Donor Profile

South Korea

Last updated: November 19, 2023

Summary



ODA Spending


How much ODA does South Korea contribute?


South Korea was the 15th-largest donor country on the OECD DAC in 2021. This corresponds to 0.16% of its GNI, making South Korea the 26th-largest DAC donor in relative terms.


2022 preliminary figures show South Korea's ranking dropped by one in both absolute and relative terms.


South Korea has had significant budgetary increases for ODA in recent years; however, unprecedented depreciation of the South Korean Won has caused the total ODA figure in US dollars to decrease.



How is South Korean ODA changing?


Since 2017, South Korea’s ODA/GNI ratio has been relatively stable. South Korea committed to reaching an ODA/GNI ratio of 0.2% by 2020, but the government acknowledged its failure to reach the target in the Midterm Strategy for Development Cooperation (2021-2025), citing worsening public finances. The government also reported that ODA disbursements in 2021 decreased due to disruptions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Total ODA in 2021 increased from the previous year by US$507 million. As a share of GNI, ODA rose from 0.14% to 0.16% from 2020 to 2021. The increase in ODA was directly influenced by South Korea’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, despite the South Korean Won’s depreciation against the US dollar.


The National Assembly, the national legislator of South Korea, approved the final 2023 ODA budget of KRW4.78 trillion, or US$3.7 billion, an increase from KRW4.04 trillion, or US$3.1 billion, in 2022. The budget included more ODA funding for health and global partnerships as part of strengthened cooperation with international organizations, contributions to global health initiatives, and capacity building for infectious disease response.


The conservative PPP will continue to focus on making South Korea a powerful go-to actor in global health. Funding to other sectors could fall as a result.



Where is South Korean ODA allocated?


In 2021, South Korea disbursed 78% of its total ODA bilaterally, well above the DAC average of 59%, including 17% as earmarked funding through multilaterals. Current ODA flows are relatively consistent with the South Korean target bilateral-to-multilateral ratio of 75:25 outlined in the 2023 Annual Implementation Plan.



Bilateral Spending


Health and medical capacity building to respond to infectious diseases is a key focus of South Korea’s bilateral ODA. In 2021, the government disbursed 26% of its bilateral ODA to ‘health & populations.’ ‘Infrastructure’ saw a 41% increase between 2020 and 2021, highlighting the government’s stated focus on infrastructure as outlined in the Mid-Term Strategy for Development Cooperation (2021-2025) and the 2023 Annual Implementation Plan.


Additionally, 9% of bilateral ODA in 2021 went to WASH, 9% to education, and 7% to agriculture, including forestry, fishing, and rural development. Most of this funding came in the form of loans to Asian countries.


South Korea has a strong preference for bilateral funding to LMICs, but might prioritize LICs in the future. 71% of South Korea’s bilateral ODA went to MICs in 2021; 58% went to LMICs, and 13% to UMICs. This is significantly higher than the DAC average of 41% of bilateral ODA to MICs, of which 27% is channeled to LMICs and 14% to UMICs.


LICs received just 19% of total bilateral ODA from South Korea in 2021, in line with the DAC average. South Korea has said it will allocate more ODA to LICs and LMICs, but no target for this shift was set in the 2023 Annual Implementation Plan.


South Korea’s bilateral assistance centers on Asia, particularly its Southeast Asian neighbors. This focus was reaffirmed by the 2023 Annual Implementation Plan. In 2021, 43% of bilateral ODA went to Asia, significantly above the DAC average of 14%. In 2023, 39% of ODA is set to go to countries in Asia, according to the Annual Implementation Plan.


Loans and equity investments accounted for 44% of South Korea’s bilateral ODA in 2021, almost five times the DAC average of 9%. South Korea had a positive experience as a recipient of ODA loans, and the MOEF sees ODA loan provision as a tool for promoting fiscal discipline in partner countries. Despite internal debate about the risks of creating high levels of debt in partner countries through loans, South Korea intends to maintain a stable, high share of loans.


South Korea channels most of its bilateral grants and loans through its own implementing agencies (74% went through the public sector in 2021), mainly KOICA and Korea Eximbank.



Multilateral Spending and Commitments


Only 22% of South Korea’s ODA was channeled as core funding to multilaterals in 2021, compared to the DAC average of 41%. This share has been relatively consistent since South Korea joined the DAC in 2010.


Historically, South Korea has not prioritized financial support for multilateral organizations. However, its COVID-19 response included a stronger multilateral approach and increased funding to multilaterals specifically in global health. South Korea was invited to the G7 summit as a guest nation in June 2021, where it made significant pledges to Gavi and the COVAX AMC.


Read more about South Korea’s ODA to global health


Recent commitments to multilateral organizations are summarized below.



Politics & Priorities


What is the current state of South Korean politics?


South Korea is a presidential representative democratic republic. Elections take place every four years to elect governors, metropolitan mayors, municipal mayors, and provincial and municipal legislatures. The Korean public directly elects the president for a single five-year term by plurality vote. There are two main parties represented in Korea’s National Assembly: the liberal DPK and the conservative PPP.


Yoon Suk-yeol of PPP won the presidential election on March 9, 2022, and was inaugurated on May 10, 2022. His election focused on strengthening the global response system to infectious diseases, with the aim of making South Korea a vaccine powerhouse.


The executive and the legislative branches in South Korea are currently split between the conservative and liberal parties, so bills could face stalemates moving forward.


As a result of the presidential election, South Korean ODA for gender equality could be at risk. Former conservative prosecutor Yoon considers himself an ‘anti-feminist’ and has called for the abolition of MOGEF.


The 2023 ODA budget was confirmed at KRW4.78 trillion, or US$3.7 billion, which indicates a 21% increase from 2022.


Who is responsible for allocating South Korean ODA?


Click for more details on each actor.


Two ministries guide development policy under the overall policy and decision-making authority of the President:

  • MOFA sets policies and priorities for bilateral grants and multilateral ODA channeled through the UN and other multilateral instruments, such as the Global Fund; and
  • MOEF sets policies for ODA loans and manages contributions to international financial institutions. It also supervises South Korea’s EDCF and Korea Eximbank. In addition, MOEF sets the national budget, and its Budget Office can veto grants and loans proposed by MOFA that do not meet project approval criteria.

Within these ministries, key actors include:

  • KOICA is a key player in development policy implementation in South Korea. The agency was founded in 1991 and provides bilateral grants and technical cooperation. It has 44 country offices, as well as representatives dispatched to the UN and the OECD;
  • EDCF was established in 1987 to promote economic cooperation between South Korea and partner countries through loans. MOEF is responsible for the operations and policymaking of the EDCF, while Korea Eximbank manages and implements loans from the fund; and
  • CIDC is the coordinating body responsible for deciding on major ODA -related policies. CIDC was established in 2006 and meets approximately three times per year to evaluate and plan KOICA and EDCF initiatives. It consists of 25 members including the Prime Minister (the Chair), cabinet members, the President of KOICA, the Chair of the Korea Eximbank, and eleven civilian experts. The ‘Sub-Committee for Evaluation’ is composed of:
  • The Head of the Planning and Coordination Office of the Prime Minister’s Office (chair);
  • The Director-General of MOFA;
  • The Director-General of MOEF;
  • Executives from KOICA;
  • Executives of the Korea Eximbank; and
  • Eight representatives from academia and civil society.

The latest OECD Development Co-operation Peer Review, published in 2018, found that the CIDC’s involvement in priority-setting has strengthened quality assurance and result management in South Korea's development cooperation.


In addition, South Korean development policy is influenced by the following actors:

  • Parliament: The National Assembly, or the parliament of the Republic of Korea, can influence the direction of South Korea’s development policy and budget. The National Assembly votes on, amends as necessary, and approves the budget bill presented by the government. Within the National Assembly, the Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee is responsible for development cooperation and can change overall ODA spending amounts and specific allocations through its Sub-Committee on Budget. The parliament provides the legal basis for South Korea’s ODA policies; and
  • Civil Society: South Korean CSOs are involved in policymaking and play an increasing role in ODA implementation.

What are South Korea's development priorities?


South Korea, itself an ODA recipient until 1995, prioritizes sharing its successful development experience and promoting inclusive development partnerships.


The Framework Act on International Development Cooperation, first published in 2010 and amended in 2018, outlines the overarching principles of South Korean development cooperation and clarifies the responsibilities of different actors. The Framework Act sets out six pillars for development:

  • Poverty reduction;
  • The human rights of women, children, adolescents, and people with disabilities;
  • Gender equality;
  • Sustainable development and humanitarianism;
  • Economic cooperation; and
  • Peace and prosperity in the international community.

Supporting LICs to achieve the SDGs and protecting the human rights of adolescents were also prioritized with the amendments made in 2018.


The Mid-term Strategy for Development Cooperation (2021-2025) translates the Framework Act into concrete strategic priorities for medium-term development policy and indicative volumes of ODA. The strategy has 12 priority goals, including strengthening global health risk response, increasing humanitarian assistance, promoting South Korea's Green New Deal, diversifying development finance, and strengthening partnerships with civil society. The strategy also states that ODA will be closely aligned with South Korea’s foreign strategy.


South Korea’s key development priorities for 2021-2025 include:

  • Doubling ODA volume between 2019 and 2030 to 0.30% ODA/GNI by 2030;
  • Providing over 70% of bilateral ODA to South Korea’s 27 priority partner countries; and
  • Changing the share of grants to loans to 60% and 40%, respectively (±3%).

Within the Mid-term Strategy, South Korea’s development cooperation is guided by an Annual Implementation Plan that outlines specific priorities.


In the 2022 Annual Implementation Plan, South Korea recommitted to doubling its ODA budget between 2019 and 2030.


According to the 2023 Annual Implementation Plan, South Korea will also significantly expand its support to the health sector and intends to focus on climate change response and digital transformation as development priorities for societal and economic change in partner countries.


According to the 2023 Annual Implementation Plan, the ODA budget’s share of loans and grants will be approximately 40% (±3%) and 60% (±3%), respectively. South Korea will attempt to increase its share of untied grants, development assistance that can be used to purchase goods in any market, rather than just the donor country, to 95% through 2025.


The government will prioritize helping neighboring countries achieve the SDGs and will focus its ODA spending on five key sectors:

  • Infrastructure;
  • Health;
  • Education;
  • Agriculture and fisheries; and
  • WASH.

Grant assistance will be prioritized in six sectors:

  • Education;
  • Humanitarian assistance;
  • Agriculture and fisheries;
  • Health; and
  • Public administration.

In October 2018, South Korea adopted two policies to guide its future foreign relations: the New Northern Policy and New Southern Policy, both of which serve to strengthen ties with partner countries to the north and south of the Korean peninsula. The 2020 update, called the New Southern Policy Plus, prioritizes cooperation on health and medicine, education, sustainable investments in trade, infrastructure, future industries, and security.


At the ASEAN Summit in November 2020, the government announced an updated version of the New Southern Policy, known as the New Southern Policy Plus. It lays out seven areas for cooperation:

  • Health and medicine, post-COVID-19;
  • Human resource development and sharing of South Korea’s education model;
  • Mutual cultural exchange;
  • Mutually beneficial and sustainable investment in trade;
  • Infrastructure development of rural and urban areas;
  • Future industries for mutual prosperity; and
  • Non-traditional security sectors.

These policies demonstrate South Korea’s intention to strengthen engagement with India and ASEAN countries, and to engage in more regional infrastructure connectivity projects (such as railways and power generation) in cooperation with North Korea, Russia, China, and Central Asian nations as part of the New Northern Policy. These policies are expected to increase South Korea’s ongoing development focus on infrastructure activities in Asia.


In addition to its thematic initiatives, the government has taken on a leadership role in the international push for increasing adherence to ODA effectiveness principles. Following the HLF-4 in Busan in 2011, South Korea has hosted regular Busan Global Partnership Forums, bringing together stakeholders to reinforce the commitment to and track progress against the following Busan principles:

  • Countries should define the development model that they want to implement;
  • Sustainable impact should be the driving force behind investments and efforts in development policymaking;
  • Development cooperation requires active partnership; and
  • Development cooperation must be transparent and accountable to all citizens.

In 2020, South Korea also re-joined the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation Steering Committee, a vehicle for driving development effectiveness. South Korea places particular importance on both the Busan Global Partnership Forums and the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation Steering Committee as they emerged from HLF-4.


As outlined in the International Development Cooperation Government-Civil Society Partnership Basic Plan published in January 2019, civil society will play a key role in enhancing the transparency and accountability of South Korea's ODA. Through partnerships with civil society, South Korea will strengthen accountability on the development cooperation process.


The South Korean government has stated its intention to expand multilateral collaboration in response to global challenges, including climate change and humanitarian crises. In 2016, the South Korean government published a Multilateral Aid Strategy which identified the following five UN agencies as compatible partners with their policy focus:

  • UNDP;
  • WFP;
  • UNICEF;
  • WHO; and
  • UNHCR.

In the 2023 confirmed budget, 12% of total multilateral funding will be provided to these five agencies.


By issue


Global health: Given its focus on COVID-19 response, it is unsurprising that global health and pandemic response are key focus areas for South Korean ODA. South Korea plans to significantly expand its support to the health sector with a focus on increasing assistance for global health, such as COVID-19 vaccine development and global partnerships with multilateral health organizations. This includes the government’s active commitment to the COVAX AMC, GHSA, and the Global Vaccine Partnership.


Read more about South Korea’s ODA to Global Health


Climate: South Korea’s multilateral approach has been influenced by its status as a ‘middle power’ and its ongoing strategic priorities. South Korea also seeks to promote green ODA in LICs. As host of the GCF, South Korea is committed to increasing climate ODA and coordination.


Read more about South Korea’s ODA related to Climate Change


Gender equality: Once a core focus of South Korean ODA, funding levels could be at risk in the future due to President Yoon Suk-yeol’s campaign as an anti-feminist and his desire to abolish MOGEF.


Read more about South Korea’s ODA related to Gender Equality


Agriculture: Funding for the COVID-19 pandemic has eclipsed ODA for agriculture in recent years, though agriculture has been a historical priority for South Korea. In August 2023, the MAFRA announced an expansion of agricultural ODA, beginning with 18 projects in 2023.


Read more about South Korea’s ODA for Agriculture


Education: Like other priorities, education has decreased in importance after South Korea’s prioritization of global health funding for COVID-19 and infectious disease response in recent years.


Read more about South Korea’s ODA for Education


By region


South Korea’s New Southern and Northern Policies guide its regional cooperation.


The new Indo-Pacific Strategy also relates to development cooperation as one of the key objectives is to promote customized development cooperation partnerships, affecting South Korea’s priority countries.


Asia-Pacific: The Asia-Pacific region is a primary focus of South Korean ODA, as it houses 12 of 27 priority partner countries for 2021-2025. In May 2023, South Korea announced its plan to double the ODA budget for Pacific Island countries to US$40 million (KRW53 billion) by 2027.


Central Asia: South Korean ODA will also focus on countries in Central Asia for the 2021-2025 period.


Africa and Latin America: Partner countries in Africa and Latin America will receive modest levels of funding from South Korea. Each region contains seven and four priority partners, respectively.


Budget


What are the details of South Korea's ODA budget?


South Korea’s CIDC requested an increased ODA budget of KRW4.5 trillion, or US$3.4 billion, for 2023 to increase funding for health and global partnerships, as part of its global COVID-19 response. The final 2023 budget approved by the National Assembly was KRW4.78 trillion, or US$3.7 billion, 6% more than the requested amount.


South Korea’s total ODA budget includes breakdowns by sector, region, ministry, and implementing agency. It also allocates assistance to bilateral and multilateral channels within each ministry’s budget. The annual budget lists concrete activities to be funded from each ministry’s budget, allowing very limited ministerial discretion over their respective budgets once each has been approved by the parliament.


According to the approved ODA budget for 2023, 77% was allocated as bilateral ODA, including earmarked funding through multilateral organizations, and the remaining 23% was channeled as core funding to multilaterals. Within bilateral assistance, 59% of funding was allocated as grants and 41% as concessional loans. South Korea will continue to focus its development cooperation on Asia (39%) and Africa (19%), while relative allocations for Latin America and the Middle East- CIS have slightly decreased.


In 2023, 89% of MOEF’s ODA budget (KRW1.6 trillion, or US$1.2 billion) will be delivered bilaterally and almost exclusively as concessional loans through the EDCF. Only 5% of MOEF’s bilateral ODA (KRW70.3 billion, or US$54 million) will be delivered as grants. KRW201.8 billion, or US$156 million, will be provided as multilateral funding.

In June 2023, Prime Minister Duck-soo Han resolved to increase South Korea’s ODA budget to KRW6.8 trillion (US$5.3 billion) in 2024. The resolution comprised a 43.2% increase compared to the 2023 ODA budget. If approved, the announcement will meet South Korea's goal of providing US$5 billion (KRW6.4 trillion) in annual ODA by 2030 six years ahead of schedule.


The ODA-related budget of MOFA has two major funding lines: bilateral grants and multilateral organizations.


Bilateral grants account for 85% of ODA (KRW1.5 trillion, or US$1.1 billion) from MOFA. This funding is broken down into projects/programs, technical assistance channeled through KOICA, and funding delivered through PPPs.


Multilateral ODA accounts for the remaining 15% of the MOFA’s ODA-related budget (KRW289.2 billion, or US$223 million) and comprises assessed and voluntary contributions to international organizations, such as the Global Fund.



The figures presented in the table above do not fully reflect all ODA spending for several reasons. First, funding flows from ministries beyond the 14th-largest in the South Korean government, regional-, and provincial governments are not included in the budget table. Discrepancies also result from double-counting of funding for some IFIs, UN agencies, and other organizations. This makes it difficult to determine the exact amount of funding that has been double-counted in the budget table.


How does South Korea determine its ODA budget?


ODA levels are set by MOEF between January and April; specific allocations are made between July and October.

  • Ministries submit medium-term finance plans: Each ministry submits a medium-term spending plan to the MOEF by the end of January. From these documents, MOEF draws up budget guidelines, including spending limits for each ministry.
  • Ministries develop budgets: Between May and June, ministries develop their budgets for the coming year, based on the limits set by the MOEF. At this stage, relevant ministries, particularly MOFA, develop proposals for sectoral and geographic ODA allocations. Key stakeholders are the Directors-General of the ministries, who submit the ministerial budgets for review in June.
  • CIDC debates budget allocations: Between July and September, ministries that have a role in dispersing ODA negotiate their sectoral and geographic allocations in a process led by the CIDC. The process includes expert consultations followed by a review by the committee and final approval by the MOEF.
  • The government submits its draft budget: By the beginning of September, the government submits its draft budget to the National Assembly, or parliament, for debate, amendments, and approval. Once the budget has been submitted, committees within the National Assembly review the draft budget in detail. The Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee is responsible for the ODA budget. Following the review, the Special Committee on Budget and Accounts conducts an overall review of the budget draft.
  • National Assembly approves the budget: In December, the National Assembly votes on the ODA budget in a plenary session.

Our South Korea Experts

Maura Kitchens West

Maura Kitchens West

Associate Consultant

The Donor Tracker team, along with many DAC donor countries, no longer uses the term "foreign aid". In the modern world, "foreign aid" is monodirectional and insufficient to describe the complex nature of global development work, which, when done right, involves the establishment of profound economic and cultural ties between partners.


We strongly prefer the term Official Development Assistance (ODA) and utilize specific terms such as grant funding, loans, private sector investment, etc., which provide a clearer picture of what is concretely occurring. “Foreign aid” will be referenced for accuracy when referring to specific policies that use the term. Read more in this Donor Tracker Insight.

Our South Korea Experts

Maura Kitchens West

Maura Kitchens West

Associate Consultant