Korea-Africa relations hold enormous trade, development, and investment potential

The city of Johannesburg over looks the Mandela bridge, with trains parked underneath in Johannesburg, South Africa, November 29, 2018. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko - RC1A1A80F7F0
Editor's note:

This op-ed was originally published by The Hill.

The inaugural Seoul Dialogue on Africa, held on Dec. 4-5, focused on the prospects of mutually beneficial partnerships between South Korea and African countries, with the theme of “peace and prosperity in Africa and beyond.” In the context of building a partnerships between Africa and emerging powers such as China, Brazil and India, among others, the historic dialogue represented the initiative of the Korea-Africa Foundation and South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to develop a unique and friendly approach to Korea-Africa relations and “raise people’s awareness of Africa in the Republic of Korea (ROK).”  

The ROK has shown its clear determination to better understand Africa’s successes, challenges and prospects, as well as the ways Korean citizens could collaborate with African businesses and governments on projects. Korea’s perspective emphasizes building upon African expertise and increasing dialogue between experts. The ROK has innovated with its first Korea-Africa Youth Forum, held a day before the Seoul Dialogue on Africa, which encouraged young people “to set up global startups by raising awareness of the possibility of Africa as a new startup market and by increasing exchanges between Korean youth and African youth staying in the ROK.”

Young people are the key to sustainable growth and prosperity. By 2030, Africa is expected to be home to 1.7 billion people—potential consumers with over $6.7 trillion (U.S.) of combined consumer and business spending. These numbers indicate the enormous potential of Korean-African relations and the benefits that could result from economic and social partnerships.

Conversations at the dialogue emphasized the significant potential for bilateral economic partnerships given Africa’s high level of economic growth and expanding business opportunities and Korea’s experience of rapid economic development. Participants also addressed Korea’s support for peace-building and long-term rapprochement activities.

The ROK has shown commitment to providing essential support to African countries and continental institutions in their mission to create an integrated, prosperous, peaceful and strong continent. With African economic output projected to increase to $29 trillion (U.S.) by 2050, there is significant opportunity for Korean and African entrepreneurs looking to build or expand businesses in Africa.

The landmark forum in Seoul should occur each year to address ever-changing issues surrounding Africa’s growth and its partnership with Korea. Looking ahead, the Korea-Africa partnership could be augmented with the creation of a high-level trade and investment forum or the inclusion of an additional day in the dialogue that aims to facilitate negotiations and transactions between African and Korean businesses. The Korea-Africa Youth Forum is an excellent beginning for long-term engagement, but such initiatives also should facilitate deals in the short run. Along these lines, Korea could create an investment fund to support Korean startups doing business with Africa and joint ventures between Korean and African partners to help lift barriers to doing business and hasten economic partnerships.

Given its successful experience, the ROK could collaborate by developing broader technical support and capacity-building both at the continental level (supporting the African Continental Free Trade Area or African Union, for example) and the national levels (in countries of preference, including large economies such as South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Angola, and Morocco, but also open economies such as Rwanda). Such partnerships could help generate cutting-edge research to inform policies, build human capital, and advance effective institutional, technical and policy configurations critical to policy success.

Korea is one of the leaders of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, so special attention could be paid to digital transformation and collaboration in digital government, businesses in industries without smokestacks, and cybersecurity.

To build the basis for long-term relations and mutual support, Korea could increase the number of education, volunteering, and cultural exchange opportunities for Koreans in Africa. The ROK could increase its support for Koreans conducting research on Africa, as well as for the development of a Korean-African joint research initiative, laying the foundation for long-term friendship. Future agendas would gain from including experts’ perspectives on climate change, women and youth economic and political empowerment, and the future of technology, among other topics.

The enthusiasm at this inaugural dialogue indicates these bilateral forums can have exponential effects on development, investment, and political initiatives between emerging partners. Africa’s advocates in Seoul and throughout other emerging economies should continue to share their collective knowledge with the citizens and leaders of their countries. As the profiles of South Korea’s African initiatives grow, Korea must encourage international organizations’ acceptance of key development and economic policies. The ROK’s growth in recent decades is remarkable and serves as inspiration for Africa’s potential at this transformative stage in its history.