Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and African ambassadors took stock of where South Korean-African ties were over the past few years and charted a future course for diplomatic, political and economic relations during a networking luncheon in Seoul on Tuesday.
African envoys, including Nigerian Ambassador to South Korea Desmond Akawor, Foreign Minister Yun and other African and South Korean diplomats and business leaders met at the Federation of Korean Industries in Yeouido, Seoul, for a seminar and networking session that focused on investment and trade promotion in Egypt, Algeria, Kenya and Nigeria.
Yun said South Korea looks toward a number of high-level visits to the region this year, and assured the business community here and African partners that the government would support trade and investment in the region.
South Korea will also continue to contribute to peace and security efforts in Africa, “as a responsible middle power and as a member of the United Nations Security Council,” he said in a speech at the luncheon.
|From left) Nigerian Ambassador to South Korea Desmond Akawor, Federation of Korean Industries chairman Huh Chang-soo and Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se make a toast at a luncheon and networking reception at FKI‘s headquarters in Yeouido, Seoul, Tuesday. (Yonhap)|
From 1995 to 2013, the region performed strongly, with an average annual GDP growth rate of about 5 percent, according to a recent World Bank assessment.
At a high-level conference on “Africa Rising: Building to the Future” in Mozambique’s capital Maputo on May 29-30, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde lauded the consistent economic growth of African countries in the last decade as “nothing short of remarkable.”
Net foreign direct investment inflow to the region were an estimated $43 billion in 2013, up from $37 billion in 2012. Notably, China and Japan have plunged into investment and trade ties over the past decade. China-Africa trade surged from just $10 billion in 2000 to more than $200 billion in 2013. China is the African region’s largest trading partner.
In July, First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Cho Tae-yong and a deputy minister of foreign affairs are expected to visit the region including Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Senegal sometime. They are expected to participate in a long overdue joint economic consultation committee meeting in Kenya.
In October or November, South Korea and its African partners will convene the fourth Korea-Africa Forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The previous forum was held in Seoul in October 2012. Two years ago at the forum, South Korea took a qualitative step toward stronger ties in the region.
Ministers and heads of state from all of Africa’s 54 nations are expected to participate in the confab with South Korean officials to address social, economic and security issues.
Traveling to Ethiopia for the forum will be easier, as the two countries set up direct flights. Ethiopia’s flagship airline launched direct flights between Incheon International Airport and Addis Ababa Bole International Airport in June 2013.
Initiated in 2006, the Korea-Africa Forum ― or the Korea-Africa Economic Cooperation Conference (KOAFEC) ― has become the permanent framework for cooperation between Africa and South Korea.
On the trade and investment front, Yun pledged Seoul’s support to companies seeking to do business in Africa.
The two biggest challenges faced by South Korean investors and entrepreneurs in Africa are acquiring accurate information and adequate financing, Yun said.
Accurate and timely information could match African and South Korean companies in win-win partnerships, such as South Korean investments in joint infrastructure development projects in Africa, Ambassador Akawor said. He described such partnerships in an interview with The Korea Herald in May.
Nigeria’s biggest electric power plant, Egbin in Lagos state, was purchased by KEPCO in 2007 for about $300 million, according to one report. After further upgrades to the plant and improving the capacity of its technicians and engineers, Akawor said the plant could reach its full operating capacity to produce 1,320 megawatts of electricity in two to three years.
Small and medium-sized South Korean enterprises can also benefit by partnering with Nigerian companies in projects worth $50 million to $100 million, Akawor said. “Such projects appear small in Korea but are huge in Nigeria.”
“To tackle (the issue of information) Korean diplomatic offices located in 17 missions in Africa will work as a foothold, sharing local information for economic cooperation and as a channel for investment in Africa,” Yun said.
Yun assured the African group of heads of diplomatic missions at the luncheon that South Korea is also committed to peace and stability in Africa.
“Korean government will contribute to regional peace and development in Africa on the bilateral and multilateral levels,” he said, singling out the country’s peacekeeping contributions to South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Somalia.
South Korea is focused on increasing development assistance and public diplomacy, too.
“We will strengthen public diplomacy toward Africa and enhance awareness that Africa and Korea are true partners in working out the success equation,” Yun said.
South Korea opened new diplomatic missions in Maputo, Mozambique, and in Kampala, Uganda. Meanwhile, Sierra Leone recently sent an ambassador to South Korea for the first time.
Tanzania and Zambia are expected to open embassies in the capital by December. Mozambique, too, will for the first time open an embassy here. With those three, 21 African nations will have diplomatic representation at the embassy level in South Korea, a huge increase from fewer than 10 just a decade ago.
By Philip Iglauer (firstname.lastname@example.org)