Remarks by Minister Naledi Pandor, on the occasion of the Minister’s Dinner with Heads of Mission from the Asia and Middle East Region resident in Pretoria, 3 June 2021

Your Excellencies, Ambassadors, High Commissioners and Chargés d'Affaires,
Ms Sindi Mququ, Acting Deputy Director-General: Asia and Middle East,
Senior Managers of the Department,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure and honour for me to welcome you this evening. During the past 15 months, COVID-19 has prohibited us from holding such gatherings. Although I did meet with some of the Excellencies here individually on several occasions, I am pleased that you can join me this evening, in person, as we reflect on the relations between South Africa and the countries in Asia and the Middle East, as a collective.

I wish to thank you and your respective Governments for the support extended to South Africa during the last 15 months in terms of our own fight against the pandemic. The South African Government has received generous donations from your Governments, which included PPE, food parcels to the poor and vulnerable, and donations to schools, etc. Your Governments’ assistance during the repatriation of our citizens in the early days of the pandemic, is also deeply appreciated.

One of the major determinants of the strength of the short-term economic recovery will be the effectiveness of pandemic containment measures. South Africa intends to strengthen cooperation with the region in containing further outbreaks of the COVID-19 pandemic, and where possible initiate efforts towards the production of vaccines on the African continent.

South Africa, alongside India, has submitted a proposal to the WTO for a temporary waiver of certain aspects of TRIPS to facilitate wider access to technologies needed to produce vaccines and medicines especially to the poorer countries. We wish to call on all countries in your regions to support this initiative. A temporary waiver will allow the use of intellectual property, to share technology transfer, to produce vaccines and therapeutics, lower prices and expedite distribution to everyone, everywhere. Effective and comprehensive global vaccination is vital to ending the pandemic.

The pandemic has had a significant impact on the global economy generally, and on Africa in particular. Furthermore, Africa has to deal with the additional challenge of securing vaccines. A number of countries in the region have committed significant resources to the COVAX facility. This will benefit many African countries as well as other countries. South Africa firmly supports the WHO in spearheading the COVAX facility to rollout vaccines to the global South.

Your Excellencies,

Sadly, in addition to the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic, our brothers and sisters in a number of countries in the regions represented here also had to endure the pain and suffering of armed conflict and oppression.

Nothing good can come out of conflict. The tragedy of the recent bombardment of Palestine is testimonial to the cruel effects of war and conflict. More than 75 000 Palestinians were displaced resulting in about 243 casualties, including 64 Palestinian children and 38 women. Israel also suffered casualties. We call on all in the Middle East to intensify peace efforts.

We commend all the parties that assisted in the negotiations that led to the current cease-fire. South Africa will continue to support the Palestinian cause at multilateral and bilateral levels, alongside the international community and all for genuine negotiations between Palestine and Israel.

We also believe only a Syrian-led solution to the conflict in Syria will provide a lasting outcome. The situation in Yemen has been of particular concern for South Africa as it has created the greatest humanitarian crisis of our times. South Africa re-affirms our call for an UN-mediated and Yemeni-led negotiation to resolve this conflict.

On a positive note, South Africa welcomes the progress that is being made in efforts to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). We are pleased at the attempt to find a diplomatic solution to resolve this issue.

The globe is confronted by post COVID economic recovery challenges. The countries present here are important trading partners for South Africa. South Africa’s two way trade with Asia and the Middle East stood at R984 billion in 2020. South Africa’s bilateral relations with the countries of the region are also well established in areas such as technical cooperation, health, skills development opportunities for our people as is their investment footprint in South Africa.

South Africa’s accession to the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in November 2020 is a historic milestone and will contribute to closer and more beneficial economic opportunities. I am looking forward to visiting a number of countries in South East Asia in the month ahead, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore.

South Africa fully supports ASEAN’s constructive role in facilitating a peaceful solution to the undemocratic developments in Myanmar.

South Africa would like to continue working closely with governments in the region to further joint trade, investment and business potential. There is substantial scope for improving current levels of investments, especially in terms of industries that are geared towards the beneficiation and value-addition of our local commodities and natural resources. The benefits of using South Africa as a logistical nodal point from where to access the vast African market to gain the full benefit of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) is another opportunity.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Middle East region is also crucial to our post-pandemic reconstruction and development.  In 2020, total trade with the Middle East region amounted to R122 billion, despite the effects of COVID-19 on trade and investment.

A key priority for South Africa with the Middle East region is to diversify our trade and this has been happening gradually, but the dominance of crude oil and petrochemicals remains.  We hope we can all work toward diversifying this trading dynamic through growth in other sectors.

In March/April this year, I paid a visit to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and engaged with my counterparts on a number of pressing issues, including the security situation in the Middle East and Africa. From a bilateral point of view, we agreed to further strengthen cooperation. Similarly, I look forward to receiving my counterparts from Oman and Qatar here later this year to continue our collaboration within the various bilateral mechanisms that we share.

Excellencies,

I have tried to provide an overview of the state of relations between South Africa and the vast region of Asia and the Middle East, as well as outlining some of our future priorities. I look forward to further engagement with you on the global issues that confront us and that will impact or guide our future relations.

I thank you.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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