Opening Statement by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of South Africa Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma at the First Meeting of the South African-Argentine Bi-National Commission, Pretoria, 26 February 2007

The Minister of Foreign Relations, International Trade and Worship of the Argentine Republic, His Excellency Jorge Taiana;
Mr Emilio Rached, Vice Governor, Province of Santiago del Estero);
Dr Jose Maria Vazquez Ocampo, Secretary for Defence;
His Excellency Carlos Sersale, the Ambassador of the Argentine Republic to South Africa;
Distinguished Members of Foreign Minister Taiana's delegation;
Ambassador Peter Goosen, South Africa's Ambassador to Argentina;
Distinguished members of the South African delegation;
Ladies and Gentlemen:

I have great pleasure in welcoming you, Minister Taiana, and your delegation to South Africa. Our common purpose today is to initiate the first meeting of the South African-Argentine Bi-National Commission. We believe that this Commission will not only provide the foundation for an increasingly structured relationship between our two Governments, and for even greater contact between our peoples, but that it will also act as a catalyst for taking the bilateral relationship between our two great countries to even higher levels of cooperation and interaction.

While the statement that "Argentina is South Africa's western neighbour" captures the essence of where our bilateral relationship should be, it does not - in my view - fully describe the extent of the common interests that in fact join us together.

Broadly speaking, these common interests fall into two broad categories: firstly, the similarity in our philosophical and political perspectives; and secondly, the broad range of issues where our two countries can complement and strengthen one another.

South Africa and Argentina are both countries of the South. We have economies that are remarkably similar in size; and we face many similar political and socio-economic challenges. Both South Africa and Argentina have, as a result of our past experiences, firmly committed ourselves to systems of political, social and economic governance that are entrenched in democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law.

On the international stage, South Africa and Argentina fall within that group of countries that are proud to see themselves described as "progressive". We have aligned ourselves to those who are committed to an international order that is founded on the equality of States, that promote respect for international law. We both believe that multilateralism provides the best possible way of addressing issues of international concern. South Africa has recently taken up a non-permanent seat in the Security Council of the UN, where Argentina has until recently served with distinction.

Turning to the broad range of issues where our two countries can complement and strengthen one another, I would note that the ties between our two countries and our two peoples are strong. While these ties cover a broad range of issues, as shown by the variety of technical experts who will engage each other during the present Bi-National Commission meetings, I would like to highlight two issues.

Firstly, the recent announcement by South Africa's national airline, South African Airways, that it is to recommence its direct air-link between Johannesburg and Buenos Aires is to be welcomed and can only serve to strengthen the relationships between our two Governments, between our business persons and between our two peoples. In this way, we will not only have increased the opportunities to learn more about each other, but we will be able to more easily take advantage of the "complementarity" that exists between South Africa and Argentina in such areas as tourism, trade and investment.

It is for these reasons that the Bi-National Commission should lend its support to the proposal that our relevant authorities should enter into early discussions to increase the number of frequencies of flights from the current three times a week to daily flights.

We should also ensure that the necessary steps are taken to ensure the sustainability of this direct link, by entering into early negotiations to achieve a double taxation agreement (which should not only be constrained to the area of aviation) and by giving our support to the endeavour to lower the costs that may become a constraining factor in ensuring the success of this new link.

Secondly, it has clearly been demonstrated in a recent trade study, which focused on the Argentine economy's needs as compared to South Africa's ability to supply these needs, that the opportunities for trade between South Africa and Argentina and between Argentina and South Africa are extensive. The finding of the study that there are over 25,000 individual products that the Argentine economy needs and which South African producers could supply, was an eye-opener for us all.

These are opportunities that our business people must take up. It is the interests of both South Africa and Argentina to diversify their trade markets.

It is clear from the studies that have been undertaken that such an increased trading relationship would be based on an approach where we seek out the opportunities where our two economies, and what they produce, complement one other. We need to focus on areas where we can work together to promote the development and economic growth of both countries. Such an approach would be true reflection of the greater South-South cooperation that we have committed ourselves to.

In this context, it will also be important for a greater balance of trade to be achieved between Argentina and South Africa. It is necessary for the South African and Argentine Governments to work together to see what measures can be undertaken to facilitate and assist this economic relationship.

The finalization of the Preferential Trade Agreement between the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) and Mercosur would assist in this process. The South African and Argentine trade negotiators should, however, work together to speed up the finalization of this agreement in order that we can move to the negotiation of a more ambitious trade regime that would open the door for even greater trade and more balance.

Your Excellency,

Let me conclude by again welcoming you and your distinguished delegation to our country. This is indeed a historic occasion for both of us as we chart a new journey together - here at the start the Binational Commission process between South Africa and Argentina.

As you will have noted, we have great hopes for the Binational Commission as an important vehicle to strengthen our relations, and we have high expectations as to the success that we will achieve. All of the factors that favour a close and strong relationship between our two countries are in place. What remains is for us to take up the challenge and make it the success that it must be.

I thank you.


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