October 26, 2015 13:03
North Korea now has 406 officially sanctioned open-air markets that represent the core of a nascent market economy there.
Curtis Melvin, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University, told Radio Free Asia on Saturday that vendors can set up shop with a license from the Ministry of People's Security.
In 2010 there were only 200 such markets, nervously monitored by the authorities and occasionally shut down, but now the number has nearly doubled. On top of that scores of unofficial markets have sprung up in the streets and back alleys, Melvin said.
There are 148 counties in nine provinces and about 200 districts in large cities, so there is now on average more than one market for every county and city district in North Korea.
A recent study of North Korean defectors by Seoul National University suggests that an estimated 80 percent of the population have used the markets.
Most markets are near the border with China and around Pyongyang, but they are also sprouting up in Hwanghae Province, the Rajin-Sonbong special economic zone in North Hamgyong Province, and Kangwon Province. Most goods traded in the markets are daily necessities, but there are also DVDs, knock-off goods and other merchandise.
Cottage industries are growing that sell knock-offs of lucrative South Korean products like cosmetics, bags, clothing, and furniture. They are even exporting some of them to China. The raw materials they are imported from China and the goods are copied from South Korean, Japanese, and Chinese magazines.
As the markets fill up, some vendors are selling on their stalls for a premium. At one market in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province, a market stall trades for 2.55 million to 5.9 million North Korean won or about W350,000-W800,000.
As vendors' income increases, the regime has established an agency to collect taxes for setting up and running stalls. Private moneylending is also rife in the markets. Around Pyongyang, formerly banned transactions like sales of cars and houses are now freely taking place.
The National Intelligence Service here recently said that North Koreans are increasingly more loyal to money than the supreme leader.
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