The Korea Herald


[BRIDGE TO AFRICA] Ties with Africa to grow with Korea’s support: Ivory Coast envoy

Implementation of AfCFTA will offer Korea access to Africa's growing population, abundant resources, according to ambassador

By Sanjay Kumar

Published : March 12, 2024 - 13:56

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Allou Wanyou Eugene Biti, Ivory Coast's ambassador to Korea (Ivory Coast Embassy in Seoul) Allou Wanyou Eugene Biti, Ivory Coast's ambassador to Korea (Ivory Coast Embassy in Seoul)

The upcoming Korea-Africa Summit in Seoul will increase cooperation with Korea and expand support for Africa's progress, according to Allou Wanyou Eugene Biti, Ivory Coast's ambassador to South Korea.

“Ivory Coast holds significant influence in West Africa and across the entire continent,” said Biti, highlighting the importance of Korea's involvement in advancing the process to implement the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) treaty. “Ivory Coast will leverage its influence to strengthen ties between Korea and Africa,” he added.

With the implementation of the AfCFTA, Korea would be able to utilize Africa's significant human capital and abundant resources and help African countries develop, Biti said.

Reports indicate that demographic changes in Africa could significantly impact the global order.

United Nations projections foresee Africa's population reaching nearly 2.5 billion by 2050, signifying that over 25 percent of the world's population will be African.

Ivory Coast is a member of the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the country plays a crucial and active role in decision-making processes, Biti stressed.

Economic collaborations

Biti highlighted Ivory Coast's commitment to bilateral cooperation with Korea, dating back to 1961 when diplomatic relations were established.

The ties present opportunities for Korean companies to secure infrastructure projects in Ivory Coast, Biti noted.

“(Korean companies) simply need to participate in the national tendering processes,” he said, encouraging Korea to invest in prospects aligned with the country's National Development Plan of 2021–2025.

The plan seeks to eliminate remaining barriers to the structural transformation of the Ivorian economy and elevate Ivory Coast as an upper-middle-income country by 2030.

According to Biti, the plan has been communicated to Korean investors, including to Korean companies that manufacture sheet metal, protective guardrails, road construction, signage panels, and prefabricated houses. A Korean contractor in housing and building construction has also expressed interest in investing in the Ivorian market.

Biti noted that a number of Korean companies intend to support Ivory Coast's National Development Plan, while the Export-Import Bank of Korea, or Eximbank, will finance Samsung's construction of the Cancerology and Oncology Center in Grand Bassam, which broke ground last year.

"Eximbank has decided to grant a $1 billion loan to Ivory Coast with a 0.1 percent interest rate, repayable over 40 years, and with a 15-year grace period,” says Biti.

The loan is designated for structuring projects, and negotiations for the next convention are in progress.

Biti said that the Ivory Coast Embassy was actively involved in negotiations with Eximbank to expedite the signing of an important agreement.

The embassy is seeking support from the Korean Institute of Advanced Technology for financing and expertise in agriculture and energy development programs in Ivory Coast.

"Several projects of the agreements are under development, including an agreement for the abolition of visas for holders of official passports and one related to the granting of a $1 billion preferential-rate loan,” said Biti.

“In collaboration with Korean authorities, the embassy is working on finalizing these agreements for signing during the Korea-Africa Summit in June.

He also recalled a telephone exchange between South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara in the last week of November 2023, which focused on strengthening cooperation, following a diplomatic note from the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Additionally, the Korean president met with Ivory Coast's vice president in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Ivory Coast needs more Korean support for initiatives such as the Technophile Business Center, the construction of multimodal transportation hubs, a shipyard establishment, and the acquisition of large-capacity ferry boats to improve lagoon transport in Abidjan.

"Korean companies have a great deal of expertise to bring to bear in this NDP,” said Biti, urging Korean companies to participate in related projects.

“All (Korean companies) have to do is express their intention,” he stressed.

When asked how South Korean companies can exploit latex, cotton, palm oil, and other resources from Ivory Coast, Biti said that each raw material has its own organization in Ivory Coast.

“For example, the Coffee-Cocoa Council handles coffee and cocoa; the Cotton-Cashew Council deals with cotton and cashews; and the Rubber-Oil Palm Council manages rubber and oil palm,” he said, suggesting that Korean companies should contact the relevant organization and consult with a dedicated team capable of establishing cooperation.

“In 2023, the chairman of the board of directors of the Coffee Cocoa Council visited South Korea to meet with business leaders aiming for the industrial transformation of Ivorian cocoa,” he recalled.

“This project is currently in the finalization stage,” said Biti.

Agricultural diplomacy

South Korea and Ivory Coast are strengthening cooperation in various fields, with the African country being a key partner in West Africa and having been the first African country to establish diplomatic relations with Korea.

South Korea aims to foster "agricultural diplomacy" and the K-Rice Belt initiative to enhance food security in Ivory Coast. This large-scale Korean agricultural project involves distributing Korean rice varieties, transferring agricultural technology, and supporting infrastructure construction to improve rice productivity sustainably.

Ivory Coast is the 10th recipient country of the K-Ricebelt project, according to the South Korean Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

The ministry plans to increase the international development cooperation budget significantly in 2024 to elevate its role in global agricultural development through the Korea-Africa platform.

Korean Agriculture Minister Chung Hwang-keun visited Ivory Coast last year to share Korean agriculture's development experience and form a consensus with the African nation's leaders. The overarching goal is to overcome food crises, reduce global disparities, and contribute to international peace and prosperity through various development cooperation projects.

The following is the third installment of a series of interviews, analyses and features shedding light on bilateral ties between South Korea and African countries both in the past and today, ahead of the Korea-Africa Summit in Seoul. -- Ed.