By Michael Ha
American consumers could shop for their favorite pair of jeans or T-shirts with ``Made in North Korea" labels at Wal-Mart stores in a few years, if North Korean officials get their wish.
But there are several hurdles, including complete and verifiable denuclearization, that Pyongyang would have to clear before the Stalinist state can develop business ties with America.
North Korean officials are reportedly interested in signing a deal to export textile products to Wal-Mart, a U.S. corporation that runs a chain of large, discount department stores, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported Friday.
Wal-Mart is one of the largest retailers in the world, with an estimated 20 percent market share of the retail grocery and consumables business in the United States. The company relies on an extensive overseas outsourcing and subcontracting system, particularly with Chinese manufacturers.
Tony Namkung, senior advisor to New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, recently returned from his trip to North Korea where he met with senior North Korean officials, the report said.
He said the North Korean government has high hopes for the lifting of economic sanctions, the Trading with the Enemy Act and the terrorism-sponsoring list, according to the report.
Namkung said North Korean officials seriously talked about the possibility of economic cooperation with U.S. companies. They mentioned the possibility of exporting North Korean textiles to U.S. retail stores, specifically mentioning Wal-Mart. The officials reportedly told Namkung that they were hoping Wal-Mart could come in with a textile quota.
He also said North Korea officials made references to exporting magnesite and working with U.S. mining companies to develop mineral sites. In the past few years, North Korea has sharply increased mineral exports to neighboring countries, including zinc exports to South Korea and China and gold exports to Thailand.
But Namkung said it would be difficult for companies like Wal-Mart to sign business deals with North Korea right away, even if the United States lifts economic sanctions. He said North Korea would need to reform their system, open up their economy and their borders to the outside world.
He said cultural exchanges like the New York Philharmonic's recent visit to Pyongyang is a start, but North Korea needs to reform its society to the point where such events become routine. He said that's the price Pyongyang would need to pay.
North Korea may be moving in the right direction. This week, U.S. officials said Pyongyang acknowledged the requirement for verification and indeed agreed to cooperate fully with verification activities.
Pyongyang has already provided more than 18,000 pages of newly released North Korean nuclear documents, which the U.S. officials called ``an important first step." Next week, chief U.S. nuclear negotiator will convene with South Korean and Japanese officials to discuss nuclear documents.