Earlier this month, news reports indicated that the United States was considering withdrawing from the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement. As a business owner in Nevada, I rely on overseas markets to sell my products. Bilateral free trade agreements aid businesses as they search for competitive and growing markets that can help increase their profits. They also allow new people in different parts of the world to purchase and enjoy U.S.-made goods and services. While I believe that there is room for improvement, the agreement is an important trade deal that reinforces the U.S.-Korea economic and strategic alliance.
My business, Kimmie Candy, is an award-winning manufacturer of chocolate panned candies that are sold around the world in countries such as Canada, Mexico, South Korea and the Philippines. I launched the company in 2000 and it has since grown into a $5 million-plus business with more than 35 employees. I am proud of Kimmie Candy’s trajectory but my beginnings in the industry were somewhat unconventional and illustrate why the U.S.-Korea alliance is so important.
In 2000, I purchased a 40,000-pound container of chocolate-covered sunflower seeds. After learning that it was produced by a South Korean candy-maker named OoIn Jung, we connected at an expo in Chicago. OoIn agreed to contract manufacture candy products for Kimmie Candy. In 2007, he relocated to Nevada to both continue making candy for Kimmie in its new manufacturing factory, as well as to help run production.
Following the implementation of the U.S-Korea trade pact, Kimmie Candy grew 20 percent, and the South Korean market has become important to maintaining our sales during down seasons in the United States. Today, we import a large portion of our manufacturing equipment — such as our custom confectionary pans — from South Korea. Overall, we export $50,000 worth of candy a year to South Korea, and we expect that demand in that market will steadily increase.
The Korean trade deal and our business with South Korea has helped to propel Kimmie Candy’s success in the industry. We had the honor of joining other Nevada businesses on a 2012 trade mission to South Korea with Gov. Brian Sandoval, and in 2016, we won a Presidential “E” Award for exports from the Department of Commerce, becoming only the ninth company in Nevada’s history to receive that recognition. This past July, we were invited to the White House, along with other American companies, for the Made in America Expo hosted by President Donald Trump.
I am a strong proponent of free trade and an advocate for fairly written deals that benefit each stakeholder. Free trade can boost small economies, facilitate the exchange of services, goods and people and eliminate prohibitive costs. While I believe that the Korean pact is fair, there is room for improvement. Nonetheless, it is better for American businesses and workers to build on the existing foundation.
Kimmie Candy’s success is an example of the importance of the Korean agreement to U.S. businesses and the economy. Ninety-eight percent of potential markets are overseas, and nations such as South Korea have grown exponentially. Since the implementation of the this pact, trade between the United States and Korea has totaled more than $1 trillion. So far in 2017, the exchange of goods has already reached more than $60 million. Despite misconceptions that the U.S. trade deficit with South Korea is too large, experts have shown it is actually quite balanced given the size differential of our two countries.
Trade deals such as the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement open opportunity to businesses large and small and ensure that they have a chance to participate in the global economy. If the United States chooses to exit the agreement, it would be a regrettable decision that can lead only to the isolation and alienation of an important ally and would squelch a robust trade partnership.
Trade agreements like the Korean deal strengthen the U.S. economy and our communities and offer a way to guarantee our collective economic futures.
Joe Dutra is the owner of Kimmie Candy in Reno.