SA expanding its global footprint

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Pretoria - In just 20 years, South Africa has managed to reset and reconstruct its relations with the international community following 400 years of exclusion during colonialism and apartheid.

This is according to the 20 Year Review, released by President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday, which says the country has sought to improve north-south relations, focusing on reforming the global economy and global governance, enhancing market access for developing countries and instituting more favourable terms for trade, debt relief and new forms of partnership for development.

“South Africa’s reintegration into the global community has seen its diplomatic, political and economic relations expand rapidly to include countries with which it previously had no relations.

“By 2012, the number of foreign diplomatic missions, consulates-general, consulates and international organisations in South Africa had increased to 315,” reads the Review.

This is the second-largest number of diplomatic offices accredited to any country after the USA.

South Africa’s missions abroad increased from 36 in 1994 to 125 in 2012.

The importance of Africa in South Africa’s foreign policy is reflected in the growth of South African representation in Africa, which increased from 17 in 1994 to the current total of 47 missions.

Partnerships for better and peaceful world

The country has served at the UN Security Council for a two year non-permanent term, joined powerful and influential group of emerging economies BRICS and IBSA and remains the only African country on the G20.

In order to advance the interests of developing countries, South Africa has worked to promote a rules-bound international political and economic order; to transform north-south relations through dialogue while consolidating south-south collaboration by participation in groupings like the NAM and UNCTAD.

South Africa also works with other African states and multilateral organisations like the UN, OAU/AU and SADC to promote international respect for human rights, democracy, and good governance.

It has assisted Madagascar, the Zimbabwean, South Sudan people resolve their problems and has assisted with peacekeeping in Ethiopia/Eritrea, the DRC, and Burundi, among some. Further testament to the country’s international footprint is that a former minister was appointed as the AU Commission’s chairperson in July 2012.

The country has also hosted many international conferences and events since 1994. These include: the Non-Aligned Movement Summit (1998), Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (1999), UN AIDS Conference (2000), UN World Conference Against Racism (2001), World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002), and the historic and successful UN Climate change conference (COP17/CMP7 which delivered the landmark Durban Platform that rescued the Kyoto Protocol.

The democratic South Africa prioritised developing bilateral political and economic relations, especially with African countries.

Since 1994, it has signed 624 agreements and established 40 bilateral mechanisms – nearly half of the total number of bilateral mechanisms in place – with countries on the continent.

The 20 Year Review report does, however, note that there have been challenges with the implementation of some of these agreements.

Expanding trade relations

The country’s export markets have changed considerably over the past 20 years with new markets emerging, while the share of exports to some traditional markets, such as the United Kingdom, Japan and Europe, has declined.

According to the report, China has emerged as South Africa’s most important export trading partner since 2009, with its share of non-gold merchandise exports measuring 12.9 percent in 2012, compared with 0.8 percent in 1994.

India is now South Africa’s fifth-largest export destination, having overtaken both the United Kingdom and Switzerland.

African countries have also become increasingly important export markets, especially for manufactured goods. “Exports to the entire African continent increased from 10 percent in 1994 to 17.6 percent in 2012. SADC countries claimed most of these exports, accounting for 12.9 percent of overall exports in 2012, up from 8.3 percent in 1994. Africa accounts for around a third of South Africa’s exports of more advanced manufactures,” says the Review.  

South Africa has also benefited substantially from the United States’ African Growth and Opportunity Act of 2000 (AGOA), which aims to expand US trade and investment with sub-Saharan Africa, stimulate economic growth, encourage economic integration and facilitate sub-Saharan Africa's integration into the global economy.

Bilateral trade between South Africa and the USA grew from R15.9 billion in 1994 to more than R129 billion in 2013, with the trade balance being in South Africa’s favour.

Between 1994 and 2013, South Africa’s fiscal and macro-economic policies boosted bilateral trade between South Africa and European countries and stimulated foreign direct investment (FDI) and tourism.

From 1994 inward, FDI stock increased significantly as South Africa experienced a continuous upward trajectory, from R44.7 billion to R1.38 trillion in 2012 in nominal terms.

South Africa’s bilateral political and economic relations also increased exports in goods and services, from R106 billion in 1994 to R892 billion (in nominal terms) in 2012.

Looking to the future

Going forward, the report says South Africa’s foreign policy should continue to be shaped by the interplay between prevailing diplomatic, political, security, environmental, economic and regional factors.

“It should remain cognisant of global power shifts, the stratification of regional groupings, threats to human and state security, internal and external sovereignty and natural resources, and the need to promote South Africa’s national interests.”

It notes that regional and continental integration are important for Africa’s socio-economic development and political unity, and for South Africa’s prosperity and security.

Consequently, this means that Africa will remain at the centre of South Africa’s foreign policy.

“The country will strengthen its support for regional and continental institutions that work towards achieving peace and resolving security crises, and it will take further steps to strengthen regional integration, promote intra-African trade and champion sustainable development on the continent.”

The review had also identified the cooperation between vital state institutions that deal with international relations policy and cross-border issues should also be strengthened.

“Closer collaboration and partnerships between government, business, civil society and labour must be pursued to ensure that the country operates holistically in the competitive and unpredictable international arena,” says the Review. –

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