The following are details of an interview with Ambassador Mohammed El Amine Derragui of Algeria recently conducted by The Korea Post at his office in Seoul.--Ed.
First of all, I would like to thank The Korea Post for giving me the opportunity to enlighten its respectable readers about my country and the Algeria-Korea relations.
My name is Mohammed El Amine Derragui. I was appointed as Ambassador of Algeria in Seoul on February 2015 and took my assignment on April. Before coming to Korea, I was the General Director for Asia and Oceania at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I served also as Ambassador in Uganda and Iran and as Charge d’Affaires in Belgrade. I joined the Foreign Service 38 years ago immediately after graduating from the National School of Administration of Algiers, diplomatic section.
As for my personal life, I am married and have two children, a daughter and a son.
Q: As new Ambassador of Algeria to the Republic of Korea, what, if any, plans do you have to further develop the relations between Korea and your esteemed country.
A: We are celebrating this year the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Algeria-Korea diplomatic relations. In this relatively short period, the relations between our two countries have developed significantly. They have been upgraded to the level of strategic partnership in 2006. Since then, they pursued a steady and substantial progression. The volume of bilateral trade, for example, has reached 3,3 billion USD in 2014, after being estimated of only 500 millions ten years ago. The scope of progress is still important, given the huge potential of our two countries.
In this favorable context, I would say, my first priority as Ambassador is to keep the momentum of our bilateral relations by enhancing the high-level political exchanges between our two countries. Last month (in July, 15) the Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs, H.E. Yun Byung-se, paid an official visit to Algeria, where he has been received at the highest level. During his visit, the two parties examined in depth the ways and means of advancing the bilateral relations. The outcomes of the visit were very positive.
My second priority is to strengthen the economic cooperation between both public and private actors of our two nations and, more specifically, to bring the Korean partner to better articulate its presence in Algeria to our national development goals, i.e. strengthening our economic governance and enlarging the industrial and productive basis of the Algerian economy. Today, Algeria is benefiting from the Korean experience of strategic planning and governance through several Knowledge Sharing Programs with the Korean Ministry of Strategy of Finance and other Korean Institutions, such as Korea Development Institute. So, it is important to continue and multiply this kind of cooperation actions.
Concerning the private sector, around 20 big and mid-size Korean companies are present in Algeria. It is important to get more Korean companies to explore the huge business opportunities offered in Algeria, and to convince them that the choice of a direct partnership with Algerian operators in industrial projects in Algeria is a best bet for the future.
My third priority is to intensify people to people exchanges. A comprehensive agreement has been signed in the field of Culture, Tourism and sport in 1957 and 2001. Many cooperation activities have been realized or are currently progressing, in this framework. So it is important to tap the cooperation potential existing in this specific area. Exchange programs and cooperation between our national training institutions are examples of what I intend to encourage towards the realization of our objectives in this sector.
Q: During the last visit of Mr. Yun Byung-se to Algeria, important prospects for the near future have been highlighted by both parties, including a possible visit of the Korean President Park Geun-hye to Algeria. Could you elaborate more on the coming schedule of Algeria-Korea bilateral relations?
A: As I said earlier, Mr. Yun Byung-se had paid an official visit to Algeria on 15 and 16 July, 2015. Besides his meeting with Mr. Ramtane LAMAMRA, Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, he was received at this occasion by the President of the Republic, H.E.M Abdelaziz BOUTEFLIKA, and the Prime Minister, H.E.M Abdelmalek SELLAL, as a mark of the importance that our national authorities give to the development of Algeria-Korea cooperation.
The Algerian President has extended an invitation to H.E Mme Park Geun Hye to pay a state visit to Algeria. This visit will hopefully occur at the beginning of 2016. It will certainly give an important momentum to our bilateral relations and will be an opportunity to deepen the political dialogue and consultations between our two countries not only on bilateral questions but also on the regional and international issues.
During his meeting with Mr. LAMAMRA, the two ministers exchanged their views on ways and means of developing bilateral relations. They agreed to convene as soon as possible the meeting of the Joint Commission to review and upgrade the whole framework of our bilateral cooperation.
So, as you said, the perspectives for the coming few months are very promising. We are currently working with our Korean partners on this important agenda to create the best conditions to these important events in order to maximize their outcomes and benefits for the two sides.
Q: To come back to your own country’s actuality, Algeria is currently experiencing a veritable economic and social boom, consolidating its status as emerging country. How do you assess personally the achievements accomplished by Algeria on the political and developmental dimensions, and what are the main points of your Government agenda in this regard?
A: To really grasp the evolution and the progress accomplished by my country during these last fifteen years, it is important to go back and consider the political and economic conditions at the starting point of the dynamic you rightly mentioned. When H.E.M. Abdelaziz BOUTEFLIKA, had took his charge as Head of State, Algeria were in at the midst of a very difficult period characterized by political instability, terrorism, and economic fragility, having experienced three years before, the shock therapy of structural adjustment. The priority at that time was the restoration of peace and political stability. With the strong support and mobilization of the Algerian people, H.E.M. Abdelaziz BOUTEFLIKA initiated the process of peace and reconciliation, which was consecrated through the Civil Concord initiative proposed to the Algerian people’s suffrage in 2001, upgraded afterwards to a comprehensive political offer by the Peace and Reconciliation Charter, enacted in 2005. This date is a milestone in the Algerian History. It marked the precise starting point of the revival of my country and its people.
The following step was the launch of ambitious development plans, dedicated to the improvement of the Algerian people life conditions and the economic and infrastructural catching-up. An average of 300 billion USD has been invested in the framework of the three five year development plans launched since 2001. Thousands of kilometers of highways and railroads, hospitals, schools and universities had been constructed. Korean companies had largely contributed in this accelerated process of transformation. The same pace will be maintained for the period 2015-2019 by a program of 260 billion USD, dedicated to local development, and human development, as well as to consolidate the basis of a productive and diversified economy.
In parallel to these programs, the Algerian authorities have pursued a wise governance of the country’s external revenues. The external debt has been brought from 28 billion USD in 1999, to null since 2006, while its hard currency reserves amounts to 178 billion USD in 2014. Algeria is, currently, one of the rare debt-free nations in the world.
In the political field, the Algerian authorities have promoted the individual and collective freedoms through resolute reforms of justice and public administration. We are proud today that we have neither political prisoner nor a journalist detained for press offense for example.
The status of Algerian women, its rights and role continue to be strengthened in different fields: educational, professional, social and political, thanks to a series of laws initiated by the President Abdelaziz BOUTEFLIKA. For example the Algerian electoral law requires that 30% of elected bodies must be women, a figure listing Algeria among the most advanced countries in the world in terms of women political participation.
In sum, Algeria is resolutely committed to the path of political, economic and social progress.
Q: Let come back to Algeria-Korea relations. Could you give us your assessment on the trend of the bilateral trade and economic exchanges for the near future?
A: The trade volume between Algeria and Korea achieved a new record of 3,3 billion USD in 2014. Import and export have registered a phenomenal yearly growth of 277.17% and 319.38% respectively. For this year, given the programs I mentioned before, I predict a positive evolution of trade volume and other type of exchanges. Korean companies are still submitting bids in Algeria, especially in energy, construction and water infrastructure sectors, and also proposals for industrial partnership, a trend we registered during the recent period and that we strongly encourage. I would like, in this regard, to take this opportunity to invite Korean companies to explore ? besides the traditional sectors mentioned before - those of agriculture, tourism and culture where they can benefit from a great potential.
Q: Precisely, as you mention tourism, what are the major tourist destinations that can be suggested to Korean and other countries’ tourists, in Algeria?
A: Algeria which benefit from a very good Mediterranean climate has a much diversified nature with a huge littoral of 1200 kilometers with very beautiful beaches. It has also innumerable historical sites such as those in Djemila, Tipaza, Timagad, Tassili, M’sila, Tlemcen…etc. Archaeological sites of Tassili, for example, date back to about 12,000 years BC. I recommend, specifically, for Korean people wishing to discover unique sites and natural phenomena in the world to come and discover the Algerian Sahara. They can enjoy the most beautiful and peaceful sun set in the world at the top of Hoggar Mountains and discover the unique and marvelous Touareg Culture.
Q: You really give me an idea to my next vacation! Thank you Mr. Ambassador for your insight on Algeria and Algeria-Korea bilateral relations. Would add something to conclude.
A: Yes, I would like again to insist on Algeria economic huge potential and the wide range of business opportunities offered to Korean companies. I invite them to thoroughly explore the market and consider the advantages of creating joint ventures with Algerian counterparts in all sectors.