By Song Kyung-jin

Africa was long known as a continent with rich natural resources and potential but largely underdeveloped and forgotten. It is now striving quickly to transform itself into a continent that will play a bigger role in shaping the future of the international order. It has 54 sovereign states with an equal number of voting power in the United Nations system and major international organizations. It is the second most populous continent after Asia, with 1.4 billion people as of 2021, accounting for about 18 percent of the world's population.

Korea, having pledged to become a bridge between developed and developing countries, is well-positioned to support African efforts to stride forward. Substantial progress has been made in the last two decades. Korea and the African Union launched the Korea-Africa Forum in 2006 and held their fifth such forum this past March in Seoul. Now a quarter of Korea's Official Development Assistance (ODA) is allocated for partnerships with Africa, up from 15 percent in 2010.

However, the considerable increase in Korea's ODA budget for Africa has, as of yet, coincided with an increase in trade with and investments on the continent. Only 1 percent, or $9.9 billion, of Korea's trade, took place with Africa as of 2020 and a mere 0.7 percent, or $3 billion, of Korea's overseas investment headed to Africa between 2011 and 2020.

Korea-Africa bilateral trade and investment has plenty of room for growth, as compared to that of China and Japan. China has been aggressively expanding its presence in Africa, with its bilateral trade amounting to $256 billion in 2021. China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) poured $7.2 billion into Sub-Saharan Africa, 15.2 percent of the total amount of BRI investments in 2020. Japan's trade with Africa stood at $16.5 billion in 2020.

Given this situation, it is a welcome step that the Fifth Korea-Africa Forum agreed to explore the possibility of pursuing a Korea-Africa free trade agreement (FTA).

The Korea-Africa Business Council to be set up is expected to provide a useful venue for working on a Korea-Africa FTA, as are the strengthened Korea-Africa Economic Cooperation and Korea-Africa Business Forum already in place.

The Fifth Forum produced as outcome documents, the Seoul Declaration 2022 and the Korea-Africa Framework of Cooperation 2022-2026, which enlisted a wide range of areas for cooperation. They include a joint response to COVID-19, development cooperation, trade and investment, peace and security and cultural exchanges.

The direction for cooperation is on the right path. However, it is also fraught with weakness. First, neither document has specific targets, timeframes, financial or technical commitments or even expected outcomes. The Korean government and African partners must work on the details as they agreed to submit the implementation report of the Framework at the Sixth Korea-Africa Forum in 2026. In the lead-up to fleshing out the details, close and wide consultations should take place with the parties concerned ― especially with the sovereign states ― to identify their priority needs and make sure the strategy and assistance suit their needs.

Africa's most immediate priority is to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. As of July 10, only 21.1 percent of Africa's population had completed their first vaccination, up 10 percent from the beginning of the year. African partners want more proactive engagement from Korea instead of business-as-usual passivity. While more contributions through the COVAX facility are highly appreciated, Africa would like Korea, a global biomanufacturing hub, to support its initiatives to build facilities producing vaccines, medical equipment and products as well as exchange medical professionals.

Korea's ODA to Africa can be repurposed for this project. Korean pharmaceutical companies can utilize financing from ODA and the Economic Development Cooperation Fund of the Korea Export-Import Bank in partnership with relevant multilateral organizations such as the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the African Development Bank and other U.N. specialized agencies. Cooperation with multilateral organizations is particularly important in entrenching a sound evaluation system, which Korea is currently weak at.

Major Korean donors and partner organizations, such as the Korea Foundation and the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), also have a greater and better role to play to ensure that Korean taxpayer money is well spent. The Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) might find a renewed role for itself by providing up-to-date information on the local business environment.

This process may also help remove African partners' undesirable perception, if any, of Korea as being too bureaucratic and overbearing. It takes two to tango but any hint of "gapjil" (arrogant or authoritarian behavior from those in a higher position towards those in a lower position) on the Korean side, real or perceived, is bad diplomacy and not wanted or needed.

Diplomacy is the art of persuading and winning the hearts of others involving highly skillful interpersonal, organizational and national communication. Korea needs to ensure a long-term commitment to Africa.


Dr. Song Kyung-jin (kj_song@hotmail.com) led the Institute for Global Economics (IGE), based in Seoul, and served as special adviser to the chairman of the Presidential Committee for the Seoul G20 Summit in the Office of the President. Now, she chairs the international cooperation committee called the Innovative Economy Forum.






QOSHE - Korea's renewed pivot to Africa - Song Kyung-Jin
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Korea's renewed pivot to Africa

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16.08.2022
By Song Kyung-jin

Africa was long known as a continent with rich natural resources and potential but largely underdeveloped and forgotten. It is now striving quickly to transform itself into a continent that will play a bigger role in shaping the future of the international order. It has 54 sovereign states with an equal number of voting power in the United Nations system and major international organizations. It is the second most populous continent after Asia, with 1.4 billion people as of 2021, accounting for about 18 percent of the world's population.

Korea, having pledged to become a bridge between developed and developing countries, is well-positioned to support African efforts to stride forward. Substantial progress has been made in the last two decades. Korea and the African Union launched the Korea-Africa Forum in 2006 and held their fifth such forum this past March in Seoul. Now a quarter of Korea's Official Development Assistance (ODA) is allocated for partnerships with Africa, up from 15 percent in 2010.

However, the considerable increase in Korea's ODA budget for Africa has, as of yet, coincided with an increase in trade with and investments on the continent. Only 1 percent, or $9.9 billion, of Korea's trade, took place with Africa as of 2020 and a mere 0.7 percent, or $3 billion, of Korea's overseas investment headed to Africa between 2011 and 2020.

Korea-Africa........

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