Duty, not option: Korea’s role as global pivotal state through ODA

By Ko Kwang-hyo

Ko Kwang-hyo

In July 2021, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) acknowledged South Korea’s transition from a developing to a developed country, marking a historic milestone. This recognition came just 70 years after the nation began rebuilding from the devastation of the Korean War. Today, Korea stands among the world’s top 10 economies, boasting significant rankings in global trade volume and military capabilities, affirming its status as an advanced nation.

However, the stature of a “global pivotal state” demands more than economic and military might. It requires a commitment to playing a vital role in the international community. Aligned with its national vision: “Global Pivotal State for Freedom, Peace, and Prosperity,” Korea is extending its influence beyond economic prowess to encompass culture, diplomacy and defense. This was evidenced at the United Nations General Assembly last September, where Korea pledged to significantly increase its Official Development Assistance (ODA). In a demonstration of commitment, the Korean government has allocated a record 6.3 trillion won ($47 billion) to ODA for this year, up 31 percent from the previous year, highlighting Korea’s dedication to being a responsible leader on the global stage.

In concert with this vision, the Korea Customs Service (KCS) unveiled its new ambition in October last year: “Dynamically Innovative Korea Customs Service for Forward-Leaping Korea as a Global Pivotal State.” Focusing on employing ODA as a strategic tool, the KCS has embarked on numerous projects and programs to promote shared growth and trust with developing countries.

Utilizing Korea’s advanced IT and customs management expertise, the KCS has offered consultancy services to developing nations, helping them reengineer their customs procedures. This initiative not only shares Korea’s best practices but also encourages the adoption of Korea’s e-clearance system, UNI-PASS, a testament to Korea’s leading role in e-government solutions. To date, KCS’s efforts in customs modernization have extended to 42 countries, with 14 adopting the UNI-PASS system, marking significant contributions to Korea’s e-government export sector.

This initiative has not only promoted Korea’s e-government solutions globally but also underscored the significant economic and competitive benefits for the recipient countries. For instance, Tanzania and Ghana have witnessed remarkable fiscal and trade improvements after the introduction of UNI-PASS. Tanzania has witnessed a remarkable increase in annual revenue of 29 percent while Ghana’s cargo clearance time has shortened by 48 percent, validating the critical impact of these systems on national development. My recent visit to North Macedonia, where I attended the kickoff meeting for establishing KCS’s e-clearance system and met with the president at the country’s request, further solidified the global interest in adopting our advanced systems.

Furthermore, the KCS’ commitment to fostering international cooperation includes seminars and training programs aimed at building capacities in customs administration. Ahead of the Korea-Africa Summit, the KCS is set to host a High-Level Customs Policy Seminar for the heads of customs authorities from 10 African countries including Ghana and Cameroon, and international organizations such as the AfDB. At the working level, a total of 1,672 customs officials from 443 countries have been invited and trained in 78 customized training programs over the past five years. These efforts demonstrate Korea’s commitment to sharing its expertise and promoting customs modernization worldwide.

The synergy between consultancy, tailored training, and e-clearance system establishment by KCS illustrates a comprehensive approach to supporting developing countries while also creating favorable conditions for Korean exporters. This mutual growth philosophy is epitomized by the African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” As Korea continues to fulfill its role as a global pivotal state, the KCS remains dedicated to expanding our ODA efforts and sharing knowledge and experience of K-customs administration worldwide.


Ko Kwang-hyo is the commissioner of Korea Customs Service.

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