North Korean authorities are drastically cutting the size of local markets around the country, limiting their business to the sale of farm and livestock products and allowing the sale of other commodities only in state-owned stores, sources in the reclusive country say.
The move has further hurt the livelihood of ordinary residents already struggling amid shutdowns of trade along the border with China and other measures aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19, the sources say.
“Beginning this month, markets operating in every district of Pyongyang city have been changed or significantly reduced in size,” one source in the North Korean capital told RFA’s Korean Service on May 26.
“Markets that used to serve as general markets have now been turned into specialized agricultural markets where only farm and livestock products can be traded,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The order to reduce the markets’ size was issued on May 10 through neighborhood watch units in every district of the city, the Pyongyang source said.
“Each of those units then held a meeting for local residents to deliver the Central Committee’s instructions on how the markets should be used,” the source added.
Before this, the markets in Pyongyang were markets where anything could be sold, the source said. “People used to joke that one could buy anything there but cat horns.”
“However, starting in May, orders were issued to restrict the items allowed for sale, saying that only food and agricultural products such as vegetables, chickens, and rabbits can be traded there now.”
“The orders also specify that manufactured products such as clothing, shoes, and dishes can now be sold only in government stores at wholesale prices, with the merchants allowed to sell those products getting paid through local banks,” he said.
Anyone found in violation of the new regulations forbidding sale of manufactured items in the markets will have their stock confiscated and be sent into internal exile, the source said.
“However, residents are strongly protesting the new policy, saying that the government’s instruction to merchants to sell their goods only through the stores and receive their pay from the banks is aimed at extorting profits by restricting individuals’ business activities.”
Public warnings, threats
Also speaking to RFA, a source in Chongjin City in North Hamgyong, along the border with China, said that markets in his area have also been cut in size, with trade similarly limited to the sale of agricultural and livestock products.
“In each district of Chongjin City, lectures and meetings were held on May 11 warning the residents of all neighborhoods to strictly abide by the Central Committee’s order on how the markets should be used,” the source said.
“At these meetings, it was announced that manufactured goods that had previously been traded in the markets will now be stocked at wholesale prices in the government stores and can only be purchased there.”
As in Pyongyang, the Chongjin residents were also warned if they were found engaged in illegal trade, they would be harshly punished and their goods would be taken away, he said.
“Because of this order, the public widely believes that the country’s economic situation has reached a crisis, as the state is now forcibly taking a share of the profits of individual merchants who are working for a living,” he said.
“Some are even saying that the state is now choking off the last breath of the ordinary people who are struggling day by day just to earn a little money,” he said.
Reported by Jeong Yon Park for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Richard Finney.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.