Photo credit: African Development Bank. - Photo: 2024

First Korea-Africa Summit Paves Way for A New Era of Cooperation

By Taro Ichikawa

TOKYO | SEOUL | 6 June 2024 (IDN) — Three decades after Japan organised the First International Conference on African Development (TICAD)—in collaboration with the United Nations, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the African Union Commission (AUC), and the World Bank—its immediate neighbour and former colony (South) Korea convened its first summit on 4-5 June.

“This moment was long overdue. Korea and Africa have been relating together positively and productively. Korea is a global pivotal state, and Africa is a pivotal continent. It is only natural for us to draw closer together, in the years ahead, for many reasons,” said President Paul Kagame of Rwanda addressing the summit.

The fact that from being a poor and aid-dependent country, South Korea has transformed itself into one of the largest donor countries in the world, has not got unnoticed to Kagame.

“Korea knows the value of sovereignty and independence, as well as the struggle required to achieve accountable and inclusive politics. Those experiences allow us to look at each other eye-to-eye, with mutual respect and admiration,” said Kagame.

A second reason for South Korea and Africa “relating together positively and productively” is: Korea’s experience shows that a country can be radically transformed, in the course of a generation.

Third, partnerships with Korea have focused on the cutting edge of innovation, helping bring the latest technologies to Rwanda and Africa more quickly. “This Summit serves to remind us that even more can be done: From artificial intelligence and robotics to small modular nuclear reactors, to driving the energy transition with critical raw materials, Africa and Korea should be working side-by-side.”

Because Africa has much to offer in return, notably by taking advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Area. Connecting with Africa, particularly its “very capable young people, will pay dividends for decades to come. Africa will be a central driver of global growth before too long, so long as we do not take our future for granted”.

Up to 48 African countries including 25 heads of state and government were represented at the Korea-Africa Summit in Ilsan, north of Seoul, to discuss, “The Future We Make Together: Shared Growth, Sustainability, and Solidarity”.

Preliminary agreements and MOUs

It concluded on 5 June with the signing of nearly 50 preliminary agreements and memorandums of understanding to promote cooperation in the fields of trade, energy, minerals critical and in a wide range of other industrial and economic sectors, according to the Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.

Twelve memorandums of understanding have been signed between South Korea and 11 African countries at the government level. South Korea and Tanzania have announced the start of negotiations for an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the aim of deepening trade exchanges. Seoul has reached a similar understanding with Morocco to strengthen relations on supply chains, the digital industry and a broader range of trade issues.

The South Korean government also signed a Trade and Investment Promotion Framework with eight African countries, including Ghana, Malawi and Zimbabwe, with the aim of facilitating trade and investment. Agreements on critical minerals have been signed by South Korea with Tanzania and Madagascar.

State agencies and private companies from South Korea and African nations signed 16 memoranda of understanding and 19 contracts on the sidelines of the summit. According to the Korean Ministry of Industry, these agreements aim to expand bilateral cooperation on advanced small-scale modular reactors, electricity, new renewable energy resources, critical minerals and infrastructure projects, as well as trade and investment.

The South Korean company Hyosung Corp., in particular, has signed an agreement for the supply of transformers with the Mozambique energy agency. The agreements between private entities were signed on the sidelines of the business forum held today in Seoul, on the second day of the summit, which brought together around 400 government officials from South Korea and Africa, including presidents and senior officials from 18 African nations, as well as representatives from Hyundai Motor Co., LG Corp., Posco Holding Inc. and Doosan Enerbility Co., among other companies.

Growing importance of mineral resources

The president of South Korea, Yoon Suk Yeol, and African leaders and delegations highlighted the growing importance of mineral resources needed to power emerging industries such as electromobility, batteries and renewable energy. “Recognizing Korea’s leadership in advanced industries and the importance of Africa as a region of global significance for critical mineral reserves, we emphasize the need to expand mutually beneficial cooperation and knowledge sharing, including at the ministerial level, to promote industries linked to critical minerals”, says a joint statement.

“In this context, we agree to launch a Korea-Africa Dialogue on Critical Minerals (…), which will serve as an important institutional foundation for strengthening Korea-Africa cooperation.”

Inaugurating the largest multilateral event ever organized by his administration yesterday morning, Yoon said that the summit marks the beginning of a new era of cooperation between Asia’s fourth-largest economy and the African continent. “Today’s summit will mark an important milestone in the new era of ties between South Korea and Africa,” Yoon said while addressing the delegations taking part in the summit. “We hope we can promptly begin our great journey to build the future together.”

Yoon evoked the theme of co-prosperity, pledging to enhance trade with African countries, explore new opportunities to address global crises and ensure sustainability. Yoon stressed the need for South Korea to quickly sign trade development agreements with African countries, including economic partnership agreements and the Trade and Investment Promotion Framework.

Yoon also reiterated South Korea’s decision to increase its support for Africa’s development to $10 billion by 2030, and to provide $14 billion in export financing to South Korean companies. The president also said that South Korea will help facilitate intra-continental trade through the African Continental Free Trade Area, to create a single market for goods and services.

South Korea and Africa will overcome transnational challenges together by incorporating Africa’s rich mineral resources and the continent’s young population with South Korea’s experience and advanced technology, Yoon said. The president highlighted South Korea’s efforts to position “green stairs” in Africa, such as through plans to build a geothermal power plant in Kenya and a battery energy storage system in South Africa.

“Today we live in the era of complex transnational crises,” Yoon said. “Challenges arising from climate change, pandemics, natural disasters, food insecurity and supply chain instability can only be overcome through international cooperation and solidarity.”

Yoon added that South Korea and African countries will join forces to ensure peace on the Korean Peninsula by respecting United Nations Security Council resolutions and the implementation of international sanctions on North Korea, in the context of growing tensions in recent weeks have marked the already stormy relations between the two Koreas.

In return, South Korea will continue to work to ensure peace and security on the African continent, in line with the operations of the South Korean Navy’s Cheonghae Unit in Somali waters and with reconstruction assistance from the South Korean Navy’s Hanbit Unit. United Nations peace in South Sudan, Yoon added.

Yoon co-chairs the 2024 Korea-Africa Summit with the President of Mauritania Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, which holds the rotating presidency of the African Union.

The opening of the proceedings was preceded by a welcome dinner hosted by the Korean president in a hotel in Seoul. Yoon has held talks with the leaders of 13 African countries: Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Ivory Coast, Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Togo, Rwanda, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde. The president met with the leaders of Kenya, Madagascar, Liberia and Ghana.

Before the summit began, Tanzania announced it would take out $2,5 billion in low-interest loans from South Korea over the next five years, while Ethiopia signed a financing deal in four years for infrastructure, science and technology, health and urban development.

Yoon attended with his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame to the signing of a memorandum in the field of intelligent urban infrastructure and mobility. By offering Africa aid for industrial infrastructure and digital transformation, South Korea aims to consolidate its presence in a large and fast-growing market, home to 1,4 billion people, the majority of whom are 25 years old or less. Agricultural technologies and cooperation plans for responses to climate change are also on the agenda of the summit and bilateral meetings. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo credit: African Development Bank.

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