By further cementing the positive relationship between South Korea and the United States, the pending South Korea–United States (KORUS) free trade agreement will further weaken the oppressive North Korean regime’s strategic position and help disabuse the regime’s leaders of any hopes they might have had of flagging U.S. support for the South.
Ironically, opponents of KORUS have hyped the possibility of economic benefits to North Korea as a reason to oppose or delay the pact. The Kaesong Industrial Complex, a rather dormant and ill-fated economic development zone between South and North Korea, is the latest card played by opponents of the trade deal.
A few examples: Public Citizen has claimed, “The Obama administration is now pushing a trade agreement with South Korea that perversely could provide a flood of new money for the North Korean dictatorship to bolster their weapons program, as well as maintain their stranglehold over the North Korean people.” Expressing the same concerns, Congressman Brad Sherman (D–CA) opined in March, “Congress should reject the pending FTA with South Korea. It is likely that the United States would be opened up to North Korean goods under the agreement’s liberal rules of origin.”
In reality, goods produced in Kaesong will not obtain any benefits under the KORUS trade deal. As Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis testified in early April, “Any change to how Kaesong is treated under the agreement would require Congress to pass and the president to sign legislation. So there is nothing in this agreement that provides any benefits to Kaesong.”
In addition, President Obama has just issued a new executive order that “takes additional steps” prohibiting certain transactions regarding North Korea. Effective April 19, “notwithstanding any contract entered into or any license or permit granted prior to the date of this order, the importation into the United States, directly or indirectly, of any goods, services, or technology from North Korea is prohibited.”
The KORUS FTA is one of the most comprehensive trade accords that the U.S. has pursued, and it has strong legal provisions in place. It will benefit Americans and South Koreans and do nothing but add pressure on North Korea for further reform. It is the time to stop the ill-informed fear mongering and get on with the deal.