Archive for the ‘Price liberalization’ Category

DPRK replaces 5,000 won note

Monday, August 18th, 2014

UPDATE 2 (2014-8-18): According to the Daily NK:

Daily NK has learned that the recent 5000 KPW note exchange has prompted an overall apathetic response from residents in North Korea. As Daily NK first reported here on July 31st the North Korean authorities informed residents that the largest denomination monetary unit would be replaced with a new bill.

US Dollars and Chinese Yuan being the currencies of choice in the markets, the recent collection and exchange of the highest denomination bill “doesn’t really affect people’s lives.”

A source in the capital reported to Daily NK on August 14, “A new [5000 KPW] note has been issued, but the exchange of old to new notes hasn’t made much headway.” This is hardly a nuisance to most residents, who are used to adapting, she went on to explain. “People are fairly indifferent about the new 5000 bill, and anyone who expresses concern about it is considered to be a fool by others.”

Production of the new 5000 KPW notes began last year; at the end of July 2014, the Chosun Central Bank announced that residents would have until 2017 to exchange the old bills. “At first, residents didn’t know what the exchange rate would be when they converted to the new bills, so a bit of chaos ensued; once they found out it was a 1:1 exchange rate, things have been pretty quiet of late,” she explained. “The number of residents holding 5000 KPW notes is pretty low so there isn’t an atmosphere of concern surrounding the matter.” The source did add that it cannot be verified at this time if those in rural or farming areas are equally as impervious to the matter.

The source cited two chief factors underpinning this resident indifference: trust in the authorities continues to decline, as does the value of North Korean currency.

The 5000 KPW bill is the largest denomination of bill in North Korean currency, but when compared with foreign currencies like Chinese Yuan or US Dollars, its value is dismal, considered by most to be “wastepaper.” By current exchange rates, 1 USD is equal to 8000 KPW; in other words, the largest note in North Korea [5000 KPW] is less than 1 USD or equal to approximately 5 RMB.

Moreover, at current market prices, 5,000 KPW [6000 KPW per kilo] is insufficient for people to purchase a kilo of rice or a dozen eggs [5000 KPW yields six eggs at present]. “Even when people buy a block of tofu [700 KPW], they use dollars,” the source explained. “Because merchants only do business in US Dollars of Chinese Yuan, people save all their money in these currencies.”

Citing the 2009 currency reforms, she explained the shift in public sentiment on the KPW, “People won’t suffer any losses even if there are 10 more currency reforms. Even those in poorer, rural areas regard North Korean currency as something for ‘use by the state’ and keep their assets in rice and other goods. ”

This shift in attitude of North Korean currency as “means of exchange” to “means of savings” occurred during and after the Arduous March in the 1990s [the North Korean famine if 1994-1998]. After ceasing distribution of regular food rations, starvation quickly became rife. In order to minimize dependency on a broken state system, people sought to build assets by saving as much KPW as possible.

Tragically, those savings were reduced to worthless scraps of paper during the currency reforms in 2009.The goal of the currency redenomination of November 30, 2009 was officially to bring inflation under control and eliminate monetary overhang, but the result of the 100:1 redenomination was catastrophic. This led to a complete transformation in resident commercial activity. The North Korean residents lost complete faith in state-issued banknotes and adopted foreign currencies, namely Chinese Yuan and US Dollars, as the preferred legal tender for business transactions.

“Because KPW is ‘not even worth counting’, there are more and more people who don’t care about the new 5,000 won bill,” she went on. “Instead of curiosity or trepidation as to the motivations behind the exchange, people just feel reassured by holding onto foreign currency.”

Once the privilege of traders and Party officials working abroad, accessibility to these foreign currencies has trickled down to market vendors and young students. Daily NK has recently learned that markets in all major cities in the North even provide small change back to customers in US Dollars and Chinese Renminbi.

Read the full story here:
Residents Indifferent to 5000 KPW Swap
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah
2014-8-18

UPDATE 1 (2014-8-12): Chris Green has more at NK News here.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-8-11): According to the Choson Ilbo:

North Korea’s new 5,000 banknotes no longer feature a picture of nation founder and demigod Kim Il-sung. But the new note shows Kim’s childhood home in Mangyongdae.

The new bills feature the house prominently on the front and on the back a museum in Pyongyang that displays gifts Kim and his son Jong-il received from foreign leaders*.

During a botched currency reform in 2009, Kim Il-sung was also dropped from the 2,000 and 1,000 won bills.

The 5,000 won note is North Korea’s largest denomination and nominally worth around US$50, though its actual market value is nearer $1. Workers in the North Korean state economy are paid some W3,000 a month on average, making it vital for most to seek other forms of income.

A North Korean source said when the new notes were officially announced on July 25, they sparked fears of yet another misguided currency reform, triggering a certain amount of chaos as food prices surged temporarily and some people began stockpiling food.

* Presumably the Choson Ilbo is referring to the International Friendship Exhibition at Myohyangsan. This is not in Pyongyang (Though it used to be!).

Read the full story here:
N.Korea Drops Kim Il-sung from New Banknotes
Choson Ilbo
2014-8-11

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Rice prices starting to increase…

Friday, July 25th, 2014

According to the Daily NK:

Market rice prices in North Korea held steady throughout the “farming hardship period” in April and May; however, prices have recently started to rise. In towns near the border, including those in the provinces of Yangkang and North Hamkyung, rice has reached 6,000 KPW per kilo, inside sources report.

“From the end of last week, the cost of rice began to rise, reaching 6,000 KPW,” a source in North Hamkyung Province reported to Daily NK on the 25th. “All five of the markets in Hyesan, including Yunbong, Masan and Hyesan, have seen the same sudden leap.”

“People are used to small fluctuations in rice prices, but they don’t often see a quick 1,000 KPW increase,” she went on.

A source in Yangkang Province confirmed the increase. “Just a few days ago, rice was 5,000 KPW, so imagine my surprise when I went to buy it yesterday,” she said. “It seems that even the sellers don’t know why it happened.”

“They don’t need to be sure why prices have risen; simply, if one raises the price of her rice, the rest will follow suit,” she added.

The source went on to say that she examined conditions across the city on Daily NK’s behalf, checking markets in areas that could have been in a different condition. “Because miners are receiving their rations, I thought maybe prices around mines would be stabler,” she reported, “but in Masan, one of those areas, it was also 6,000 KPW.”

Last month, rice cost 4,300 KPW in Pyongyang, 4,500 KPW in Sinuiji and 5,050 KPW in Hyesan. Moreover, prices actually went down last week, to 4,250 KPW, 4,380 KPW and 4,800 KPW respectively. But now they have increased by 1,000 KPW within a week.

Daily NK sources speculate that the reason for the sharp increase is due to reduced distribution of rice and below-average yield of early new potatoes. Of course, April and May are called the “farming hardship period” for a reason; in other words, supply-side limitations could simply be filtering down to the retail market.

According to the source, local people are concerned that prices could rise to 7,000 KPW, the high point reached during the mourning period for Kim Jong Il at the start of 2012. However, others are less worried, saying, “Since fall is right in front of us, prices won’t rise any more.”

Although rice prices usually vary in accordance with fluctuations in currency exchange rates, recent ups and downs have not followed this pattern. Despite the fact that the North Korean Won is currently 30 KPW stronger per Chinese Yuan higher than it was last month, rice prices have sharply increased.

“In fifteen days, people will harvest barley and have corn that was planted earlier. So rice prices won’t go up any more,” the source in Yangkang Province said. However, the source in North Hamkyung Province voiced the concern that “flooding from the monsoon may influence yields of barley, corn and other grains.”

Analyzing the situation, Kwon Tae Jin of GS&J Institute said, “Rice is never abundant in Hyesan; it must have been affected by drought in eastern parts of China. Travel restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of diseases may have contributed to the increase as well.”

“Once the corn is harvested in August, prices will stabilize for a while. But a poor yield overall could cause them to start rising later,” he predicted.

Read the full story here:
Markets See Quick Spike in Rice Prices
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin
2014-7-25

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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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Economic Management Improvement Measures – changes after one year

Friday, April 11th, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2014-4-11

The Choson Sinbo, a Japan-based pro-North Korean newspaper, reported on April 2, 2014 that since March of last year all production facilities across North Korea have begun to take measures that will allow them to operate more autonomously. The article is currently garnering attention due to its explanation of the changes and improvements to economic management and by introducing factories where these measures have been successful.

The news also reported that North Korean factories have to diverge from the national economic plan and produce and sell products at their own discretion. Furthermore, workers’ compensation and benefits packages are being adjusted according to each individual factory’s economic situation.

One year after the implementation of the economic management improvement measures, the concept of “business know-how” has begun to settle in each factory. Factories that have been achieving successful results all share similar developments in worker enthusiasm, sense of responsibility, originality and creativity. Promoting the growth of these qualities in factory workers became the key to the successful economic management and growth during this period.

Specifically, the newspaper reported that the North Korean factory workers are seeing returns on their increased profits, and that their enthusiasm is the driving force of the nation’s economic growth.

In the article, Pyongyang Electric Cable Factory 326 was introduced as the first factory to be labeled as a “leading unit” and is considered as an ideal factory workplace for many job seekers in Pyongyang.

At this factory, monthly wages have steadily risen in increments that allow workers to meet the rising costs of living and maintain healthy lives. Workers at Pyongyang Electric Cable Factory 326 are now earning dozens of times more than the national average every month, and the highest record for wages soaring to over 100 times the average was observed this past year.

Alongside slogans and posters that inspire the workers’ will to work, competition charts are also posted at various locations around the factory. This has created a sort of “Socialist production competition.” Factories that submit detailed reports of their business performance receive gifts, and the unit that receives first place is rewarded with a special congratulatory dinner.

Another reason why job seekers are choosing this factory as their ideal workplace is because of housing security. Factory 326 solves its workers’ housing problems by constructing residence complex for the employees and workers become eligible to receive housing after working three to four years.

According to the article, the recent measures taken to improve economic management have been effective in creating a sense of attachment between worker and factory and increasing workers’ desire to succeed. This, combined with the introduction of new scientific technology has allowed factories across North Korea to attain a 10 percent increase in production over the last year. While overall production has in fact increased, it can be concluded that the boost to worker morale is the biggest and most important part of the changes seen in the economy since the implementation of the management improvement measures.

On March 31 of last year, the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea held a plenary meeting where the “Byungjin line” or parallel policy that supports both economic and nuclear development, was adopted, and where Pak Pong Ju was elected to the Politburo — and later Premier (formerly First Deputy Director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party) — in an unprecedented move. From this point forward, North Korea began to officially advance its plans for economic management measures.

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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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The rise and fall of the Rakwon Chicken Specialty Restaurant (a case study in inter-Korean business)

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

UPDATE 4 (2014-2-18): Western tourists are still visiting the restaurant (meaning it has a contract with KITC). The restaurant still has the sign “Rakwon Chicken Specialty Restaurant”, though it is a different color than the original. See tourist video here and here.

UPDATE 3 (2014-2-17): The Hakyoreh updates us on the fate of the inter-Korean chicken restaurant:

In 2005, Choi made his first trip to North Korea to inquire about chicken imports. Soon he had changed plans: he would open his own restaurant there selling South Korean-style chicken. Acquaintances tried to talk him out of it, but he was determined. “I went to Pyongyang and I could see there was money in it,” he recalled. And with economic cooperation between South and North at an all time high, he didn’t see much of a political risk either.

He went back and forth to Pyongyang a few times looking for partners. Finally, in June 2007, he opened up the Rakwon Chicken Restaurant, selling South Korean-style chicken on Puksae Road in the Kaesonmun neighborhood of Moranbong District. His North Korean partner provided the building and staff; Choi was responsible for the interiors, ingredients, recipes, and management system. He reached a deal where he took 70% of profits with a total investment of 500 million won (US$470,000). The opening drew a lot of media attention at the time, with write-ups in the South Korean press and foreign outlets like the Washington Post and Japan’s NHK.

Early on, he did strong business selling at fairly steep prices – the equivalent of US$11.30 for a single bird. His clientele came mainly from the city’s upper class and Chinese visitors. Sales of 100 million won (US$94,000) a year looked to be in sight. “My plan was to open up 100 restaurants in the North,” Choi said.

But in 2008, less than a year after he opened the restaurant, Lee Myung-bak took office as South Korean President. Lee’s administration put a stop to the previous decade’s policies of engagement and cooperation with North Korea, opting for sanctions and containment instead.

“There was a promise between the two sides, and I never thought that would be rejected completely,”Choi said. “Suddenly, that was the reality.”

Bit by bit, exchange ground to a halt. A March 2008 shipment of ingredients through Nampo turned out to be Choi’s last interaction. He had not yet received a single share of revenue.

Then came the announcement of the so-called “May 24 measures” in 2010. Following the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan warship the preceding March, Seoul had called a complete halt to all exchange and economic cooperation with North Korea.

“All the May 24 measures did was drive it home,” Choi insisted. “Most of the economic cooperation had been choked off long before that.”

For the next four years, Choi wasn’t able to set foot in North Korea. Without his support, the restaurant lost its chicken focus and began selling ordinary cuisine. Choi’s other business began to suffer too.
“I’d put my house and buildings up as collateral to borrow the 500 million won to invest in the North,” he said. “Then, to top it all off, there was the US financial crisis. Things began to go downhill rapidly in South Korea, and my business started to fall apart.”

UPDATE 2 (2009-1-1): The BBC offers an update of the new chicken restaurant:

The governments may not be on the best of terms but a South Korean businessman seems to have found a way to North Koreans’ hearts: their stomachs.

Choi Won-ho, the owner of a fried chicken chain, was told he was doomed to fail when he opened his first branch in the impoverished North last year.

But encouraged by his progress so far, he is already preparing to open another one.

Mr Choi runs a fast food franchise in South Korea with a total of 70 stores.

He opened one more last year – no real challenge you might think – except this extension to his fried chicken empire is in the heart of one of the most secretive and business-unfriendly places on the planet.

But Mr Choi says the citizens of Pyongyang have been queuing in front of his shop which is taking around $1,000 a day.

He is now preparing to meet North Korean officials in January to finalise the approval for a second outlet.

His customers are almost certainly all members of North Korea’s elite, a country in which the World Food Programme says up to 9m people will face urgent food shortages this winter.

Relations between the two Korea’s have been at a low since the conservative government of President Lee Myung-bak came to power in the South in February.

North Korea has severed official contacts, stopped all cross-border tourism and restricted entry to a joint industrial zone built with southern money.

But despite the chill, Mr Choi’s fried chicken venture seems to be sizzling.

Read the full story here:
South Korea Chicken Success in NK
BBC
John Sudworth
2009-1-1

UPDATE 1 (2008-11-1): The restaurant is set to open in February 2008. According to Yonhap:

An inter-Korean joint-venture chicken franchise will open its first store in Pyongyang early next month, the head of the franchise’s South Korean partner said Friday.

The store set to open in early February will provide a food delivery service using motorbikes for the first time in the communist country, Choi Won-ho, president of the South Korean company said.

No North Korean restaurants offer food delivery service now, according to defectors from North Korea.

Fried, grilled and steamed chicken dishes as well as draft beer are available for delivery, he said, adding the food will be prepared in the North Korean style.

“I recently received a photo of the store’s interior design from our North Korean business partner, Rakwon General Trading Corporation, along with the offer to open the first store before the 66th birthday of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il,” Choi told Yonhap News Agency by phone. “After opening, I will use radio and newspaper ads to promote the business.”

Kim’s birthday, which falls on Feb. 16, is the most festive holiday in the North.

The North Korean company will provide land, some 20 low-cost workers, chicken, and draft beer. The early-stage investment, equipment, cook and spicy chicken will come from the South Korean chicken franchise called “Matdaero Chondak,” Choi said.

The first “Rakwon” chicken restaurant in Pyongyang will have the capacity of seating about 200 people, he added.

The businessman said he will visit North Korea next week to discuss the opening of the store.

“I hope the business will thrive enough so that we can open store No. 10 in Pyongyang,” he added.

Read the full story here:
Inter-Korean joint venture chicken franchise to open first store in Pyongyang
Yonhap
1/11/2008

ORIGINAL POST (2007-11-3): A South Korean entrepreneur is investing in a new fried chicken restaurant in Pyongyang:

According to Reuters:

A South Korean businessman plans to begin a fried chicken delivery service in the North Korean capital, with the first foreign-run restaurant in a country that struggles to feed its own people.

Choi Won-ho, head of a fried chicken franchiser that has about 70 restaurants across South Korea, said Friday he is opening a 50-table restaurant in Pyongyang on Nov. 15. It will also deliver chicken and draft beer to homes.

“I have wanted to be the world’s best chicken brand,” Choi told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

“But I thought it makes no sense to conquer the world without sharing food with our compatriots. That’s why I went there first,” he said. “I plan to get into the Chinese market via Pyongyang.”

He laughed off concerns his venture may be too risky in the impoverished and isolated country of 23 million, where the elite citizens of the capital are much better off than others.

“I don’t think that I’m going to lose money at all,” he said.

It will be the first foreign-run restaurant in North Korea, according South Korea’s Unification Ministry.

Choi, 48, who has been in the fried chicken business for 15 years, said he hired an ethnic Korean Chinese as the main cook for the Pyongyang outlet and taught him all his cooking know-how. About 20 North Koreans will also work at the restaurant and five scooters will be used for deliveries, he said.

Choi said he invested about 500 million won (US$551,339, ?382,264) in the joint venture with a North Korean trading firm that will take 30 percent of the profits from the business.

North Korea is one of the poorest countries in the world and has relied on foreign food aid to feed the population for more than a decade since natural disasters and mismanagement devastated its economy.

Relations between the two Koreas have improved significantly since their first-ever summit in 2000, spurring a series of exchange projects between the Cold War rivals that fought the 1950-53 Korean War. That conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the two sides still technically at war.

According to the Joong Ang Ilbo:

South Koreans are making two very different attempts to improve the culinary life of impoverished North Koreans.

First, a South Korean fried chicken franchise will open the only foreign-run restaurant in North Korea, targeting family dining on special occasions.

Second, the labor union of a South Korean conglomerate has built a plant in Pyongyang to provide cheap corn noodles to northerners who suffer from food shortages.

Choi Won-ho, who runs Matdaero, a 70-store fried chicken franchise in the South, said yesterday he would open a restaurant in a joint venture with a North Korean state-run trading company, near the Arch of Triumph in central Pyongyang on Nov. 15.

The restaurant will both receive walk-in customers and deliver chicken and draft beer to homes. Such places are common in South Korea, but it will be the first chicken joint of its kind in North Korea.

Choi has invested 500 million won ($551,000) in the restaurant’s cooking facilities, interior decoration and delivery scooters. He will split the profit 70-30 with the North Korean firm.

Choi, 48, who has been a chicken entrepreneur for 15 years, said there should be sufficient demand despite North Korea being one of the world’s poorest countries, because he plans to offer lower prices to locals.

“I will charge about $3 for a whole chicken for North Koreans and at least $12, the same price as in South Korea, for tourists from the South and other countries,” Choi said yesterday by phone. “One whole chicken will be enough for a four-member family, so the price of $3 will not be too burdensome for special occasions.”

The store will hire about 20 North Koreans to take telephone orders, fry the birds and make home deliveries. It will have seating for 50.

Separately, the labor union of Hyundai Motor Company, Korea’s top automaker, said in a statement that it has completed an 1,800-square-meter corn-noodle plant in Pyongyang. The plant can produce two tons of corn noodles a day, it said.

Hyundai Motor’s 44,000 unionized workers agreed in August to help a South Korean humanitarian group build the noodle factory. Workers donated about 12,000 won each, 500 million won in total, for the facility.

“The plant will be a great help to relieve the food problems of North Koreans,” Chang Kyu-ho, a spokesman for the labor union, said. “Corn is a staple food for North Koreans.”

Read the full stories here:
Fried chicken franchise goes North
Joong Ang Daily
Moon So-young
11/3/2007

S Korean businessman to debut fried chicken at first foreign-run restaurant in North Korea
Reuters (Via DPRK Studies)
Jaesoon Chang
11/3/2007

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Data on the DPRK’s informal economy

Saturday, November 16th, 2013

According to the Choson Ilbo:

The belief that money can buy anything is rife in North Korea. Farmers can buy membership of the Workers Party, the gateway to the elite, from a senior party official for about $300. Factory or company workers or soldiers have to pay about $500 for party membership. College admission can also be bought with a bribe.

“Anybody can buy admission to Pyongyang Medical University for $10,000 and to the law or economics departments of Kim Il-sung University for between $5,000 and $10,000,” said a South Korean government source.

The opportunity to work overseas costs $3,000, plus an extra $1,000 if workers want their stay extended another year.

Currently, a U.S. dollar is worth about 7,000 North Korean won. Would-be defectors pay border guards $40 to cross the Apnok or Duman rivers, and $60 to carry old or feeble people on their back.

Asked about the monthly average household income, 31.7 percent said they earned up to 300,000 North Korean won. Next came up to 100,000 won for 16.6 percent, up to 500,000 won for 13.7 percent, and up to 1 million won for 13.2 percent.

But their official salary for their work is a mere 3,000 to 5,000 won, meaning they earned the rest of their income chiefly in the informal economy.

The most popular means of earning money are small shops or restaurants, cottage industries like making clothes and shoes, and private tutoring and private medical services.

Farmers can earn 60,000 to 80,000 won a month by harvesting 700 kg of beans and corn annually from their allocated field and raising five chickens and a dog.

Recently, a growing number of people are getting into the transportation business by illegally registering vehicles or boats, which are banned from private ownership, in the name of agencies or companies and appropriating their profits.

They also make money from smuggling. Repairing computers or mobile phones has become a popular job as well as repairmen can earn $5 to $10 per job.

Read the full story here:
N.Korea’s Informal Economy Thrives
Choson Ilbo
2013-11-16

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Recent information on implementation of economic adjustment policies

Friday, May 31st, 2013

UPDATE 1 (2013-6-5): The Daily NK reports that the DPRK’s new crop-sharing plan is in effect:

Inside North Korean sources have confirmed that collective farms are now offering part of their land to non-farmers in exchange for 30% of production derived from it, in effect renting farmland to private individuals.

A source from North Pyongan Province told Daily NK on the 5th, “Farms in Shinuiju have started authorizing private individuals to cultivate land owned by the farms. There’s a whole queue of people wanting to rent land and till it.”

“There is no limit on the amount of land that people can borrow from the farms,” the source went on. “The amount of land leased is decided according to the amount of labor that it is possible to commit to it. They have made it clear that if the harvest is worth a total of ten, then seven goes to the individual and three to the farm itself.”

It is easy to see why people are keen to get involved in this tenant farming method of agriculture; it appears to be more favourable to the farmer than the existing system. Currently, factories and enterprises rent land from collective farms and farm it as a sideline, then divide a proportion of the yield up between workers. However, by farming land individually, people can realize greater benefits from increased effort, providing an incentive to work harder and longer.

A source from North Hamkyung Province corroborated the story, saying, “Cooperative farms here are renting land to individuals and factories at 70-30. There are more individuals doing it than enterprises, and the amounts of land taken range from a few tens of pyeong at the smallest all the way up to half a jeongbo (1500 pyeong; one square meter is equal to 0.3025 pyeong).”

According to the source, people currently view this as one of their best chances to ease food insecurity problems in the absence of state distribution.

Read the full story here:
Farms Rent Land for 70-30 Split
Daily NK
2013-6-5

ORIGINAL POST (2013-5-31): Some news of economic policy changes following the KWP/SPA meetings has been published by the Associated Press, but has not appeared in the DPRK’s official media:

“Last year, we studied reasonable economic management methods in different fields of economic work, and introduced it to some units on a trial basis,” Ri Ki Song, an economist from North Korea’s Academy of Social Sciences, told AP this week.

North Korea formally announced the policy, and its expansion to include factories and other enterprises, a day after holding a plenary session of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party. Rodong Sinmun, the party newspaper, called it part of a “new strategic line.”

Ri, however, dismissed characterizations of the changes as reform.

What’s new, he said, is allowing managers to dole out goods and cash as incentives. In addition, after paying back investments provided by the state, managers can set their employees’ salaries and offer raises to those who help drive up production, he said.

The main goal: to encourage “greater profits” and solve North Korea’s chronic food shortage, Ri said.

He said North Koreans work hard, but the new incentives give them motivation to work even harder. “They are saying that higher salaries and shares will improve their life.”

Political and military expert Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum CSIS in Hawaii, noted that North Korea has rolled back past attempts at economic reform.

“The North Koreans have played reform games before and then just sort of pulled the rug out from under it,” he said. Cossa cited international aid groups as saying the military is pressuring farmers to donate their portion to the army.

This year, things are being managed differently, said Kim Jong Jin, deputy chairman of the farm’s managing committee.

He said the state provided the farm with the rice seedlings, which farmers are now transplanting to paddies by hand. Farmers are on smaller teams that have direct responsibility over their plots.

After the rice is harvested, farmers must “repay” the state for the seeds. At Tongbong that means giving the state about 193 kilograms of rice as payback for every 140 kilograms of seedlings they received.

But any surplus can be kept by the team to sell, barter or distribute – a change from past policies that required farmers to turn all harvests over to the state.

“This encourages enthusiasm for production and we get more of what’s produced,” Kim said.

Additional Information

1. Read more about the 6.28 policies here.

2. Read more about the April Workers’ Party and Supreme People’s Assembly meetings here.

Read the full story here:
NKorean farmers planting rice with profits in mind
Associated Press
2013-5-31

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North Korean markets heavily filled with Chinese products and currency

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2013-4-25

After North Korea’s currency revaluation in 2009, North Korean currency is still unstable and North Korean markets near the DPRK-China border are reportedly filled with Chinese merchandise, with transactions being conducted mainly in Chinese yuan.

An online newspaper, the Daily NK, reported that markets in the city of Hyesan (Ryanggang Province) and surrounding areas are using Chinese yuan as the primary currency for transactions rather than local North Korean won.  Rice prices are standard indicators of inflation in North Korea and even rice was reported to be exchanged in yuan.  As the monetary value of domestic currency continues to fall, North Korea is experiencing hyperinflation and North Koreans are showing a preference for the more stable Chinese yuan over won.

With an exception of rice, vegetables, and seafood, manufactured goods including confectioneries, the daily necessities for sale in these markets are mostly from China.  As well, some South Korean items such as instant noodles, Choco Pies, and butane gas are sold openly in the markets.

Border areas have a higher rate of Chinese yuan usage than inland areas, as for years traders have been buying Chinese goods with Chinese yuan to sell in the domestic markets.  However, with the unstable domestic currency, more and more North Koreans have been using Chinese yuan over the last three years.  Some report goods bought with North Korean won must be converted to the CNY exchange rate.

As of mid-April, the exchange rate of 100 CNY to KPW was 130,000. However, Pyongsong and Pyongyang cities used mainly US dollars and local won in equal rates.

A video recording obtained by the Daily NK unveiled the landscape of the marketplace and nearby alley markets of  Hyesan and surrounding areas.  Items for sale include jackets, mufflers, gloves, coats and other winter clothing as well as cosmetics, perfumes, toothpaste, toothbrushes and other daily goods. Transactions were being made in Chinese yuan.

North Korean authorities are waging a crackdown against the use of the yuan in the markets but merchants continue to use yuan in secret.

The high number of Chinese goods in North Korean markets can be attributed to the failed production system of the people’s economy of North Korea, which began to tumble in the late 1990s. As the regime began to invest excessively in its military sector, production in the manufacturing sector declined.

Although North Korean products appear in the markets, most people prefer Chinese goods due to their better quality.

A recent article in the official state economics journal of North Korea, Kyongje Yongu (Journal of Economic Research), criticized the “trade companies for focusing on only one or two countries,” expressing concerns that, “the whole nation may experience political and economic pressure from trade companies that restrict foreign trade to only one country.”

Kim Jong Un has also expressed official disapproval against “import syndrome” of the people and regarded it as an obstacle hindering the development of North Korea’s light industry.

Although no specific country was named, it is believed that China makes up over 80 percent of North Korea’s total foreign trade. North Korea continues to show vigilance against its rising dependence on China.

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DPRK distributing grain / Rice price falls

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

According to the Daily NK:

Rice prices in North Korean markets have fallen dramatically after the authorities increased levels of food distribution in major urban areas like Pyongyang and Sinuiju, part of state policy of “normalizing” public distribution. Most people are undecided about the policy, but the reality is that grain has been provided by the state both last month and into this, and this is having an effect on market grain prices.

A Pyongyang source told Daily NK on the 21st, “There was five days of distribution in the first part of last month and ten days in the last part, then a further five days at the start of this month, so rice prices fell. The authorities are saying that they are going to give ten days of distribution per month until September, then normalize it completely after that.”

Ten days of distribution at North Korea’s own mandated levels means 4.5kg for workers and a further 2kg for dependent family members.

“When they first heard about [the policy of distribution normalization] they didn’t believe it, but after getting fifteen days distribution last month and another five days this, people are wondering whether this time it could be different,” the source said. “Even last month most people said ‘this will only last for this month,’ but now they have done it this month as well the number of expectant people is rising.”

The source also revealed data on the drop in market grain prices, saying that at one point the price of rice in Pyongyang had declined from 6500-7000won/kg, the approximate price point since the start of the year, to 4500won. “Although it has since climbed back up through the 5000won barrier, it is holding steady,” she added.

However, “From the middle part of April the price started slowly rising again,” she went on, conjecturing, “If distribution is achieved next month as well then it should stay below 6000won, perhaps even staying at around 4000-5000won.”

Aware that Pyongyang is a unique case in the North Korean context, Daily NK has also been checking conditions in other parts of the country, including along the Sino-North Korean border, and has learned that there has been distribution in the North Pyongan Province city of Sinuiju, the Yangkang Province city of Hyesan, and Heoiryeong and Chongjin in North Hamkyung Province, raising the possibility, which sources have echoed, that distribution is occurring nationwide. All the areas checked by Daily NK have also seen rice prices falling sharply thanks to the state distribution.

One Sinuiju-based source explained the situation there, saying, “As far as I know, the official policy of normalizing distribution is not just for our region but all other regions, too. They recently gave us ten days of rice here, so the price in the jangmadang (market) has fallen below 5000won.”

Sources report that between April 14 and 17 the price of rice has fallen to 5400won in Hyesan, 5100won in Hoiryeong, 5200won in Chongjin, and 5000won in Saebyeol County.

A source from Chongjin explained, “On or around April 10th it was selling for 4800won, but has since gone back over 5000won. They have given distribution but exchange rates are not falling, so if distribution ceases at any point, prices will have to rise again.” The same source noted, however, that in Hyesan prices fell, but when the authorities then stopped importing rice from China, they rose again, reaching 6400won. “Rumor has it that they will allow imports again,” the source noted, “but nobody knows when so prices remain high.”

Read the full story here:
Rice Prices Fall on State Distribution
Daily NK
Kim Yong Hun
2013-4-21

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