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[Bridge to Africa] S. Korea-to-Zimbabwe value chains can foster ‘win-win’ cooperation

S. Korea, Zimbabwe set to sign Trade and Investment Framework during first Korea-Africa summit in June

May 15, 2024 - 13:39 By Ji Da-gyum
Zimbabwean Ambassador to South Korea Stewart Nyakotyo spoke to The Korea Herald on April 30 at the Lotte Hotel in Seoul, where the Senior Officials' Meeting to prepare for the first-ever Korea-Africa Summit was held the previous day. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

South Korea and Zimbabwe have the potential to cultivate a mutually enriching "win-win" partnership by enchanting cooperation in developing manufacturing value chains, capitalizing on the unique strengths of each country, Zimbabwean Ambassador to South Korea Stewart Nyakotyo said in his interview with The Korea Herald.

"Zimbabwe and Korea have 30 years of relations, and the future we want, which we can make together, is shared prosperity and growth," Ambassador Nyakotyo said on April 30 during his visit to Seoul on the occasion of the Senior Officials' Meeting in preparation for the first-ever Korea-Africa summit on June 4 and 5.

"And I'm very optimistic that this shared growth -- if we continue devising strategies -- we can achieve it. It's achievable, it's doable."

South Korea's advanced manufacturing prowess, notably in sectors like automotive production, emerges as a prime area for potential synergy between the two countries, given Zimbabwe's abundant resources crucial for automotive value chains.

The ambassador emphasized Zimbabwe's rich mineral wealth, boasting 41 different minerals such as platinum, gold, nickel, chrome and more.

Zimbabwe is the world's primary producer of platinum, a crucial element in catalytic converters essential for reducing harmful emissions globally.

Zimbabwe also stands out as a leading global producer of lithium, boasting the continent's largest lithium mines, according to the database provided by the US Geological Survey. The strategic advantage is particularly significant as lithium serves as a crucial component in electric vehicle batteries.

South Korea's technological prowess and robust financial resources are pivotal factors that can significantly bolster the Zimbabwean economy.

Furthermore, Zimbabwe's demographic profile, with 41 percent of its population below the age of 14 and a 66.9 percent labor force participation rate as of 2022, as per World Bank data, highlights its youthful dynamism. This demographic vitality presents a substantial asset for potential collaboration with South Korea, which is grappling with demographic decline.

"The opportunities for cooperation between Zimbabwe and South Korea are enormous," Nyakotyo said. "We think that Korea should not sit out. It is an opportunity to work with Zimbabwe to see how it can also benefit from this relationship."

People celebrate the country's 44th Independence Day in Murambinda, Zimbabwe on April 18, 2024. (EPA)

The ambassador underscored the critical importance of fostering collaborative efforts in developing manufacturing value chains, encompassing every stage from raw material acquisition to creating finished products.

"We can work jointly to develop further cooperation in the area of the value chain for the vehicle sector and other important sectors once we agree on the cooperation that we are going to pursue," he said.

"I think what's important is that Korea and Zimbabwe can help each other develop the value chains that can then fit into each other. In that way, Korea will be benefiting and Zimbabwe will also be benefiting. It will be a win-win situation.”

Investing in the value chains will create a mutually beneficial scenario. This entails generating employment in Zimbabwe, enhancing economic cooperation, and, reciprocally, fulfilling South Korea's resource needs from those value chains.

"So we think it's a practical way of promoting cooperation," Nyakotyo said.

"So really, we need them to sit down together, identify which value chains we want to work together on, and then see what sort of investment is required in those value chains, what technology is required, the manpower requirements. The financial investment and the downstream benefits that will be created from that relationship are very important for us."

The ambassador provided further insight into Zimbabwe's infrastructure, highlighting the presence of vehicle assembly plants and ongoing production through knocked-down kits assembly, as an example.

"So, we think that if we have cooperation in that area with Korea, we can also benefit from the transfer of some of the productive processes that could then be established in Zimbabwe," he said.

"And that would act as a launchpad for Korean trade with Africa because there is the AfCFTA which is the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. So by establishing a presence in Zimbabwe, it will be possible to access the whole African market."

The ambassador emphasized Zimbabwe's desire to witness an increased presence of Korean companies establishing permanent operations within the country, alongside a concerted effort to enhance trade relations. Bilateral trade amounted to approximately $30 million in 2021.

Trade, Industry and Energy Minister Ahn Duk-geun delivers a letter from South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol to Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa during his visit to Zimbabwe in May 2023. (Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy)

The ambassador also disclosed that Zimbabwe anticipates the signing of a Trade and Investment Framework or TIPF with South Korea during the inaugural Korea-Africa Summit.

Trade, Industry and Energy Minister Ahn Duk-geun proposed to sign the TIPF, which entails comprehensive cooperation in the reals of trade, investment and supply chains, during his visit to Zimbabwe in May 2023.

"So I can confirm that as far as Zimbabwe is concerned, we have completed our internal procedures for us to sign the agreement, and we did the exchange of final text with the MOFA, the Minister of Foreign Affairs here in Seoul," he said.

"We are moving now towards the signing of that agreement, and we think that it should be possible for our ministers to sign the agreement within the margins of the Korea-Africa summit."

Nyakotyo labeled the TIPF as a "very important" agreement that "lays the foundation for cooperation in a number of areas."

Zimbabwe, however, is making further progress by emulating South Korea's rapid industrialization through enhanced cooperation, including technology transfer from South Korea.

"Because we believe that the Korean example of industrialization can also work in our environment in Zimbabwe. So then this is an area where we want to see how we can continue to learn from the Korean example of industrialization."

The ambassador explained South Korea has undergone a remarkable transformation, evolving from a country reliant on foreign aid to one of the leading global exporters. This transition has been driven by Korea's policies, the strong work ethic of its people and the support of other countries.

Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa waves as he attends the celebration for the country's 44th Independence Day in Murambinda, Zimbabwe, April 18, 2024. (EPA)

On the issue of the absence of an embassy in Seoul, the ambassador said, "We are considering Korea as one of those countries where we could open an embassy."

Zimbabwe does not maintain diplomatic missions in every country. Instead, they have implemented a policy of multiple accreditations, whereby one embassy represents three, four or five countries. This approach addresses the financial challenges associated with operating diplomatic missions.

"But as the economy improves, I think we will be increasing the number of diplomatic missions the world over as part of our diplomatic outreach," Nyakotyo said.

The topic for deepening cooperation, including the possibility of Zimbabwe eventually opening a diplomatic mission here, was discussed during the visit by Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of Zimbabwe James Manzou to Seoul in February this year.

"So I do not discount the possibility that we may see a Zimbabwe permanent presence in Korea sometime in the future," he added, clarifying that he doesn't have a specific time frame.

Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa is set to participate in the first Korea-Africa summit to be held with the slogan, "The Future We Make Together: Shared Growth, Sustainability and Solidarity."

The rationale behind his participation is imperative for Zimbabwe to engage in the first dialogue where African and South Korean leaders will "discuss practical ways" to enhance cooperation in trade, investment, capacity building in health care and various other sectors, including fostering people-to-people exchanges.

"As one of the African countries actively engaged with Korea, it is very important for our leader to be among the other African leaders who will be interacting with the Korean government to chart the way forward in terms of our cooperation," the ambassador said.

"So, we think this should lay the foundation or the groundwork for us to move our relations with Korea forward to a new level."


This article is a part of a series of interviews, analyses and features shedding light on bilateral ties between South Korea and African countries from the past to today, ahead of the Korea-Africa Summit in Seoul. -- Ed.