2003 September 25 Thursday
Windows Into North Korea's Economy

Small signs of market forces growing in North Korea.

Official sanction: Still, evidence is mounting that the economic lives of ordinary North Koreans are radically changing. Another aid worker who visits North Korea frequently said he was impressed by the number of bicycles in cities on the poor, industrial east coast, most of them made in Japan. “There were bicycles everywhere. To me, that’s an indicator of some kind of progress,” he said. “Something is happening.” Small-scale commercial activity had picked up and people were making economic choices for the first time in their lives. “Along the roadsides you would see these ladies with basins full of fruits and vegetables” for sale, he said. On previous trips they would scurry away when foreigners passed, but not this time, he said. “Clearly, this had some kind of official sanction,” he said.

Meanwhile the Los Angeles Times has a report from a trade fair in North Korea where the sales representatives from other countries describe how North Korean government organizations routinely buy expensive things that are inappropriate for their economy. (LA Times, free reg. req'd)

Gianpiero Foddis, a technician for an Italian tile company, Longinotti, said he was surprised that last year the North Koreans bought more than $1-million worth of equipment for making luxury tiles.

"What they bought is one of the most expensive [tile-making] machines in the world. But the electricity is not stable. The people are not professionals and the quality of the material is not good," Foddis said. "It might fail after a few months."

The North Koreans couldn't be talked out of eel growing equipment even though their weather isn't suitable for raising eels.

The bulk of the economy is still in government hands but small amounts of private enterprise are being tolerated around the edges. These conditions might continue for many years to come.

The booming market for mobile phones in Pyongyang has grown to 200 Motorola and Nokia mobile phones sold per month.

According to the tourism administration's Web site (www.dprknta.com), it costs as much as 1,110 euros or $1,295 to purchase a mobile phone, which includes the cost of activation.

Hey Marmot, can you have a peek at that site and tell us whether that is what the site reports (in what I'm guessing is in Korean language) about mobile phone prices? Is that a cost for tourists to pay? Do locals who are well-connected perhaps pay a special lower price as a reward being heroes of the glorious communist state?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 September 25 04:50 PM  Korea

Kirk Larsen said at September 30, 2003 7:15 AM:

The site is actually in Japanese, not Korean. There is no mention of cell phone prices that I can see. There is an English-language version of the site


but it does not have nearly as many links as the Japanese.

SAM STUART PhG said at December 16, 2004 8:52 AM:

I believe that north Korea is not an issue that the United States needs to be dealing with right now. Significant problems in other countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan are much more important. Kim Jong-Il is a legitimate problem that our country must address, yet now is not the time to do it. With our currency dropping 10 percent in the last ten weeks, to spend even more money on yet another country that is a potential threat would be devastation to the US economic systems.



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