DPRK small-scale private commerce and industry growing

Institute for far East Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 08-7-4-1

It appears that the number of people involved in handmade goods manufacturing, trading, and other small-scale, individual businesses is steadily increasing among North Korean citizens.

According to a source inside North Korea on June 30, ever since North Korean authorities announced the ‘Market Stimulation Measure’ in March 2003, the number of small-scale private businesses employing between 1~8 people has continued to grow as citizens in the North have taken to markets aggressively in order to earn money,

As the North’s economic woes continue to stretch over time and the government is unable to provide basic living necessities, the people are looking for other ways to support themselves.

In March of 2003, North Korea expanded farmers’ markets into general markets, allowing not only the sale of agricultural goods, but of manufactured goods as well. At the same time, the state introduced ‘market use fees’ for vendors wishing to rent space to hock their wares, thus bringing about a tax-like ‘state payment’.

Small-scale commercial and industrial businesses took on the form of family manufacturing or collaboration between factories, enterprises and engineers working together, but ‘Chinese-model’ small enterprises hiring just one or two workers also appeared.

In-home food preparation or handmade goods manufacturing, restaurants, bus services, repair work and other service-related industries grew. There also appeared examples of those leasing import rights from organizations or enterprises and making a living through trade.

Authorities have given these businesses tacit permission to operate, recognizing their role in increasing public revenue and supplying the people with daily necessities, but at the same time, they have laid down some restrictions, criticizing those “bitten by the capitalist bug, working only to make money for themselves.”

Small-scale private commerce and industry has the positive benefit of expanding the provision of daily necessities and absorbing unemployed labor in the North, but on the other hand, anti-socialist side effects such as the increasing gap between the rich and the poor and mammonism are also on the rise.


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