Send to

[Bridge to Africa] South Africa seeks to diversify exports to Korea: ambassador

May 29, 2024 - 15:55 By Ji Da-gyum
Zenani Mandela-Dlamini, South African ambassador to South Korea, poses for a photo at the South Africa Embassy in Seoul on Monday. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

South Africa intends to broaden its export horizons with South Korea to include value-added products, a strategic shift deemed by the country essential for enhancing the economic partnership between the two countries, the South African ambassador to South Korea said in an interview with The Korea Herald.

Ambassador Zenani Mandela-Dlamini said the bilateral trade relationship spans a diverse range of products, from minerals and semi-finished goods to high-tech electronic products.

South Africa features as South Korea’s largest trading partner in Africa while South Korea is South Africa’s fourth-largest trading partner in Asia.

"South Africa has traditionally been a large supplier of bulk raw materials and semi-processed minerals and metals essential for numerous production processes in Korea," the ambassador said Monday in her written response to The Korea Herald.

South Africa's top export items to South Korea, including mineral fuels like coal, ores, slags and ash, as well as metals like iron ore, stainless steel, lead, copper, nickel and zinc, collectively contributed close to 50 percent of the country's total exports.

"South Korean exports to South Africa, on the contrary, are predominantly made up of value-added or manufactured products including automobiles, automotive tyres, woven fabrics, apparel as well as industrial electronic and consumer electronic goods," Dlamini said.

“To enhance our economic partnership, South Africa’s focus with Korea is on increasing and diversifying its exports to South Korea, thereby exporting value-added products,” the ambassador said.

South Africa continues to encourage the expansion of investment by Korean companies in the country. Recognizing South Korea as a leader in electric vehicles or EVs and battery manufacturing, South Africa aims to collaborate with it in this sector, she added.

The ambassador highlighted, "There are vast opportunities for economic cooperation between the two countries."

A general view of part of the South African Petroleum Refinery (SAPREF) is seen in Durban on November 29, 2011. (Reuters)

However, the two countries do not have a Free Trade Agreement.

“In the absence of an FTA, South Africa and Korea are currently negotiating the MoU on Trade Investment Promotion Framework to enhance trade between the two countries," she said.

The Trade and Investment Promotion Framework, or TIPF, is a recent priority for South Korea's Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, responding to shifts in the global trade landscape. It seeks to enhance mutually beneficial economic cooperation and addresses new trade challenges like supply chains, green initiatives, digital technologies and biotechnology, though it doesn't provide direct tariff benefits like FTAs.

The ambassador explained, "Korea can take advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) through its economic partnership with South Africa."

South Korea and South Africa have strengthened their bilateral relations since establishing diplomatic ties in 1992, with their historical connection tracing back to the 1950-53 Korean War. The 2nd Squadron of the South African Air Force, known as the "Flying Cheetahs," contributed to the United Nations war effort by fighting alongside South Korea.

South Africa and Korea have thus far concluded seventeen bilateral agreements covering various areas such as air transport, protection of investments, avoidance of double taxation, science and technology, mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, extradition, ICT, vocational training and energy, according to the ambassador.

In 1997, the countries established a Policy Consultative Forum to organize bilateral relations and formalize regular meetings. The PCF was upgraded to a Joint Cooperation Commission in 2014 at the ministerial level, and its inaugural meeting was held in Seoul in 2022.

At the current juncture, the ambassador envisions that enhancing people-to-people exchanges is key to further developing bilateral ties between Korea and South Africa.

Dlamini stated that boosting people-to-people exchanges "will require us to strengthen our cultural ties, to promote and showcase South African arts, culture and heritage to Korean audiences; to provide a platform for market access of cultural goods and services, to exchange expertise through technical exchange programs and to support the mobility of artists from both countries."

"Both South Africa and Korea are rich in culture. South African musicians and artists continue to make their mark worldwide. I think many people in Korea are unaware of how diverse the African continent is and South Africa particularly and going forward," the ambassador said.

"I wish to see more strengthened relations between South Africa and Korea in people-to-people relations," she said.

A general view of South African flags is displayed at the main opposition Democratic Alliance final rally in Benoni on Sunday, ahead of the South African elections scheduled for Wednesday. (AFP)

With regards to the forthcoming first-ever Korea-Africa summit, the ambassador said industrialization in Africa and the establishment of mutual market access are prerequisites for achieving shared economic growth between Africa and South Korea.

The inaugural Korea-Africa Summit is scheduled for June 4 and 5, with the slogan, "The Future We Make Together: Shared Growth, Sustainability and Solidarity," encapsulating the summit's key objective.

The Yoon Suk Yeol government has said that the slogan "embodies Korea's commitment to fostering shared growth and enhancing cooperation and solidarity for a sustainable future with Africa by hosting the first summit, which is rooted in Korea's development experience."

"When we talk of shared growth, we need to consider efforts to foster industrialization on the African continent, mutual access for each other's products to their respective markets and to promote socioeconomic sustainable development, to enhance industrialization and foster mutually beneficial trade," she said.

Addressing the theme of solidarity, Dlamini emphasized Africa and South Korea will "continue our efforts to contribute to the peaceful resolution of wars, conflicts and insurgencies in several parts of the globe," including the African continent.

South Korea and Africa will also "continue to seek greater alignment" between the agendas of the United Nations and the African Union, representing 55 Member States encompassing all countries on the African continent.

"Regarding sustainability, we hope the summit will reignite the importance of the existing multilateral framework for achieving SDGs," she said, referring to the Sustainable Development Goals, the cornerstone of the UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which serves as a shared blueprint for global peace and prosperity.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa will not attend the Korea-Africa summit as the country held its National and Provincial Elections on Wednesday. Therefore, the ambassador will represent the president and South Africa during the summit.

Dlamini underscored that the forthcoming Korea-Africa summit will provide an "opportunity to establish a mutually beneficial relationship between Africa and South Korea firmly rooted in mutual respect, shared values, equality, accountability and win-win cooperation."

"South Africa expects that the Summit will bring about concrete outcomes with follow-up measures," the ambassador said.