Half-Million Bucks Go to Kaesong Every Month

Korea Times
Kim Yon-se
Staff Reporter

S-N Economic Cooperation Showpiece Under Double Threat

Nowadays the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the flagship of inter-Korean economic cooperation, is stuck between a rock and a hard place.
The United States has rejected a South Korean request to include it in their bilateral trade talks, taking away one of the few incentives for companies to set up shop there.

The Kaesong complex is a collaborative industrial park developed by South and North Korea located in North Korea close to the Korean Demilitarized Zone with direct road and rail access to South Korea.

The Kaesong complex is also bearing the fallout from Pyongyang’s missile tests that raised an uproar in the international community, giving Washington an excuse to push hard for its ongoing effort to choke the North’s cash flow.

“Kaesong is a lifeline that keeps alive inter-Korean business cooperation,’’ said an official who is involved in the project. “It is at a fragile stage so if anything happens that changes the current status of the Kaesong complex, there would be no turning back.’’

He said that the government is expected to keep the project going at all costs.

In the Kaesong complex, about 7,700 North Koreans work for Hyundai Asan, the project manager and scores of South Korean companies there. A North Korean worker there earns $64 in wages and allowances a month, making for half a million dollars in the monthly total payment. Most of the money is paid on the 10th of the month. This month, it was paid as scheduled.

“It is unthinkable that the wages would be withheld,’’ the official said, when asked what would happen if economic sanctions were slapped on the communist country. “I don’t think that the government would do that.’’

Some U.S. officials have said South Korea’s continuation of pushing Kaesong goods as an item for the FTA talks may be a big hurdle for signing the final pact.

“The agreement should only cover products of the U.S. and the Republic of Korea. That is our position,’’ Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler told reporters.

Aside from the negative stance toward products created by North Korean employees from the North’s raw materials, the U.S. has strategies not to allow made-in-South Korea products, especially clothes, made from imported materials from China or Taiwan, according to sources.

If the U.S. allows the Kaesong products as an FTA item, it has no choice but to accept the products made from non-Korean textiles.

The U.S. clothing market has already been flooded with cheap products from China and Southeast Asian countries that are labeled as premium brands, such as Polo and Burberry.

Korean civic protestors argue the Korean government is unprepared for the talks and has few negotiation strategies. In fact, the government is falling short in making Kaesong products acknowledged as an FTA item.

According to the Chosun Ilbo, an ultra-conservative vernacular daily, a government official said Korea will ultimately drop the issue in the future talks though it will not scrap the issue on the official negotiation table.

Citing the officials’ remarks, the newspaper said it is impossible for Korea to receive concessions from the U.S. on Kaesong products and the government will use the issue as leverage for other issues.


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