NK Forced to Revert to Agricultural Market System?

Daily NK
Jung Kwon Ho

Several sources in China have relayed that it is rumored North Korean authorities are planning to take extreme measures to prevent the sale of industrial products at the jangmadang (markets) next year.

One Chinese merchant, whom DailyNK met in Dandong, China on the 6th, said, “Rumors are circulating that a measure preventing all kinds of Industrial products from being sold in the jangmadang will be implemented next year, making Chinese merchants involved in trade between North Korea and China nervous.”

He informed that “In place of industrial products, only farm produce from the fields of homeowners will be allowed to sell in the jangmadang. Marine products that up to now have been selling in the jangmadang will only be made available at appointed marine shops, meat products at food shops, and industrial products at state operated stores.”

The Chinese source also maintained that, “There are quite a few overseas Chinese who, not knowing what will happen, have bought loads of industrial products with the idea that this might be their last chance, and they have brought them into the North.”

The North Korean authorities began unfolding a series of market regulations immediately following the Inter-Korea Summit in October. These included such policies as limiting the types of items for sale and imposing a minimum age limit on female merchants. However, limiting the sale of industrial products themselves, after having abolished permanent markets, can be seen as a means of returning to “agricultural markets,” where farmers traded only vegetables and a surplus of produce.

According to other Chinese merchants with whom DailyNK met in Dandong on the 3rd, “Under the name of the North Pyongan Party Committee in Shinuiju, a three-day meeting was held between the Secretaries of the Party and of the Army and enterprise managers, from November 20th to the 22nd.”

They informed that “The meeting was held to discuss whether to prohibit jangmadang operations and put people who have been trading in the market to work at enterprises or factories, since regular provisions will resume starting next year.”

The recent efforts to regulate the markets have been analyzed as means to revert the standard of societal regulation to that of the pre-90s by restoring the provision system and normalizing factory operations. However, such an extreme measure is likely to give rise to serious civilian opposition, so there are doubts as to whether or not it can be realized.

The North Korean civilians, before the mid-90s, relied on a complete provision system supplied by the State, which included the provision of goods such as soap, clothes and other necessities. However, after the food shortage, the national provision system completely collapsed. As a result, civilians began acquiring most necessities, goods and food items through the jangmadang.

However, agricultural markets, where miscellaneous cereals, vegetables and other agricultural items raised in home gardens were traded, existed around the time when North Korea’s provision system was in normal operation.

Following the execution of the “July 1st Economic Management Improvement Measure” of 2002, the North Korean government established general markets which brought simple agricultural markets out in the open in February 2003. Since then, individuals leasing stands from the city mercantile department have been able to sell all kinds of industrial products as well.

One source in Chongjin stated in a phone conversation on the 6th regarding the recent rumors, “If the sources are Chinese merchants, than the rumor is not likely groundless. A majority of citizens sustain their livelihoods through the jangmadang.”

He agreed that “It is highly feasible that measures to toughen the regulation of industrial products in the market will be executed.”


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