South Africa and India are set to reach a target of 15 billion US dollars of trade before the agreed upon deadline of 2014, President Jacob Zuma said on Thursday.
Addressing the South Africa -India Business Forum at the Reserve Bank, Zuma said the target, which had been set by the two governments during his maiden state visit to India in 2010, could be reached sooner than anticipated.
“We set a target of 15 billion US dollars of trade between South Africa and India, to be achieved by 2014. According to current trade statistics this could be reached earlier than anticipated. The figure by the end of 2011 was close to 7 billion US dollars. We are on the right path indeed,” Zuma said.
The Business Forum forms part of Indian President, Pratibha Devisingh Patil’s state visit to South Africa. Patil, who arrived in South Africa on Wednesday, has brought a business delegation and several government officials along on her visit to the country.
On Thursday, Zuma commended business for taking on the challenge.
The two countries have set a bilateral trade target of R111 billion to be reached by 2014.
“Our ministers responsible for trade, industry and commerce are of the view that we should increase our mutual trade to R111 billion by 2014. I fully endorse the view,” said Zuma.
The South African economy grew by 3.1% in 2011 with unemployment at 23.9%.
The two countries were keen on expanding relations, said the President, adding that various areas for economic cooperation existed such as in manufacturing and energy.
India is one of South Africa’s top ten export countries and it is among the top five import countries for South Africa.
Indian companies that are investing in South Africa include Mahindra and Tata, while several South African companies operate in India, such as the Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) – which is assisting India’s Mumbai Airport – and Sasol which is considering investing in the Asian country.
Speaking at the Business Forum, Business Unity South Africa (Busa) President Futhi Mothapa said strong people-to-people links existed between the two countries, as evidenced in trade and investment flows between the two countries.
He said private sector discussions had been forward-thinking.
The two countries cooperate in a number of areas in forums such as the bilateral involvement in the SA-India CEO’s Forum while multi-laterally there is cooperation in the IBSA Business Forum and the Brics Business Forum of which these platforms provide for direct business- to- business interaction and allow for collective consensus building on global policy areas.
From 2002 to 2011, South African exports to India increased by 21% and a 28% increase in imports from India.
Indian investment had created jobs and transferred skills into the South African market, said Mthoba.
“South African business welcomes foreign direct investment and greater trade between South Africa and India,” she said, adding that there were challenges that hindered business.
South African countries would like to see greater transparency in India’s tariff schedule as well as more clarity on Indian regulations like licensing and packaging.
“We hold that there are numerous opportunities for SA and Indian private sector engagement,” said Mthoba, adding that opportunities for increased cooperation included travel and tourism.
Black Business Council President Ndaba Ntsele said the visit by Patil came at the right time for the country, given that South Africa had announced its infrastructure programme.
Patil said: “South Africa is one of our most important trading partners and in the future I believe our countries will have deep economic engagement. We view South Africa as a gateway to the Southern African region.
“Our confidence in the South African economy is reflected in that several Indian banks operate in South Africa,” said Patil.
She called on South African business to seize opportunities in India.
Chairman of Overseas Infrastructure Alliance India Dr VB Soni said Indian business was ready to cooperate with South Africa for mutual benefit. He said India considered South Africa as an important partner for development on the continent and both countries needed to enhance cooperation in healthcare and pharmaceuticals.
India called for the establishment of a friendly Visa regime for Indian business.
Zuma said South Africa was ready to provide whatever support was needed to make doing business easy in the respective countries.
Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies described the long standing relationship between the two countries as a “rapidly growing strategic relationship”.
Patil is set to visit Durban and Cape Town before her departure from the country on 7 May.