HONG KONG — North Korea is one of the world’s most isolated countries. It is ruled by an unpredictable dictator with his finger on the nuclear button. So, who’s ready to do business there?
Well, basically nobody.
But leading up to President Trump’s meeting in Singapore with Kim Jong-un, which concluded on Tuesday with a deal to keep talking, some intrepid businesses and investors began considering the possibilities. What happens if North Korea opens its economy, even just a little, giving global businesses a shot at East Asia’s last untapped growth market?
Mr. Trump on Tuesday dangled visions of what North Korea could win if it abandoned its nuclear weapons and changed its ways.
“As an example, they have great beaches,” he said at his news conference after the summit meeting. “You see that whenever they’re exploding their cannons into the ocean. I said, ‘Boy, look at that view. Wouldn’t that make a great condo?’”
Let’s back up. The chances are slim — very, very slim — to none that North Korea would open up like that in the foreseeable future. Still, some businesses are setting up internal task forces to start drawing up plans, according to lawyers and advisers who specialize in North Korea. Shares of companies that could profit are starting to rise, in what one analyst called the “Rocket Man rally.”
A few big companies have tentatively reached out to contacts in North Korea, said Wook Yoo, a partner at Bae, Kim & Lee, a South Korean law firm. Others have inquired about where to begin. “We have received calls from several companies which are quite interested in preparing future business with North Korea,” Mr. Yoo said.
It is not clear how many companies are looking at the idea, or which ones. Company officials are loath to discuss their plans publicly. Initial feelers into North Korea risk violating United States and international sanctions, which are not likely to ease anytime soon. Those restrictions have become so tight that investors have stopped early efforts to crack the market.
Even if progress were made, the world would still be dealing with a leader who diverted millions of dollars from his country’s economy to build powerful weapons, leading to food shortages for his people.