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‘Win-win partnerships’ key to Korea-Africa relations

For ties between South Korea and Africa, 2012’s Korea-Africa Forum was a game changer. But what is key now is implementing what was agreed and building win-win partnerships, according to Nigeria’s ambassador to Korea.

He is optimistic that the two nations will convene their fifth Joint Korea-Nigeria Commission in Seoul in the second quarter of the year, and make arrangements for a state visit by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.

“We have so much room to strengthen diplomatic relations. We can probably do both of these at around the same time. So, that would mean the president can visit in the first half of the year,” Nigerian Ambassador Desmond Akawor told The Korea Herald during an interview at his office in Seoul on Thursday.

Nigerian Ambassador Desmond Akawor talks about building meaningful partnerships between Nigerians and South Koreans during an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul on Thursday. (Philip Iglauer/The Korea Herald)
Nigerian Ambassador Desmond Akawor talks about building meaningful partnerships between Nigerians and South Koreans during an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul on Thursday. (Philip Iglauer/The Korea Herald)

Akawor said that while trade remains miniscule ― Africa accounts for less than 2 percent of Korea’s total trade ― there is the “political will” in the Korean government to build meaningful economic partnerships with African nations.

“The question now is how far implementation has taken place since that forum in 2012,” he said, adding that it was equally incumbent on African countries to start seeing South Korea as a nation they need to engage with.

There is still a large gap that needs to be closed to significantly upgrade ties between African nations and South Korea, he said.

The role of SMEs in the development of South Korea’s creative economy is one area Akawor said should be emphasized because “the potential is huge.”

Akawor cited two examples of how the two nations are moving forward on building win-win partnerships with SMEs.

Han Jin, a small company manufacturing foam from petro-chemical products, is interested in setting up a factory in Nigeria and Hankuk Plant Service Inc., a power plant management services provider, signed a deal last week.

Twenty such partnerships a year could transform the Nigerian-South Korean relationship.

“Such companies in the Korean context are small, but in the Nigerian context are big,” for sharing knowledge, creating jobs and building Nigerian-Korean partnerships, he said.

Annual bilateral trade, which had stalled at around $2.5 billion for nearly 10 years, finally surpassed $3 billion last year on the back of a deal by KEPCO to import LNG and the Nigerian government’s purchase of a fleet of commercial vehicles.

Another thing that Akawor has been doing since he first arrived as head of Nigeria’s diplomatic mission in 2008 is meet with local technical experts, business leaders and government officials to discuss not only Nigeria specifically but also Africa as a region.

“We have sectional leaders from ICAK, the International Contractors Association of Korea, and KITA, the Korea International Trade Association, visit our monthly meetings of African ambassadors for candid discussions and knowledge sharing,” he said.

A presidential visit would give a big added boost to two-way ties. Jonathan, who first came into office as vice president, assumed the role of acting president in early 2010, following the death of President Umaru Yar’Adua on May 5.

A state visit to South Korea would mark Jonathan’s second in two years. He came here to participate in the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit in 2012.

Akawor proposed the state visit and the fifth Joint Korea-Nigeria Commission could take place at around the same time, in the first half of 2014.

But the last set of talks on bilateral relations took place seven years ago. Those talks were headed by Cho Tae-yul, the then-deputy minister for Trade, and former Nigerian Foreign Minister Abubakar Tanko.

South Korea and Nigeria will discuss bilateral agreements on the avoidance of double taxation, air transport cooperation, and agreements on energy, trade and investment, Akawor said. Expanding cooperation on nuclear power development will also be a key agenda item.

The joint commission was originally scheduled in November last year, but was postponed. It would not look good if we do not follow through with the meeting this year, he said

By Philip Iglauer