Res Publica

Axis of Imports

by David Trumbull -- April 29, 2011

“States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil”
–President George W. Bush, January 29, 2002.

In his “Axis of Evil” speech, then President Bush singled out North Korea (along with the Islamofascist state of Iran and Sadam Hussein’s Iraq) as sponsors of terrorism and threats to global security. President Obama, as recently as April 18th, in Executive Order 13570, re-iterated that we are in a state of national emergency with regard to North Korea and extended, once again, the U.S. embargo on imports of goods from that rogue state.

A tyrannical dictatorship with nuclear weapons capability threatens regional and global safety and Presidents from both major parties agree that America must stand firm in opposition to the Korean regime. Bully!

However, lets look at the record of actions. In June 2007 the Bush Administration signed a free trade agreement with our ally the Republic of Korea (South Korea). Buried in that massive document is Annex 22-B “Committee on Outward Processing Zones on the Korean Peninsula.” According to the Annex, the Committee is supposed to “review whether conditions on the Korean Peninsula are appropriate for further economic development through the establishment and development of outward processing zones.” Outward Processing Zones is a bureaucratic euphemism for the Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea where South Korean firms operate sweatshops. If the Committee, after “review,” okays it, goods from North Korea’s zones could be shipped to South Korea and then exported to the U.S. as “Products of South Korea” and enter the U.S. duty-free, thus evading the U.S. embargo on imports from North Korea.

Now, over the past decade-and-a-half of reading trade agreements, I’ve seen quite of few of these “committee will meet to review whether something should be done” provisions. I can tell you that governments put those sorts of provisions in agreements when they intend to do something that the voters would not approve. The South Koreans initially insisted that North Korean goods produced in the zones be eligible for duty-free benefits, but they backed off when the U.S. said, Don’t worry, we’ll just put in the agreement that a committee will meet to “review” the matter – wink, wink.

As U.S. Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama said he would vote against the Korean agreement. Now as President – and with a quarter of a century record of American job losses due to trade pacts – Mr. Obama offers us more of the same failed job-destroying policy. In June 2010 President Obama announced his support for the Korea deal. Candidate Obama promised change, I guess he was telling us what to expect as far as policy toward dangerous America-hating dictators.