Korea-Sudan trade looks for boost after economic ‘turning point’

An advert in Sudan's Suq Al-Arabi for Korean company LG (Credit: Yonhap)

East Asian nation South Korea is demonstrating increased interest in investment in Sudan after the economic “turning point” represented by the lifting of an American trade embargo, which was announced early this year but is due to take effect in July.

Even though a handful of major South Korean companies sold products in Sudan during the period of the US trade embargo, overall Korean investment and trade was suppressed by banking restrictions, foreign exchange shortages, and general skepticism about security and development in Sudan.

Now there may be an opening. “Many people are convinced that the Sudanese economy has hit a turning point now that the suffocating 20-year sanctions are no more,” Korea’s state-funded Yonhap news agency reported this week.

“The advance of international companies into the country will be further expanded if foreign currency transactions are completely deregulated,” the news agency added, citing a Sudanese observer.

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Sudan’s Information Minister Ahmed Bilal speaking to a reporter from Korean news agency Yonhap.

Sudan is reciprocating the positive Korean outlook, touting the Korea-Sudan relationship on its state-run news agency and inviting Korean companies and investors to Khartoum.

“Sudan’s Minister for Information and government spokesman, Dr. Ahmed Bilal Osman, reaffirmed that Sudan’s ports remain always open before investors, particular those from Asia and South Korea specifically, pinpointing that South Korean products have nowadays become very popular in the country due to their high quality,” the Sudan News Agency reported today.

Korean products in Sudan’s markets include vehicles produced by Hyundai and Kia and mobile phones and home appliances produced by Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics.

Ahmed Bilal says there are “huge opportunities for Korean investment in the Sudan,” citing the natural gas and petroleum sector, minerals and uranium. “He said what lacks in the country is the investment in the basic infrastructures.”

Another area of growing cooperation is in the media field. Yonhap President Park No-hwang last month reached a deal with Sudan’s Ambassador to Seoul Mohamed Abdelaal on the exchange of news between Yonhap and Sudan’s state-run news agency SUNA.

Speaking at the Yonhap headquarters in central Seoul, Park expressed hopes that SUNA will also subscribe to Yonhap’s own news platform, PyeongChang News Service Network (PNN). “Amb. Abdelaal vowed to work tirelessly toward the final signing of the deal between the companies as well as SUNA’s subscription to the PNN,” the Korean news agency reported.

For his part, Minister of Information Ahmed Bilal this week affirmed his support for “a process of cooperation” between SUNA and its counterpart Yonhap, saying it would serve Sudan’s interests.

However, some observers in Korea are still skeptical of the supposed opening in Sudan. The Korea-Trade Investment Promotion Agency earlier this year released a report offering a generally optimistic take on economic prospects in Sudan after the trade embargo lifting but cautioned over low transparency of the government, lack of reliable market information and the continuing difficulty of making foreign currency transactions.

Unnamed “experts” cited by Korea’s Yonhap in a report this week, meanwhile, pointed to Arab and Chinese economic influence in Sudan as concerns for their own investors. “China’s aggressive inroads and the exclusive Arab fund also should not be ignored for the time being, experts said.”