South Africa and the UK are looking to increase economic and trade ties by focusing on exporting high-value-added goods to Britain, the Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane says.
Briefing media at the Taj Hotel in Cape Town, following a bi-lateral meeting with UK foreign secretary William Hague, Nkoana-Mashabane said trade had improved between the two countries last year after declining 37% from 2008 to 2009, amid the global financial crisis.
In the first 10 months of last year, South African exports to the UK had increased 10.7% while UK imports were up 30.6%.
Last year, the two countries agreed at a bi-lateral forum to double trade between the two nations by 2015.
While the UK remains South Africa’s top source of overseas tourist arrivals, with 453 000 arrivals in 2010, the country is also providing support to set up a Free Trade Area (FTA) in Africa and providing development assistance through its Department for International Development.
Trade between the two countries increased 77% between 2001 and 2008, growing from R42 billion to R74.5 billion.
Nkoana-Mashabane said there were more than 300 UK companies operating in South Africa and several SA ones in the UK, pointing out that the South African government wanted to encourage UK companies to invest in beneficiation and the agro-processing sector in South Africa.
Hague, who is to meet with businesses in the food sector this evening, congratulated South Africa for successfully hosting COP17 in Durban in December and said the UK would continue to work with South Africa.
“We will continue to work with you over the coming year and think that South Africa has given a very good strong lead in that area. And certainly our countries have worked very well together,” said Hague, who is due to speak at the University of Western Cape tomorrow on bilateral trade between the two countries.
He said South Africa was a “truly global player” across a range of issues, including non-proliferation, climate change and conflict resolution.
Hague and Nkoana-Mashabane also discussed several African and Middle East issues, including next week’s conference on Somalia to be held in London and said South Africa had a key role to play in tackling piracy in the Mozambican channel.
Hague said Britain was in favour of permanent representation for Africa at the UN Security Council.
He said the UK would do everything to ensure peaceful elections in Zimbabwe and to support SADC’s and President Jacob Zuma’s efforts to bring about reforms in South Africa’s northern neighbour.
While Nkoana-Mashabane urged the EU to relook at trade sanctions on Zimbabwe, Hague said an outcome on EU’s targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe was imminent.
He said while there had been some progress on the ground in Zimbabwe, it had not been “as much as we would have liked”.
Turning to Syria, Hague welcomed the latest proposal by the Arab League on Syria to isolate the regime, including the endorsement of the Group of Friends which he said is expected to meet in Tunisia on February 24.
He also welcomed the Arab Leagues’ financial and political support for the opposition in Syria and its efforts to foster a more united opposition in Syria.
He said the UK would discuss urgently with the Arab League the setting up of a joint Arab League and UN peacekeeping force, but was quick to add that a peacekeeping force could only be deployed once Syria had withdrawn its troops from cities, stopped killing civilians and set up a credible ceasefire.
Asked whether the UK and South Africa would contribute peacekeepers, Hague said it was important that President Bashar Assad follow through with an agreement to pull back troops from cities.
He said any peacekeeping force should not be made up of Western countries.
“I don’t see the way forward in Syria as Western-boots on the ground, I think it should come from outside the West,” he said.
The two counterparts were expected to discuss Iran and its nuclear programme later today.
Nkoana-Mashabane said South Africa would soon need to formulate a strategy from the unintended impact of EU sanctions on Iran.