personal delivery service, saying, “Salespersons have responded to the public’s requests and have begun to deliver ordered products to sell directly to customers at their doorsteps.”

Salespersons from Pyongyang Department Store No. 1 have also been travelling to power plants, mining sites, textile mills, farms and other worksites to sell products directly to workers and farmers. Other businesses, such as the Potong River Shoe Factory, have also been diversifying customer services. For example, employees now visit customers’ homes to measure shoe size and satisfy other requests they may have when placing an order for shoes.

The Daedong River Passenger Transport Company in Pyongyang is currently offering a taxi dispatching service to customers who call in and request a pickup. Similar to the workings of South Korea’s taxi service, North Koreans may simply dial “186” to be connected to the closest dispatch office, which then sends out a taxi to pick up the customer.

On the other hand, North Korea has recognized the problem of the low-quality products and poor construction work and has emphasized that efforts must be made to remedy these areas. In the most recent issue of the quarterly academic journal, Kyongje Yongu [Economic Research] (2014, Issue 3), one article points out problems in the poor quality of North Korean-made products and construction, saying, “Neglect in quality growth is an outdated attitude.”

Specifically, the article mentions the problem of promising completion of construction according to deadlines: “Technical regulations and construction methods are disregarded when projects are rushed to be finished by their completion date, which is often decided in advance to coincide with a holiday or anniversary.

Currently, North Korea has undertaken large-scale construction operations to finish the Kim Chaek University of Technology’s faculty apartments, the Pyongyang Orphanage and Nursery, the North Pyongan Chongchon River Power Plant and other projects spanning various fields. The goal is to complete these projects concurrently with the anniversary of the foundation of the Worker’s Party of Korea (October 10).

At construction sites around North Korea, it appears that all available resources are being mobilized to engage in a so-called “speed battle” with these construction deadlines. The side effect of this huge emphasis on speed has resulted in many instances of poor construction, like the collapse of the 23-floor apartment building in Pyongyang’s Ansan-1-dong back in May.

The article also points out, “Despite attempting to work toward self-sustainability, there are events where lower quality, alternative products are being used below the material requirements that are leading to lowered quality work.” Furthermore, the article emphasizes, “Production and circulation of faulty products or products which cause harm to the health or lifestyle of the people must be stopped.”

It has also been reported that corruption is taking place at factories and construction sites, with party officials or intermediary managers amassing riches by siphoning off materials and pocketing the money. This leads to further problems in product quality and defectiveness.

Due to the issues of poor construction and product quality, the article points out, “There are many areas in our material economic life that fall behind the global trend,” but “if the quality of products and buildings are improved, the need to consider products from other countries will wane.”

In order to solve these problems, the article suggests implementing product standardization and specialization and encourages research in industrial design.

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Chinese Koreans and cross border trade

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

According to the Daily NK:

The Hwagyo, North Korea’s community of overseas Chinese, are seeing their value rise in response to demand for assistance transporting cross-border freight for local traders hamstrung by their proscribed freedom of movement, according to a source inside North Korea. The local traders refer to the process as “renting a passport”.

The source in North Pyongan Province reported to Daily NK on July 28th, “Pyongyang Hwagyo are catering to the tastes of middle-class consumers in the city’s markets by taking orders from individuals or by bringing in goods on the behalf of traders.

“The measles outbreak prevented Pyongyang hwagyo in Pyongyang from taking the cross-border train, but recently that ban was lifted so they can come and go from Dandong again.” The measles travel ban was put in place during June in Yongcheon and Sinuiju, but was withdrawn on July 15th.

Hwagyo are treated as citizens in North Korea, carrying the same identification cards as all other residents; however, they are also able to hold Chinese passports, which allows for greater mobility and autonomy than other North Koreans. That is the reason for the high demand; North Korean traders and wholesalers employ them to ensure that their supplies arrive from China.

“Although there are a lot of hwagyo from Sinuiju and elsewhere in Dandong, Pyongyang hwagyo are the ones who get hired the most because the train ends in Pyongyang; This makes it easier to get the goods into circulation, and the procedures there are not as stringent,” the source reported. “This has caused their value to rise.”

“The hwagyo either use their own money to get products to sell in Pyongyang markets directly, or they use money from traders and take 5% of the total upon delivery,” she said. “They take commission for transferring goods from the cross-border trains to merchants in Pyongyang markets.”

“Merchants used to collaborate with train operators coming in from Dandong to bring goods into Sinuiju. However, more are seeking out the hwagyo instead, because it’s cheaper,” the source said.

There is a stipulated limit of 300kg of cargo per person on the train between Dandong and Pyongyang. Excess luggage is possible, but only up to 50kg, and this is charged at 1.50 RMB per kg, according to the source. The ticket for the 5hr 30min ride is 300 RMB, and this must also be factored into the overall freight transit cost.

The train departs at 10:00 daily. Once it arrives in Pyongyang at around 15:30, passengers and freight are subjected to customs procedures, followed by immigration inspections. “Not a single person can leave the train until everyone goes through immigration and officers check their passports and travel visas,” the source recalled.

“Because the staff in Sinuiji Customs House are tough about inspections and are sure to take at least one thing, it’s safer and cheaper to transport goods via the cross-border train,” the source said, concluding, “How funny it is that this place prevents North Korean citizens from moving around freely and ends up making hwagyo richer.”

Read the full story here:
Hwagyo Step in to Dominate Border Trade
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah
2014-07-29

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On the availability of Chinese and North Korean rice

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

According to the Daily NK:

As volumes of rice bought and sold in North Korea continue to rise, stores operated by foreign-currency earning entities and market vendors are entering into greater competition for customers, inside sources in North Korea report.

“Goods including rice, beans and flour are flowing in steadily from China,” a source from North Pyongan Province explained. “In the olden days the arrival of July would have meant the worst conditions for rice, but this year there have been no big shifts and prices have stayed stable.”

A second source in North Hamkyung Province corroborated the state of affairs, saying,  “Every day a number of freight trucks loaded with rice come in through the customs house at Hyesan, and there’s the smuggled stuff, too.”

“It used to be the norm for rice to retail in the jangmadang [market]Stores only traded it wholesale,” the North Pyongan Province source went on. “But now stores are retailing it, too. Any time rice comes in through customs, buyers are there lining up to take it.”

“Stores” run under the auspices of foreign-currency earning entities began to spring up Pyongyang and other major cities toward the end of 2006. They were given formal permission to sell rice and corn alongside manufactured goods, thus in effect ending the state’s official dominance of domestic grain circulation.

The rice sold in markets comes from two sources: China, and domestic farms.  Stores mostly sell rice originating in China, whereas market vendors tend to purvey rice from a variety of sources, sources say. The ratio of Chinese to North Korean rice sold in public markets is roughly 6:4.

Lower socio-economic groups and restaurants catering to the general public tend toward Chinese rice, which is plentiful and cheap but considered insufficiently glutinous. On the other hand, affluent groups are the main purchasers of rice grown in North Korea. The stickiness of the product is higher, but so is the price: roughly 500 KPW more per kilo than Chinese varieties.

“First to attract customers, and then to turn them into regular visitors, both shops and markets are competing on price and service,” one source explained. “The stores sell their rice for 100 or 200 KPW less than the jangmadang, but customers there cannot negotiate, and the seller never throws anything in for free.”

However, this appears to be changing. According to the source, stores have now begun to grant greater price autonomy to shop officials, allowing for haggling over price and other forms of value-added.

“Customers can negotiate prices and get home or business delivery if they purchase more than 100kg,” one source reported. “It’s just like in the market now. Shops have started providing extra services, and delivery men, eager as they are to earn money, have started crowding outside storefronts waiting for customers where once they would have waited on the road.”

Read the full story here:
Price War as Stores Take on Nimble Vendors
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah
2014-7-22

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De facto marketization of North Korean health care

Friday, July 18th, 2014

Eun Jeong Soh, post-doctoral fellow at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, has written an interesting article in the East Asia Forum on the innovative practices that have developed in the DPRK’s health care system. According to the article:

In contrast to a number of incremental changes toward marketisation — which the government inevitably adopted — Pyongyang has emphasised its intention to maintain completely free and socialised health and education sectors. As a result, despite lacking the resources to provide for the country’s over 700 hospitals and over 6000 clinics, privatisation and decentralisation in the health care sector has been minimal. There have been reports of privately owned and financed pharmacies in the streets of major cities and in a number of hospitals. Nevertheless, health workers are generally reluctant to seek outside resources directly and autonomously for fear of getting into trouble.

Under this peculiar context, informal health care practices — such as informal payments, a black market for medicines and home-practicing doctors — have developed. In a study conducted by the United States Institute of Peace, 90 per cent of respondents admitted to having made informal payments to doctors and that purchasing medications on the black market was common. Interviews with defectors resettling in Seoul confirm this trend. People have learned to treat themselves at home using antibiotics, glass syringes bought from the black market and herbal or traditional medicines. Doctors and pharmacists have created informal referral networks based on a sense of mutual trust in each other’s expertise and competence.

Another noticeable phenomenon is the emergence of home-practicing doctors. Patients have come to prefer private house doctors — out of both convenience and trust — over hospitals where one has to bring everything from medicines to meals. Such practices are illegal but not uncommon. Even in the old days, given the close doctor-patient relationship fostered by the North Korean-style free health care system, people in emergency situations visited doctors’ homes.

Read the full story here:
Behind North Korea’s hospital curtain
East Asia Forum
Eun Jeong Soh, ANU
2014-7-18

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DPRK reportedly seeks to stem flow of price data

Monday, March 17th, 2014

According to the Daily NK:

In an unprecedented move, the North Korean authorities have warned residents in border areas that sharing information on market prices with the outside world will result in harsh punishment.

A Daily NK source located in North Hamkyung Province reported on the 14th, “Recently lectures at People’s Units have emphasized that the Republic’s secrets are being leaked to the outside via phone conversations. We were threatened that if anyone was caught in the act of calling someone outside of the country they would be sent to a prison camp.”

“It was said that ‘impure elements’ are planning to bring about the collapse of socialism in our style from the inside out,” the source recalled.

“We were also told that market prices were a state secret. Such a thing has never been raised in a People’s Unit lecture before, and the people are dumbfounded that the price of rice, pork and corn can be considered a secret of that magnitude.”

“Others are making more cynical remarks,” the source continued. “They say, ‘We’re the worst off in the world, and since we don’t get paid we can’t buy expensive rice. This is a national embarrassment for them and all they want to do is hide it. That’s why market prices are a state secret as well.'”

Furthermore, “Many ordinary people are of the opinion that the cadres [should be targeted] as they know better than anybody else about state secrets. Smugglers, too, are now concerned for their livelihoods as it is necessary for them to discuss pricing issues with their counterparts in China.”

The flow of information in and out of the country has long been restricted by the Kim regime out of fears of a challenge to their unitary rule.

Others assess that these latest measures indicate the North’s sensitivity over recent criticism leveled against the regime in the South Korean media, an act that the North deems an “insult to the Highest Dignity.”

Read the full story here:
Regime Classifies Market Prices as “State Secret”
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin
2014-3-17

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