South Korea: the approval of Bitcoin ETFs in the USA will not change the ban

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South Korea has no intention of following in the footsteps of the USA, and reiterates the national ban on Bitcoin ETFs and all cryptocurrencies. In practice, local financial institutions continue to be unable to purchase or hold crypto.

South Korea continues with the ban on Bitcoin ETFs

Apparently, South Korea will not follow in the footsteps of the USA, regarding its latest decision to officially approve Bitcoin spot ETFs, which happened yesterday.

And indeed, the financial regulatory authority (Financial Services Commission or FSC) in the Asian country has reiterated today the ban and announced that it will proceed with its rules.

“South Korea reiterates ban on cryptocurrency ETFs despite approval from the United States”

In practice, in South Korea, local financial institutions are prohibited from owning and purchasing cryptocurrencies, as well as investing in companies that offer crypto. This also means that the launch of exchange-traded funds on Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies is prohibited.

The report from the local Kyunghyang newspaper reveals the statements of an FSC official, who states that what just happened in the USA will have no influence on the current regulations. 

South Korea and the ban on Bitcoin and crypto ETFs: protecting market stability

The reason behind the current restrictions in South Korea seems to be the stability of financial markets and the protection of investors. 

In this regard, the country’s capital markets law currently limits the scope of underlying activities for investment contract securities, such as ETFs, to financial investment instruments, ordinary currencies, and commodities, which does not include cryptocurrencies.

Just at the beginning of this January 2024, the FSC has also proposed the ban on using credit cards to purchase crypto. The overall goal is to limit crypto traders from accessing foreign exchanges.

In this case, the concern of the FSC of South Korea is to prevent an illegal outflow of national funds, money laundering, or the encouragement of speculative behavior for its national traders. 

This proposal will be subject to the classic voting process provided for in the country, before becoming law, but the supervisory authority has decided to collect feedback from the public before proceeding, until February 13th. 

Approval in the USA: the conclusion of a decade-long struggle

After much anticipation, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has officially approved 11 applications for the issuance of Bitcoin spot ETFs.

Starting from January 10, 2024, in the USA, Bitcoin spot ETFs are considered regulated financial instruments. 

This decision represents an innovative development in the United States, which allows investors to obtain direct exposure to the price of Bitcoin, without the complexities of ownership or self-custody. 

In practice, investors will be able to purchase ETF shares with Bitcoin as the underlying asset. 

This approval concludes a decade-long struggle, which began with the request of the Winklevoss brothers Cameron and Tyler in 2013, to launch the Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust, always denied by the SEC due to fears of market manipulation and fraud. 

What prompted this regulatory change was the remarkable success of Grayscale in court in August 2023, which overturned the SEC’s refusal to convert the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust ($GBTC) into a Bitcoin ETF.