Remarks by President Cyril Ramaphosa during the Business Forum on the occasion of the State Visit by Their Majesties the King and the Queen of the Belgians, CSIR Convention Centre, Tshwane, 23 March 2023
Your Majesty, King Philippe of the Belgians,
Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Affairs and Foreign Trade and the Federal Cultural Institutions of Belgium, Ms Hadja Lahbib,
Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition of the Republic of South Africa, Mr Ebrahim Patel,
Ministers-President of the regions of Belgium,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers of the Republic of South Africa,
Ambassadors of South Africa and Belgium,
Business and industry leaders from South Africa and Belgium,
Representatives of business organisations,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to address this South Africa-Belgium Business Forum convened under the theme of “Building Sustainable Partnerships”.
Your Majesty, we are honoured to receive you, your delegation, and businesspeople from Belgium.
We have been in discussion earlier today, to identify ways to re-invigorate and boost trade and investment relations, I am pleased to note that our overall trade has not only recovered from the COVID-19 dip we saw in 2020, but in fact has exceeded the R100 billion mark for the first time.
This Business Forum is an opportunity for exchanges and sectoral conversations that will enable us to intensify our efforts to improve the trade and investment relationship between our two countries and particular, use it as a means to promote South African industrialisation.
South Africa and Belgium have vibrant, diverse, and growing economies, and there is a wealth of opportunities for businesses looking to expand into new markets.
A closer economic partnership is in our mutual interest.
South Africa is often described as the gateway to Africa, and our strategic location makes us an attractive investment destination.
We have one of the most advanced and diversified economies on the continent, with a vibrant business environment, a strong regulatory environment, and a diverse, competitive, and well-regulated financial sector.
We are a country with enormous potential for growth and development and are also advantageously placed for companies looking to expand into the rest of the African continent.
Belgium, on the other hand, is a leading European nation with a strong presence in global markets, particularly in sectors such as technology, healthcare, renewable energy, ports, and logistics.
Belgium’s central location in Europe, excellent transport links, and highly skilled workforce make it a gateway to the EU market.
It is up to us to seize this opportunity and take our relationship to the next level.
There are several areas where we can collaborate and create mutually beneficial opportunities.
Firstly, we can create new markets for our goods and services, expand trade and in the process create more jobs.
South Africa has a vibrant and diverse agricultural sector with an established presence in several markets in the EU. Certainly, we want to see greater market access for our agricultural goods, products, and services in Belgium.
By way of example, in 2020, South African wines were the second largest export category to Belgium from the wine-producing region of the Western Cape.
Belgium has a strong track record in agribusiness and has several companies that have developed solutions to improve efficiency and productivity in the sector. These technologies can be adapted to suit the unique challenges faced by South Africa’s agricultural sector, such as climate change and water scarcity.
Belgium has strong manufacturing and logistics sectors, as well as expertise in technology and innovation. Belgian companies will find there are innumerable business opportunities to manufacture products in South Africa, utilizing our excellent industrial experience and capabilities.
We do want to move from being a large importer of manufactured products to being a major exporter, as we have shown with our auto industry.
There are also significant investment opportunities between our two countries in energy, infrastructure, and healthcare.
South Africa has ambitious plans to modernize its infrastructure by investing in the expansion of ports, rail, and road networks. These projects will require significant investment, and there are opportunities for Belgian companies with expertise in these sectors to come on board.
We are on a path to revolutionise our energy sector in pursuit of low-carbon, climate resilient development and are actively seeking investment in the energy sector with a particular focus on renewables and green hydrogen.
Belgium has a proven track record in developing and implementing innovative renewable energy solutions. Together, we can create sustainable and environmentally friendly energy solutions that benefit both our countries.
In this regard, a global just-energy transition requires multilateralism in dealing with climate change.
We are concerned at the impact of unilaterally- introduced measures, such as the proposed carbon border adjustment mechanism that will affect exports of products from the global south; and we look forward to working with Belgium to address these concerns.
We can also collaborate on research and development projects and share knowledge and expertise.
By working together, we can create value chains that are mutually beneficial, leading to job creation and economic growth.
Ultimately the growth of the South African economy will support the success of the African Continental Free Trade Area that opens access to a market of over 1.3 billion people. African economic integration is no longer a pipe dream but becoming a reality.
As African countries we see the AfCFTA as a game-changer and the transformer of Africa’s fortunes in the same way that the countries of Europe saw the establishment of the European Union in 1993.
On technology there is also vast untapped potential.
South Africa and Belgium can collaborate to promote innovation and technology transfer. Belgium has a strong R&D sector, while South Africa is home to many innovative start-ups. We must share our knowledge and expertise to create new opportunities for growth and development.
By way of example, in 2022 the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research signed a cooperation agreement with VITO, the CSIR’s counterpart in the Flanders region of Belgium. This partnership will focus on sustainable development and data science.
Of course, there are also challenges that we must address if we are to realize the full potential of our partnership.
However, by working together and building strong relationships between our governments, businesses, and people, we can create a brighter future for both South Africa and Belgium.
By leveraging our respective strengths and exploring new avenues of collaboration, we can create mutually beneficial partnerships.
I wish to emphasise this, because we have long moved from a situation where Africa’s vast wealth was extracted to enrich the West, leaving the continent impoverished.
Mutually beneficial partnership is about trade and investment and not about benevolence or charity. It is about doing business, in a favourable climate, that leads to economic growth, job creation and prosperity for both our respective countries.
To this end our focus now must be on building stronger business relationships, promoting cultural exchanges and tourism, and creating a favourable business environment.
It is about streamlining bureaucracy, reducing trade barriers and other forms of protectionism such as those currently against South African citrus products. We also need to promote education and training to develop a skilled workforce that can meet the needs of the modern economy.
With these few words let me thank you for your participation in this business forum. I look forward to also seeing you at the Fifth South Africa Investment Conference in a few weeks’ time on the 13th of April.
Let us seize this opportunity to build a stronger, more prosperous future for our respective countries.
I thank you.
Issued by: The Presidency