The Korea Herald


[Bridge to Africa] Africa, new gateway for Korean trade: envoys

'Strategies needed to differentiate S. Korea from Japan, US, China for Africa business entries'

By Ji Da-gyum

Published : April 25, 2024 - 18:16

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A worker walks at UNIQ clothing store, owned by one of South Africa's biggest supermarket retailer Shoprite Holdings during its opening at Sandton mall in Sandton, South Africa, on Wednesday. (Reuters) A worker walks at UNIQ clothing store, owned by one of South Africa's biggest supermarket retailer Shoprite Holdings during its opening at Sandton mall in Sandton, South Africa, on Wednesday. (Reuters)

Africa's economic potential, driven by a youthful population and a growing awareness of South Korean products, makes the continent a new gateway for the trade expansion of Asia's fourth-largest economy, said South Korean envoys to African countries in Seoul on Thursday, highlighting that the continent also holds significance as a platform for South Korea's diplomatic ambition to become a globally pivotal state.

"Africa is not just a choice for us but a must-do," South Korean Ambassador to Kenya Yeo Sung-jun said during a joint press briefing held in Seoul in the run-up to the first Korea-Africa Summit on June 4 and 5.

Africa's population of around 1.4 billion, with around 60 percent under the age of 25, positions it as a pivotal labor reservoir, Yeo noted. By 2050, Africans will comprise one-third of the global working-age population. The significance is amplified by global trends of declining birth rates and labor shortages, he added.

"As the youth population continues to rise in Africa, it emerges as the next frontier for our businesses to penetrate. It stands as a prime investment target for our nation's companies seeking overseas expansion," Yeo said.

"What's particularly facilitating favorable conditions for our businesses to enter and thrive is, above all, the Korean Wave."

Yeo emphasized that the widespread popularity of Korean culture, known as the Korean Wave or Hallyu, along with a strong desire to emulate South Korea's success, is evident in Africa. Additionally, South Korean brands like Samsung and LG enjoy widespread recognition across the continent for their products.

"It's widely acknowledged that the conditions are ripe for (companies) from our country to expand into these markets," Yeo said.

"However, as we move forward, I see a challenge for our country's expansion into Africa: the need to develop a differentiated strategy that sets us apart from Japan, the United States and China."

Korean Ambassador to Ivory Coast Kim Saeng also highlighted the existing demand for South Korean products in Africa.

"There's evident demand, yet consumers are opting for products from other countries. The issue lies in their lack of awareness about our offerings, leading to underutilization," Kim said. "Hence, we're intensifying our efforts to promote and raise awareness about our products."

Kim highlighted that the embassy has been actively enhancing brand awareness of South Korean products through public diplomacy and cultural promotion efforts, including participation in the MASA festival -- a cultural platform dedicated to showcasing African culture. It is noteworthy that South Korea made history by being the first Asian country to participate in this festival in April.

"Establishing a foundation through the Korean Wave streamlines our product sales--it's like ascending to the second floor of a building, with our likability factor steadily increasing," Kim told reporters.

Kim explained that the recent cultural event isn't a one-off; it's part of an ongoing initiative.

"We're dedicated to nurturing cultural exchanges and actively engaging in public diplomacy initiatives. Our ultimate objective is to substantially boost our exports through such endeavors," Kim said.

Korean Ambassador to Ethiopia, Jung Kang, underscored the significance of African countries as a platform for South Korea to achieve its diplomatic goal of becoming a global pivotal state.

"We recognize that many of the universal issues we consider globally significant are also under discussion within the African Union. As a country aspiring to be a GPS, we are actively engaging in these discussions," Jung said.

Jung highlighted the active consultations between the UN and the AU, which consists of 55 member states representing the countries of the African Continent.

"Africa is not only becoming a focal point for economic and developmental initiatives but also a partner in advancing shared universal values," Jung said.

"Hence, the forthcoming Korea-Africa Summit this year carries substantial significance."