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At its summit, Seoul gets critical mineral deal but no debt accord

South Korea has refused to accept many key demands from African leaders at summit that marked its first real attempt at building ties with the continent

South Korea became the latest Asian state to make a pitch for African influence at a summit attended by 25 other heads of state and government from Africa in Seoul last week.

Seoul appears to have come out better in the post-summit joint communique which commits to the launch of a high-level dialogue through which to discuss the supply of minerals to South Korea from Africa, but which excluded any references to debt restructuring of new concessional lending, which African leaders had demanded.

The gathering marked the first serious attempt by Korea at building political and economic ties in Africa and the modesty of the communique, and Seoul’s refusal to accept many of the key demands of African leaders, suggests that it was a damp squib.

Seoul said the agreement on minerals, which it, like the European Union and United States, is seeking to help its green transport transition, would be ‘a model example of sustainable development of global mineral resource.’ (AC Vol 65 No 11, US mulls Gertler deal to secure minerals).

The main commitments made by South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol include promises to double official development aid to Africa to US$10 billion by 2030, and provide export financing of about $14bn to Korean companies seeking trade and investment in Africa ‘as a catalyst for projects for cooperation with Africa’. The bulk of the case will be disbursed via the Korean Economic Development Cooperation Fund.

Kenya’s President William Ruto had been more ambitious, demanding, albeit unsuccessfully, technology transfer to enable countries to learn from Korea’s developed technology in robotics, biotechnology and artificial intelligence (Dispatches, 29/11/22, Ruto and Museveni go east).

This too, was omitted in the joint declaration, even though Korea pledged people-to-people exchanges including research cooperation. 

On trade, meanwhile, Korea is set to follow the lead of the EU and US in promising to negotiate Economic Partnership Agreements with interested African states.

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