The Korea Herald


[Contribution] Building a better future with Africa

By Korea Herald

Published : April 17, 2024 - 16:46

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By Ko Kwang-hyo

What image comes to your mind first when you think of Africa?

Many might envision the vast Serengeti Plain with lions and zebras -- a portrayal popularized by countless media depictions. Yet, this is merely a fragment of the continent’s rich tapestry.

Today’s Africa, bolstered by advancements in technology and communication, remains interconnected with the global community.

Africa, the world's second-largest continent, is home to 55 diverse nations, boasting a plethora of languages, cultures, and economic settings, with a population nearing 1.47 billion. It is the only continent where the population growth rate is increasing annually, standing out among the seven continents. According to a recent report by the African Development Bank, "AfDB's Macroeconomic Performance and Outlook," 11 of the top 20 fastest-growing economies this year are in Africa, highlighting the continent's burgeoning economic potential.

In alignment with these developments, South Korea is set to host the Korea-Africa Special Summit in June. Over the past two decades, Korea's trade with Africa has flourished; exports surged to $9.1 billion -- a threefold increase since 2003, and imports climbed to $7.5 billion. Africa has a complementary industrial structure with Korea. Africa’s abundant natural resources and Korea’s technological prowess are expected to create synergy in facilitating bilateral trade.

The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which commenced in January 2021, stands as the world’s largest free trade pact, aimed at fostering economic cooperation and mutual growth across Africa. In response, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres spoke at the African Dialogue Series held at the UN headquarters in May 2023, "AfCFTA will serve as a catalyst for sustainable development throughout the entire African continent."

In July last year, I met with Secretary-General of the AfCFTA Wemkele Mene to discuss ways to cooperate between the Korean Customs Service and the AfCFTA to boost trade between African countries. Mene expected that the Korea Customs Service's experience of implementing FTAs with more than 50 countries would help the smooth implementation of the AfCFTA.

The Korea Customs Service has been supporting the modernization of customs administration, paying attention to Africa, which has endless potential for development. Since 2012, the Korea Customs Service has provided consulting to 14 African countries to redesign their customs duties (BPR) to be suitable for the local trade environment, and African countries that have experienced UNI-PASS, our advanced electronic customs clearance system, have introduced it in the consulting process. In order to facilitate trade, we had to have a system that could provide rapid customs clearance services above all else.

Earlier this month, I met with the deputy head of Tanzania's tax office, who expressed gratitude for the significant reductions in customs clearance times and increases in tax revenue following the implementation of UNI-PASS -- Tanzania being the first African nation to adopt the system.

The Korea Customs Service has also continued its capability cultivation project to strengthen the capabilities of African customs officials. More than 200 customs officials from 29 African countries have participated in the Customs Administration Capability Cultivation Training, which began in 2014 and have directly experienced Korea's advanced customs administration.

Starting April 24, the Korea Customs Service will host a high-level trade facilitation seminar for chief customs officials from 10 African countries. Initiated in 2016, the seminar serves as a place where high-level customs authorities gather to discuss pending customs administration issues in each country to revitalize the Korea-Africa trade. To date, 32 countries have participated, creating a robust network for economic cooperation. It is especially meaningful that the seminar will announce the current status of customs modernization in each country and the changes and achievements that have emerged since the introduction of UNI-PASS in Ghana, Cameroon and Tanzania.

There is an African proverb that says, "When spiders gather, they bind lions together." Indeed, the collective efforts of African customs authorities, the AfCFTA and the Korea Customs Service are poised to enhance trade not just within Africa, but globally. The Korea Customs Service will continue to actively bolster Korea's international status as a global hub by supporting the modernization of Africa's customs administration.

Ko Kwang-hyo is the commissioner of the Korea Customs Service. The views in this column are his own. -- Ed.