US Experts See North Koreans Turning to Informal Markets

Posted July 22nd, 2011 at 2:15 pm (UTC-5)
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Experts on North Korea say a growing number of people in the impoverished state are depending on informal markets to make up for shortages of food and other necessities.

Several participants at a conference in Washington earlier this week reported signs of increased public use of markets in the country. North Korea's communist government normally tightly controls all economic activity.

Abraham Kim, vice president of the Washington-based Korea Economic Institute, told VOA he had seen the same thing on a visit to North Korea last month.

Kim said the government appears to be caught in a dilemma between tolerating the markets and maintaining its strict control of the economy. But he said officials accept the situation because the markets make needed food and consumer goods available to the public.

He said some of the markets are as simple as a farmer sitting by a roadside selling cooked potatoes from his nearby field. Others are hidden away on side streets in the capital and have a range of consumer goods brought in by Chinese merchants.

Kim said the markets even handle perishable goods such as bananas, indicating the supply system is able to function fairly quickly and efficiently.

North Korea has struggled to feed its people for nearly two decades, and it has asked for new food aid this year.