Press Comments made by South African President Thabo Mbeki and Singaporean President Sellapan Ramanathan Union Buildings, Pretoria, Thursday 19 April 2007

President Thabo Mbeki

Welcome President Nathan, your delegation and other members of your delegation who are not here now. As you know, the President has come to South Africa with a strong business delegation. We are very glad indeed that the President could find the time to visit South Africa.

Historically, the relations between South Africa and Singapore are very strong. So we are very glad to take advantage of the President's presence here in South Africa to look at what we should do to further strengthen those relations. I am glad the President will see quite a bit of South Africa - Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban which I think is very good indeed.

So indeed, you probably know this already, but over the years, beginning 1994, one of the areas in which we have had very strong relations with Singapore is that of human resource development. As you know, this is a very big problem in South Africa, ie. the issue of skills and the necessary capacity amongst our people. As you know, Singapore has great strength in this area. The President has now communicated other offers that Singapore is making to help us in South Africa address this very important issue.

The other area is that of economic co-operation. Again, the government in Singapore has been very keen that we focus on this matter including a proposal from Singapore, that must still be pursued. This proposal suggests that due to South Africa's geographic location, it become a hub that connects to Asia, the rest of Africa and South America. Indeed the government of Singapore is very keen that we work on this idea to see what can be done. I think we are progressing towards this.

Singapore will later this year become the Chair of ASEAN. We, as South Africa, SADC and Africa, have a very keen interest in strengthening this partnership to address common challenges of development. The President has just said that we should indeed look at the experience of ASEAN over the years because this process of economic integration is also a big challenge for the region and continent. Looking at the experiences of ASEAN - strengths and weaknesses - will help us to speed up our own processes of integration. I think President that this matter is materially important because later this year, in July, we will have a two-day session of African Heads of State and Government to look at this very question - ie. what other steps must be taken to achieve the political and economic integration of the Continent. ASEAN's experience will be very useful in terms of this discussion we will have in Africa in July.

President, I am very glad you are here and I am very certain this will assist in strengthening the bilateral relations between South Africa and Singapore, as well as that in multilateral fora. Welcome President and have a good stay.

President Sellapan Ramanathan

Thank you Mr President.

As the President has said, relations between our two countries have been warm and friendly and long lasting. We have had a number of areas of co-operation and areas in which we continue to co-operate - defence and also in international fora, the United Nations, Non Aligned Movement and gatherings of various countries - G-77.

The area in which we have focused our attention largely is that of trade which has grown and last year doubled that of the previous year to the amount of approximately Sing$ 2 billion. We look forward to expanding this relationship.

We had earlier proposed for discussion the prospect of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Singapore and South Africa. Since you are part of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), it will be necessary for all members of the Union to be in agreement to move this process forward. We have done a number of FTAs called a number of names - India with Singapore and ASEAN, Japan, China with Singapore and ASEAN, Australia with Singapore and ASEAN. Free trade arrangements are working in many of these areas and I cannot see why it would not be successful in South Africa.

The other area in which we want to co-operate is that of air services. President Mbeki when he visited Singapore in 2005 and met the Prime Minister, reached an understanding that both countries would work together to expand the air services agreement and move towards an open skies agreement that we have implemented with other countries. Nowadays, international travel is so widespread that we want to see people moving as tourists and businessmen, developing people-to-people relations and air traffic support. As President Mbeki has said, South Africa is the hub of the region. With your membership of SADC there is an even bigger role for South Africa to play in providing the economic transformation in South Africa and in the SADC region.

As President Mbeki has mentioned, we have in the past focused on technical assistance to South Africa. Approximately 600 South Africans have been to Singapore and participated in our various programmes. President Mbeki has assured me that the experiences they have accumulated have been valuable to you in South Africa. We are prepared to offer more opportunities for such training.

As I said earlier, we are sponsoring a number of scholarships for South Africans to study at our institutions of higher learning, particularly at the Rajanam School of International Relations and Defence of Strategic Studies. Suitably qualified candidates will be welcome. The School of Public Policy and Public Administration has also, I am told, offered two scholarships into two programmes for suitable candidates. Our universities too are collaborating. A technological university has two memoranda of understanding (MoU) with the Universities of Natal and Witwatersrand.

As I mentioned earlier, we have been offering a number of training facilities for South Africans and we will continue to do so. I am glad to announce a special technical assistance project which we are launching in the areas of technical and vocational training, hospital management and trade and investment promotion. In our discussions, the possibility of sharing knowledge and experiences on the promotion of tourism was raised.

The technical and educational vocational training will provide an overview of Singapore's curriculum development process and basic skills and knowledge that were identified in training needs and designing in house programmes for your technical and vocational training. There will be five places for these candidates.

The hospital management course offers 5-8 places for South African officials. The course will introduce the latest healthcare management theories and practices and also equip participants with knowledge and skills that are applicable to the management of hospitals in present day conditions.

I am accompanied by a business delegation of 22 members. Among them are members of companies that are well known internationally -

  • Somoan corporation would like meet industrial developers who are dealing with power issues, waste water treatment and other matter of public utilities
  • ST electronics is interested to meet with companies dealing with IT systems
  • Singapore Land Transport Consortium wants to meet with transport ministries and government agencies involved in land transportation sectors

All these are signs of our growing interest in South Africa. It will be up to them to seize the opportunity of the present day visit and continue with business exchanges in the future.

Overall I must say we are pleased with this relationship and look forward to strengthening it with the passing of time.

I also want to praise the leadership of President Mbeki and the constructive role South Africa has played in the United Nations Security Council. As like-minded countries we are pleased to see South Africa playing such a constructive role. I want to congratulate you Mr President.

Thank you

President Mbeki

With regard to that Mr President, I want to say we are only following in Singapore's footsteps.

Questions and answers

Question To both Presidents, if you could elaborate President Nathan on some of the training exchanges that are being envisaged? To President Mbeki what do you see can be achieved in terms of skills development? Can you give us some specific information?

Answer (President Nathan) I have no details on the programme. We have made available the facilities we have for the training of South Africans at various levels of skills in the areas of technical education, and in some of our skills development programmes which are intended to equip people to assume employment in industries that are developing in Singapore and some of which will no doubt develop in South Africa. It will be up to officials on both sides to work this out. As far as we are concerned in Singapore, we are prepared to share our experiences and also to provide facilities. The selection of the particular courses will have to rest with South African officials.

(President Mbeki) It would be across a broad band of issues which President Nathan has already mentioned - for instance, the issue of trade and investment promotion: we have had a number of South Africans trained in Singapore in this area because as you can imagine this would have been a very important area considering the way in which Singapore has grown over a short period of time.

We have had officials from Foreign Affairs, as diplomats, being involved in economic and trade questions. It is important that diplomats are capacitated in this way since it now standard to promote economic diplomacy in the course of global diplomacy.

You have heard the President talk about vocational and technical training. You are aware of the focus we are now placing of Further Education and Training qualifications in South Africa. I am absolutely certain we are going to need more trainers, more educators. So indeed, we would want to take up this offer from Singapore to train trainers - Vocational and Educational training to ensure that these FET programmes result in the qualified artisans we require. So it is across the field.

The President spoke about the issue of tourism. So some extent South Africa has the advantages, and perhaps the disadvantages, of having so many natural attractions. This may be a disadvantage because people may become relaxed and expect the country to market itself. But a country like Singapore has had to be more proactive in promoting itself as a tourist destination.

As you know, this tourist sector is one of the sectors identified in the AsgiSA programme in terms of employment generation.

The training will be across the board and will cover many things depending on South Africa's requirements.

Question President Mbeki, what is your personal view of a Free Trade Agreement with Singapore?

Answer The President has reflected on this matter quite correctly. We as South Africa would want this FTA with Singapore. But again, as the President has said, we are members of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) so the other countries - Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana - who are part of this Union must agree. The Customs Union is talking about this to map out the way forward.

I must also say that there has also been some capacity constraints, despite our desire, because of a whole variety of trade negotiations that SACU has undertaken - Mercosur, India, and so on. Resources in the region as regards the capacity to negotiate has been a bit stretched. This matter is still under negotiation within the Union. This must first be completed before we can enter into negotiations.

Question Mr Presidents, I see Ministers of Defence and Intelligence in both your delegations. Could you kindly elaborate on the discussions underway in this regard?

Answer (President Nathan) The Minister for Defence is here. We have had a general exchange of views and are appreciative of South Africa's assistance to us in making available facilities for training. Also, in the context of terrorism, there is an understanding to co-operation in terms of the sharing of information. I am not in a position to elaborate on the specifics. The two ministers did meet here and will continue to discuss how best to strengthen this relationship.

(President Mbeki) As the President has said in terms of the Defence Co-operation, the two countries have had an agreement since 1997. Singapore does not have the capacity for training in artillery because it simply does not have the space for such exercises. Singapore then shares the facilities of South Africa's National Defence Force in terms of this training. This is a programme that has been ongoing for 10 years and will continue.

Also, the Defence Ministries are looking at what other areas of co-operation can be identified and will therefore arrange a meeting of senior officials in the first instance to look at these areas of co-operation.

The matter of intelligence co-operation as the President has said, I am sure you realize this, is a standard feature of all intelligence services across the globe, ie. Co-operation in the areas of terrorism, money laundering and trade in narcotics. This affects everyone and criminal elements involved in these activities move from country to country. Even if there is no movement between Singapore and South Africa, it may very well be that the knowledge that Singapore has may be of assistance to South Africa. Generally, you can look across the entirety of the global intelligence community, to realize that all agencies effect systematic co-operation particularly in the areas of terrorism, money laundering and trade in narcotics. These tend to be connected to each other in some instances and have a tendency to move very rapidly across the world.

These are some of the areas in which there will be co-operation amongst intelligence services of both countries.

Question President Mbeki, back to the trade issues - you mentioned that when Singapore assumes the Chair of ASEAN you would be interested in furthering the Africa-Asia trade dialogue. Could you elaborate on what your vision is for your region?

Answer You know that Africa and Asia met in Indonesia in April 2005 to commemorate the Bandung meeting of 1955 which was off course, commemorating this Africa - Asia co-operation. This is, of course, a broader process to intensify this co-operation between both continents.

While I was the Chair of the AU in 2002 I visited Cambodia to address the ASEAN Summit at the invitation of the King. Indeed, we talked about the need to strengthen this partnership. I think what the President has said is very important. We need to look at what the experience of ASEAN has been in terms of regional integration - what was done, what worked, what did not? This experience will be very directly relevant to what the African continent and the SADC region are discussing - what do we need to do to accelerate our integration? We need indeed, to look closely at this matter.

With regard to the Africa - Asia co-operation process, there is a framework which emerged from Bandung. We are meeting at Summit level in South Africa in 2009 with a Ministerial session being held in Egypt in 2008. This is a continued process.

ASEAN is, from our point of view, a successful grouping in the processes of co-operation and integration. It would be useful to draw on this example.

Question President Mbeki, what is your personal vision for SADC looking at the ASEAN experience?

Answer I am not able to set dates. It is a matter to which SADC will attend.

It is an urgent matter. South Africa in October 2006 hosted an Extraordinary SADC Summit to assess this very matter. We were looking at what progress is being made with regard to a SADC FTA, when will we come to the position of a Customs Union that will include all 14 countries and not just the current five as part of SACU, a common currency?

These are very practical matters. We met in an extraordinary SADC Summit to look at these matters. There is a sense of urgency in the region with a view to moving on these matters.

I am sure, a more detailed look at the ASEAN experience will assist us achieve this pace that people in the region are interested in. There would not be any foot dragging. As I have said, the only reason one would convene an Extraordinary Summit is because we believe the matter is urgent enough to be addressed by such a meeting.

Issued by Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152

19 April 2007

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