Donor Profile

South Korea

Last updated: May 4, 2024


ODA Spending

How much ODA does South Korea contribute?

South Korea was the 14th largest donor country on the OECD DAC in 2022. This corresponds to 0.18% of its GNI, making South Korea the 28th largest DAC donor in relative terms.

2023 preliminary figures show South Korea's ranking increased by 1 in both absolute and relative terms.

Adjusting for fluctuations in the KRW-US$ exchange rate compared to 2021, both bilateral assistance and multilateral assistance showed steady increases. In particular, increased investments and contributions to international financial institutions contributed to the increased total ODA figure in US$.

How is South Korean ODA changing?

Since 2017, South Korea’s ODA/GNI ratio has been 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. South Korea has committed to the goal of doubling its ODA budget by 2030 with the aim of reaching ODA/GNI ratio of 0.3% by 2030.

Total ODA in 2023 increased by 11% from the previous year by US$351 million, and the ODA/GNI ratio rose from 0.17% to 0.18%.

The National Assembly, the national legislator of South Korea, approved the final 2024 ODA budget of KRW6.3 trillion, or US$4.8 billion, the largest budget on record, and an increase from KRW4.78 trillion, or US$3.7 billion, in 2023. The budget included more ODA for humanitarian assistance as part of strengthening strategic collaborations with international organizations in the development-peace nexus, and to increase the effectiveness of humanitarian assistance.

Where is South Korean ODA allocated?

In 2022, South Korea disbursed 81% of its ODA bilaterally, above the DAC average of 53%, including 19% as earmarked funding through multilaterals.

Bilateral Spending

Strengthening healthcare infrastructure and enhancing capacity for infectious disease response are priorities of South Korea’s bilateral ODA. In 2022, the government disbursed 17% of its bilateral ODA to ‘health & populations’. However, there was a decrease of 29% in funding towards this sector between 2021 and 2022, as COVID-19 developed into its endemic phase. Bilateral ODA for ‘energy’ more than doubled in absolute terms, with a 165% increase between 2021-2022, highlighting the government’s focus on increasing energy cooperation as outlined in the Mid-Term Strategy for Development Cooperation (2021-2025) and the 2023 Annual Implementation Plan.

South Korea has a strong preference for bilateral funding to LMICs, but is also increasing funding for LICs. 68% of South Korea’s bilateral ODA went to MICs in 2022, of which 53% went to LMICs, and 15% to UMICs. This is significantly higher than the DAC average of 37% of bilateral ODA to MICs, of which 26% is channeled to LMICs and 11% to UMICs.

LICs received just 14% of total bilateral ODA from South Korea in 2022, in line with the DAC average of 12%. 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 2024 Annual Implementation Plan. In 2022, 40% of bilateral ODA went to Asia, significantly above the DAC average of 11%. In 2023, 39% of ODA was allocated to go to countries in Asia, according to the 2023 Annual Implementation Plan.

Loans and equity investments accounted for 38% of South Korea’s bilateral ODA in 2022, almost five times the DAC average of 8%. 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.

In February 2024, the MOFA confirmed South Korea's 2024 ODA grant budget, which totaled KRW3.5 trillion (US$2.7 billion), a 40% increase from 2023.

South Korea channels most of its bilateral grants and loans through its own implementing agencies (69% went through the public sector in 2022), mainly KOICA and Korea Eximbank.

Multilateral Spending and Commitments

Only 19% of South Korea’s ODA was channeled as core funding to multilaterals in 2022, compared to the DAC average of 32%. This share has been 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. Financial support for multilateral organizations has remained largely consistent between 2021 and 2022 in relative terms.

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 most recent general election held on April 10, 2024, shows that the DPK will secure around 180 seats to wield formidable legislative power in the 22nd National Assembly.

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. However, the issue of the abolition of MOGEF has been stalled as of 2024.

The 2024 ODA budget was confirmed at KRW6.3 trillion, or US$4.8 billion, which indicates a 31% increase from 2023. The 2024 budget takes South Korea ahead of schedule to double ODA by 2030, highlighting the South Korean government’s commitment to development cooperation.

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 2019-2030 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%).

However, according to the Mid-Term Strategy for Development Cooperation (2021-2025), the government has decided not to set the specific target for bilateral-to-multilateral ratio as they will pursue in a flexible manner to be in line with international community needs and their strategy.

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 2024 Annual Implementation Plan, South Korea has increased its ODA budget by 31% compared to 2023, with a significant increase in the ODA for humanitarian assistance. Infrastructure, ICT, and energy sectors were also prioritized while multilateral contributions in the field of health, food security, and humanitarian assistance have also increased.

According to the 2024 Annual Implementation Plan, the ODA budget’s share of loans and grants will be approximately 40% and 60%, respectively (±3%). 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 solely from 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. However, these policies have been neglected in the current President Yoon's administration.

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 December 2022, South Korea announced the Indo-Pacific Strategy as a new partnership policy. This strategy includes partnership and cooperation with countries in the North Pacific, ASEAN, South Asia, Oceania, and African countries along the Indian Ocean. Thus, through the strategy, South Korea plans to provide ODA tailored to the needs of ASEAN, South Asia, the Pacific Islands, African countries and Latin American countries. It lays out nine core lines of efforts:

  • Build regional order based on norms and rules;
  • Cooperate to promote rule of law and human rights;
  • Strengthen non-proliferation and counter-terrorism efforts across the region;
  • Expand comprehensive security cooperation;
  • Build economic security networks;
  • Strengthen cooperation in critical domains of science and technology and close the digital gap;
  • Lead regional cooperation on climate change and energy security;
  • Engage in diplomacy through tailored development cooperation partnerships; and
  • Promote mutual understanding and exchanges.

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. South Korea intends to increase the effectiveness of humanitarian assistance as a global pivotal state. 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;
  • WHO; and
  • UNHCR.

In the 2024 confirmed budget, the financial contribution to these five agencies has significantly increased by 151% (KRW106.8 billion).

By issue

Global health: Given its focus on COVID-19 response and infectious diseases, 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 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 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. Additionally, in November 2023, South Korea’s CIDC announced its intention to double ODA to agriculture, forestry, and fisheries by 2030.

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. In February 2024, KOICA’s and USAID's India office signed a memorandum of understanding to strengthen development cooperation partnerships in India, a key country in the South Korean government’s Indo-Pacific Strategy.

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.


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

South Korea’s CIDC requested an increased ODA budget of KRW6.8 trillion, or US$5.3 billion, for 2024 to increase funding for achieving its ambition to become one of the top 10 ODA donors. The final 2024 budget approved by the National Assembly was KRW6.3 trillion, or US$4.8 billion, 8% less 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 2024, 82% was allocated as bilateral ODA, including earmarked funding through multilateral organizations, and the remaining 18% was channeled as core funding to multilaterals. Within bilateral assistance, 60% of funding was allocated as grants and 40% as concessional loans. South Korea will continue to focus its development cooperation on Asia (32%) and Africa (18%), while relative allocations for Latin America and the Middle East- CIS have also slightly increased.

In 2024, 82.9% of MOEF’s ODA budget (KRW2.6 trillion, or US$2 billion) will be delivered bilaterally and almost exclusively as concessional loans through the EDCF. Only 4.4% of MOEF’s bilateral ODA (KRW99.2 billion, or US$76.8 million) will be delivered as grants. KRW440 billion, or US$340 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 86.9% of ODA (KRW2.5 trillion, or US$1.9 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 13.1% of the MOFA’s ODA-related budget (KRW328.9 billion, or US$255 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.

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

Tanvee Kanaujia

Tanvee Kanaujia

Associate Consultant