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‘Resource-rich Congo awaits investors’

Cho Don-young, honorary consul of the African state, expects to take on visa work


The Republic of Congo is a central African country little known to the Koreans. Even those who are vaguely aware of a country called Congo are likely to confuse the state with its similarly named neighbor, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Ending this confusion may be the first task for Cho Don-young, who is the first Korean honorary consul of the Republic of the Congo. He was appointed as the Congolese honorary consul in Korea in May, 2010.

The Republic of the Congo is also called Congo-Brazzaville or simply the Congo, while the Democratic Republic of the Congo or DR Congo, formerly Zaire, is also known as Congo-Kinshasa. Brazzaville and Kinshasa are the capitals of their respective countries.

The 63-year-old civilian diplomat representing Congo in Korea is an old hand in trade and investment promotion.

He worked at the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency for 27 years from 1973 to 2000, holding various posts mostly based in the United States. He took charge of the South Africa center from 1999 to 2000 before returning to Korea.

“The South Africa position which covered south and central Africa at that time seems to have affected Congo’s decision to offer me the title in 2009,” he told The Korea Herald.

After leaving the KOTRA, Cho moved to Renault-Samsung Motors in 2000 and retired as vice president in 2009. He is also former CEO and president of Seoul Luxury Business Institute, Asia’s first luxury market education center.

Cho introduced Congo as a country which is in the process of political stabilization and rich in natural resources waiting for foreign investors. Congo gained independence from the French in 1960, and President Denis Sassou Nguesso is stepping up economic reform efforts after returning to power in 1997.
Cho Don-young, Korea’s first honorary consul of the Republic of the Congo, wants Koreans to invest in the resource-rich African state.
Cho Don-young, Korea’s first honorary consul of the Republic of the Congo, wants Koreans to invest in the resource-rich African state.

Congo signed a 10-year investment treaty with South Korea in November, 2006, when President Sassou Nguesso visited Seoul.

“The treaty has been practically left alone,” he said, “As the Korean government and companies realize the importance of energy and other resources, both Congo and DR Congo receive much attention.”

In 2008, oil sector accounted for 65 percent of the Congolese GDP, and 92 percent of its exports. Congo, the fifth largest oil producer in sub-Sarahan Africa in 2007, has massive natural gas reserves and the second largest tropical forest in the world as well.

“We simply cannot look over the resources-abundant frontier,” Cho said. “In case of Congo, I think joint ventures are desirable to tap into plenty of resources earlier than others.”

According to the honorary consul, about 120 billion cubic meters of natural gas or an equivalent of 800 million barrels of oil is buried in Congo. “Congo has yet to grasp how much resources it possesses. POSCO and Korean construction companies are exploring possibilities of advancing into the country,” he said.

The veteran investment promoter advised Korean firms to harness lots of limestone among others.

“Congolese officials told me that their country needed construction equipment and materials badly. If an outside investor builds a cement factory ahead of the others, it will be a key stepping stone for a preemptive advance into Congo. They said that huge reserves of gold, diamonds and iron ore are under exploration.”

He recommended agricultural processing plants as another promising area for Koreans thinking of investment in the country well known for coffee, cocoa and sugar.

“Congo provides cheap labor, so if someone brings in machines to make agricultural products and other consumer goods to export to Europe, they would see profits,” he said. “In return for investment in Congo where manufacturing is almost nonexistent, the Koreans will be able to secure what we need, that is energy and natural resources. Korea should take action first to beat the competition from China and other major economies over the resources.”

For now, no Korean firm does business in Congo, where only 10 or so Koreans run photo studios. If a Korean needs a visa from Congo, he or she should go to its Beijing-based embassy, because Congo has neither embassy nor consulate in Korea. The honorary consul estimates that Korean visa traffic is light for now, but expects it to increase as Korea is keen on securing natural resources in Africa.

“I am preparing to visit Congo around May, together with people interested in trade. I will sound out on matters regarding visa issuance and investment,” Cho said. Should Congo authorize him to issue visas, he plans to expand the current consulate, which he has opened at his residential address in Seoul. He says he will move it to an office building if he starts visa works. He expects he would get permission to issue visas from the second half of this year at the earliest.

“I will act as a pipeline for possible Korean investors in Congo through which they could find buyers and ways for survival and growth. I would give them an advice: take patience and win the hearts of local residents by offering truly mutual benefits.”

By Chun Sung-woo (swchun@heraldcorp.com)
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