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[Contribution] The Caribbean Dream comes true through industrial ODA

April 1, 2024 - 18:02 By Korea Herald

By Lee Seong-woo

Vice president of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry

The Caribbean Sea, adorned with over 7,000 islands, lies to the east of Central America, where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. For many Koreans, this tropical paradise brings to mind the waterpark Caribbean Bay or the film series Pirates of the Caribbean. Yet, this region is plagued by frequent natural disasters, including earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, heavy rains and landslides. Sadly, most Caribbean countries, including Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Kitts and Nevis, lack the resources to effectively address these challenges.

Imagine a scenario where these nations have access to South Korea's advanced disaster alert system. With this technology in place, disaster-related organizations such as the police, hospitals, fire departments and coast guards could seamlessly coordinate efforts to mitigate and manage disasters effectively. This would necessitate the establishment of communication networks, widespread adoption of mobile phones, implementation of an e-government solution and deployment of skilled personnel. Such an endeavor presents a unique opportunity for South Korean tech industries to enter the Caribbean market by offering communication networks, mobile phones and software solutions to over 20 million people in the region.

Many entrepreneurs, myself included, have envisioned this potential, but financial constraints have impeded progress. Undertaking such a national project, even in developing countries, poses significant challenges for companies. This is where Official Development Assistance becomes indispensable.

Traditionally, governments provided ODA primarily for humanitarian purposes. However, there is a growing trend to strategically utilize ODA to bolster the industries of developing countries and secure long-term benefits for domestic industries. Known as Industrial ODA or Mutual Development ODA, this approach is a win-win strategy for both countries' industries.

Leading manufacturing powerhouses like Germany and Japan have long championed industrial ODA. For instance, Germany has allocated substantial ODA, amounting to 200 billion euros ($215 million), to Vietnam over the past three decades. These funds have supported various projects aimed at industrial technology development, climate crisis response and sustainable development initiatives. Notably, projects such as the Hanoi Metro Rail Extension Project have facilitated the transfer of German products and technologies to Vietnam, fostering a mutually beneficial partnership. Additionally, German companies received support to comply with EU carbon regulations for products manufactured in Vietnam.

The Korean government is also prioritizing industrial ODA initiatives. The Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy spearheads efforts such as Supply Chain ODA to secure raw materials from developing countries, Green ODA and Technology Cooperation ODA to expand into new markets. Consequently, Korea's industrial ODA has surged from $100 million in 2000 to $490 million in 2021.

However, accessing industrial ODA remains challenging for companies due to lengthy application and screening procedures, coupled with limited private sector involvement. Streamlining the ODA screening process and incorporating more private sector input is crucial. Additionally, there should be greater direct support, rather than reliance on intermediary organizations like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, to bolster Korea's presence in recipient countries.

Since Columbus's arrival in the New World in 1492, the Caribbean has served as a vital maritime passage linking Europe and America. Despite gaining independence in the 1960s, many Caribbean nations struggle with limited public administration capabilities. With industrial ODA leading the way, I envision realizing the "Caribbean Dream," where South Korean companies spearhead the establishment of advanced IT infrastructure across the entire Caribbean region.

Lee Seong-woo is vice president of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The views expressed in this article are his own. -- Ed.