In my inauguration address, which I delivered on Africa Day two years ago, I said South Africa is determined to work with all the countries on our continent towards a future of growth, opportunity and shared prosperity.
I said that our fortunes as a country are inextricably tied to those of our neighbouring countries.
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, which coincided with our term as African Union Chair, our focus has been on responding to the impact of the pandemic on human health, society and economies.
South Africa was, for example, instrumental in the establishment of the Africa Medical Supplies Platform to enable countries to procure personal protective equipment and medical supplies, as well as the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, which has secured millions of vaccines for the continent.
As the AU Champion for the COVID-19 Response, we continue to play an active role within AU structures to support the continental effort against the pandemic.
As we continue to combat the virus, our focus is also on a sustainable economic recovery.
As part of our economic diplomacy efforts, we are giving renewed attention to promoting trade and investment with countries on our continent.
That is why this week I will be undertaking visits to four West African countries: Nigeria, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal.
These are countries with which we have strategic partnerships and are markets in which a number of South African businesses operate. In addition to government Ministers and officials, I will be accompanied by a delegation of business people representing sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture, construction, consumer goods, renewable energy, healthcare and pharmaceuticals.
At the beginning of this year, one of the most significant milestones in the quest for African economic integration was reached when trade officially commenced under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). This presents immense opportunity for the export of South African goods and services into the continent.
The United Nations estimates that the market created under the AfCFTA is around 1.3 billion people with a combined gross domestic project of $3.4 trillion.
The successful hosting of the Intra-African Trade Fair in Durban earlier this month was part of the effort to promote greater trade between our country and others on the continent and to help realise the promise of the AfCFTA. It is estimated that around $36 billion in deals were concluded at the Intra-African Trade Fair, in which more than 80 South African companies participated.
During my visits to Nigeria, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal over the next week, we will look at how to leverage the opportunities presented by the AfCFTA to expand the footprint of South African companies into the continent and how we can better support those businesses already operating in other African countries.
We will also be looking at how companies from those countries can find trade and investment opportunities here in South Africa.
The state visit to Nigeria will coincide with the 10th Session of our Bi-National Commission and will reflect on the progress made in advancing trade and investment between our two countries. We will be looking in particular at how to support business expansion and job creation in both countries.
Ghana is another key strategic partner for South Africa and there are currently over 200 South African companies doing business there. Over the past decade these companies have engaged in large scale projects in Ghana representing over $1 billion in capital investment. Two South African banks, Investec and Rand Merchant Bank, have been involved in financing mass infrastructure projects such as road rehabilitation and construction, health infrastructure upgrades and railway line construction.
South African businesses also have a strong presence in Côte d’Ivoire. MTN, Standard Bank, Multichoice, Sanlam, Investec and the Development Bank of Southern Africa are some of the companies with significant investments in the country.
I will be participating in an Economic Forum with South African and Ivorian business representatives, where we will be discussing opportunities in existing and emerging sectors such as renewable energy.
In Senegal, we will discuss how to facilitate greater trade and investment between our two countries. Currently there are South African companies operating in the energy and wildlife tourism sectors among others, and a number of South African companies have expressed interest in entering the infrastructure construction space.
In all these visits, we will be looking to build trade and investment relationships that benefit growth, development and employment in each country.
For far too long, we African countries have trained our gaze on trade and investment opportunities in markets beyond the continent such as Europe, Asia and North America. If the AfCFTA is to be a success, we have to both strengthen the existing trade relationships with countries closer to home and forge new ones.
Restoring and rebuilding our respective economies is as important as the fight against the health effects of COVID.
It is our hope that these upcoming visits will not only strengthen fraternal ties with our fellow countries on the continent, but that this will translate into new opportunities for South African businesses, new markets for our products and the creation of employment for our people.
Equally, it is our hope that companies from the countries we are visiting will forge partnerships with South African companies and will find opportunities to invest and trade in South Africa.