One Korea poster

One Korea: Kaesong poster photo by ninjawil

Yesterday the White House took the last step to owning all three leftover Bush NAFTA-expansion deals with Korea, Colombia and Panama by announcing that they would send them to Congress imminently. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that we’ll lose 159,000 jobs with the Korea deal alone.

At a time of high unemployment, it’s difficult to fathom why the President would be fighting to increase our trade deficit and ship tens of thousands of jobs overseas.

Even more stunning, however, is the loophole in the Obama deal that will hand billions over to North Korea to spend on their nuclear weapons program.

Under the terms of NAFTA, goods have to have 50% domestic-made content in order to qualify for inclusion. However under KORUS, goods with up to 65% non-South-Korean content qualify, as long as final assembly off goods happens in South Korea. That means 65% of all parts can be made China, Vietnam, wherever — giving rise to fears that the South Korea deal will be a back-door extension of NAFTA for China.

But surely, somebody thought to exclude North Korean content from the deal, right? I mean, with all the huffing and puffing about the need for increased sanctions against North Korea to keep them from funding their nuclear program. At the very least, somebody must have included language in KORUS that makes an exception for US sanctions against North Korea, which would otherwise violate NAFTA’s ban on import licenses.

Well if that’s what you thought, you would be wrong.

Every day, 44,000 North Koreans are marched into a North Korea border sweat shop zone called Kaesong to work for 28 center per hour — of which the Kim regime keeps 55%. In 2007 Ambassador Jay Lefkowitz, the U.S. Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea, wrote that Kaesong was one of the only sources of cold hard currency North Korea had to fund its nuclear program:

Because the North Korean government takes a major portion of workers’ salaries, these arrangements provide material support for a rogue government, its nuclear ambitions, and its human rights atrocities.

According to research done by Public Citizen, Obama’s NAFTA-Korea deal not only fails to exclude North Korean content, it allows for a massive expansion of the Kaesong district — and the profits that North Korea will reap (PDF):

The U.S. government estimates that the North Korean government currently collects $3 million to $4 million a month from the Kaesong operations now, prior to a massive planned expansion of the border sweatshop zone. South Korea cut off most trade with North Korea after attacks last year, but left Kaesong trade open. There was $1.9 billion in total trade between the two Koreas in 2009, about half of which was through production by South Korean firms in Kaesong. While $1.9 billion is not a lot of money relative to the U.S. or South Korean economy, it constitutes more than a third of North Korea’s total external trade. Given the Department of Defense estimates that North Korea’s nuclear program cost the regime as little as $200 million to develop, the hard currency generated by North Korean trade flows is sufficient to finance the North’s nuclear proliferation regime several times over.

The North Korean government is projected to receive $9.55 billion in economic gains from Kaesong over nine years under a planned major expansion. This is equivalent to 36 percent of North Korea’s estimated national income. Hyundai and the Korea Land Corporation, the principal developers of Kaesong, plan to enlarge the complex from its current 800 acres to a more than 6,000-acre complex (or nine square miles), where 1,500 South Korean and other foreign firms will employ 350,000 North Korean workers. This would make the complex more than half the size of Alexandria, Virginia.

Is this an accident? Hardly. Members of Congress like Brad Sherman have been waving red flags about the dangers of the Kaesong provisions in KORUS. The Chamber is pushing this deal hard, however, and there’s a lot of money to be made in Kaesong. And as we all know, what the Chamber wants, the Chamber gets.

But let’s do the math here. The US government estimates that the North Koreans are 5 years and $200 million away from having nuclear capacity. I understand why KORUS would benefit the mega corporations that use the Chamber of Commerce as their front, the ones that hope to profiteer off of “slave labor” in Kaesong. But how exactly is it good for the American people to allow North Korea access to US markets? I just don’t see the upside to offshoring jobs, increasing the trade deficit and writing a check to North Korea to spend on nukes.

But then, few people do. Poll after poll shows that the vast majority of the American public – across stunningly diverse demographics – oppose these NAFTA-style trade deals. It’s an issue that has oddly united union members and Tea Partiers, progressives and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans in opposition. The AFL-CIO, Carpenters, Teamsters, CWA, Machinists, IBEW, Steelworkers, Painters, Boilermakers, the Sierra Club, Public Citizen and the National Farmers Union all oppose the deal., as do Republicans like Walter Jones, Ron Paul, and the Campaign for Liberty.

Earlier this month, even White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley (hose job is to sell these trade deals and who helped former President Bill Clinton sell NAFTA to a skeptical Congress) said that workers “lose from these agreements” and implied that campaigning against these NAFTA-style trade agreements could even be an electoral advantage.

But if we’ve learned one thing over the past few years, it’s that broad popular opposition is meaningless when it comes to Chamber’s ability to bribe impose its will on our elected officials. If KORUS passes, the hawks will soon be banging the war drums and warning us all that the smoking gun of North Korea has become a mushroom cloud, now is the time to act.

Because three wars are just not enough, I guess.

Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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