SA business, Singapore manufacturers sign new MoUs

South African business bodies have signed new Memorandums of Understanding designed to support stepped up trade, investment and cooperation between South Africa and ASEAN nations, on the opening day of the first Africa–ASEAN Business Expo (AABE) and Africa–ASEAN Business Forum (AABF) at the Sandton Convention Centre on Monday.

The fast-growing ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), representing 10 South East Asian states with a combined population of 625 million, is actively seeking closer trade links with the African continent, aiming to fast-track business and investment ties through new B2B platforms and trade missions.

The inaugural Africa-ASEAN Business Expo and Forum, underway at the Sandton Convention Centre until 8 November, seeks to boost trade across sectors including food and beverages, lifestyle products, environmental, construction, infrastructure, ICTs and logistics.

Suprapto Martosetomo, Chairman of ASEAN Pretoria Committee and Ambassador of Indonesia, said the expo and forum was a very timely event to further strengthen bilateral trade between Africa and ASEAN. The economies of both regions were growing strongly, he noted, and both regions had fast-growing middle classes, presenting significant opportunities for trade growth in years to come.

“ASEAN is an economic powerhouse, with a combined GDP of US$2.55 trillion in 2016. Collectively ASEAN is the 3th largest economy in Asia and the 6th largest economy in the world. The African region has six of the ten fastest-growing economies in the world, and collectively, Africa will be the world’s second-largest economy within the next few years. Africa offers an enormous potential market,” he said.  “With this enormous potential, it is astonishing that we have not yet been able to maximise the business and investment value of these two regions.” ASEAN stood ready to engage further with African countries, Suprapto said.

MoU on manufacturing collaboration

Deputy Trade and Industry Minister Bulelani Gratitude Magwanishe witnessed the signing of MoUs on closer collaboration between the Singapore Manufacturing Federation, the Black Business Council and the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce & Industry on the opening day of the Forum.

The Deputy Minister highlighted the enormous potential for growth in ASEAN-African bilateral trade and investment; as well as the investment incentives South Africa had in place for foreign investors. “To achieve our development goals we must strengthen our international trade relations,” he said. “The ASEAN region is a priority market for South Africa’s export diversification strategy.”

Africa-ASEAN synergies

Douglas Foo, President of the Singapore Manufacturing Federation and appointed Member of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council, said the AABE and Forum were intended to open a gateway to new trade between ASEAN nations and African Union countries. South Africa and Singapore, he noted, were well placed to serve as the gateways to their respective regions.

Chua Thai Keong, High Commissioner from the High Commission of Singapore in Pretoria, speaking on behalf of the Minister of Trade and Industry of Singapore, S. Iswaran, said for ASEAN to continue growing vibrantly, the region needed to continue to build strong partnerships overseas.

“In many ways Africa and ASEAN share similar characteristics – both regions have young and dynamic populations and they are among the fastest-growing regions in the world, and they have similar needs in areas such as healthcare, housing and education, creating potential synergies and mutually beneficial partnerships.” He noted that trade between Africa and ASEAN had grown at a compound annual rate of 6.3% from 2006 to 2016. Fuelled by the two regions’ large populations, total bilateral trade amounted to over $33 billion in 2016, he said.

SA seeks broader horizons

Herman Breedt, President of the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce & Industry (JCCI) said it was always important for countries to broaden their trade horizons and reduce their exposure to downturns of domestic economic markets. “A trading forum like this one broadens our horizons and showcases a new region that is relatively unknown to South African business,” he said.

Sello Rasethaba, Chairman of the Black Business Council, expressed the hope that the Forum would constitute a platform to strengthen and promote trade, business and investment ties amongst African and ASEAN countries. He said Operation Phakisa had been modelled on Malaysian development plans, and said South Africa hoped to work together with Singapore to grow its shipping sector, among other areas. “This comes at an opportune time. South Africa is going through difficulty in terms of economic growth, but it is also an opportune time. We are running at an economic deficit, so you came at the right time, when you can invest in our country and we can also invest in your countries. Let’s work together to take advantage of our good political ties to the benefit of our people.”

Expo paves way to trade

Speaking at the official opening of the Expo, Edward Liu, Group Managing Director of event organisers Conference & Exhibition Management Services (CEMS), said the AABE series and supporting trade missions serve as a strategic platform linking businesses between ASEAN and the African Union (AU), via the commercial hubs of Singapore and South Africa.

“Among other efforts, we have assembled 27 manufacturers and technology providers from Singapore, together with another 20 companies represented by the various ASEAN embassies in South Africa as well as enterprises supported by the Small Enterprise Development Agency, and the Richards Bay Industrial Development Zone. Over the next three days we hope to host some 2000 – 3000 trade visitors and members of the public to the expo, where face to face meetings will be held between our delegates and captains of industry of the Southern African region in particular.”

ASEAN development as a model for Africa

Bene M’Poko, Ambassador of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps and Dean of the African Group, said Africa could learn from the ASEAN region’s approach to development. Among other things, ASEAN countries have a tradition of carrying out in-depth research and then making it available to citizens, he said. “In addition, when ASEAN countries make treaties and agreements, they implement them. In Africa, we tend to forget the treaties and decisions we make. In ASEAN, Africa has a model to follow, and we need to start with agriculture,” he said.

South Africa’s Minister of Small Business Development, Lindiwe Zulu, congratulating ASEAN on its 50th anniversary this year, noted the great strides the ten ASEAN nations had made in terms of industrialisation. “ASEAN’s growth can impact Africa’s growth too, if we manage this relationship well,” she said. “South Africa and our continent overall shares a rich history of collaboration and socio-economic relations with ASEAN nation states. Today’s expo further strengthens the relationship between our member states as they share a common desire to influence the global agenda of the 21st century in a manner that reflects the aspirations of developing our regions. This expo is also important as it consolidates our trade and investment relationship, as we look to cementing relations based on mutual and equal benefits,” she said.

Highlighting South Africa’s radical economic transformation efforts and industrialisation agenda, the Minister said: “We need to expose our own people to the advanced manufacturing and levels of skill and quality out there, in order to support our own industrialisation programmes,” she said.

The three-day expo and forum has attracted ASEAN and pan-African dignitaries, manufacturers, importers and exporters for meetings on enhancing bilateral trade and investment opportunities for these fast-growing economic blocs. A second leg of AABE will be held in Singapore in August 2018, and an Indonesia-Africa Business Forum will be staged in Bali in April 2018.  For more information, visit www.aabexpo.com/africa-asean-business-forum/