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Free trade with China is key

Free trade with China is key

By Donwald Pressly

6 May 2005

Cape Town - Economic diplomacy was "a central pivot" around which the South African Foreign Affairs department was anchoring its efforts to address poverty and underdevelopment in South Africa and the continent, deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz Pahad said on Friday.

He said a key issue was forging a free trade agreement between the South African Customs Union and China, noting that it was the fastest growing economy in the world.

Noting that there were difficulties regarding textile imports from China - undercutting local prices - he said South Africa had "the upper hand" with many technologies in various industries.

He said, however, his government was awaiting a report on alleged illegal imports from China.

Addressing a media briefing in Pretoria the deputy minister said: "There are many new economic opportunities in Africa, the Middle East and Asia which should be investigated and exploited by the South African private sector."

Referring to negative reports about the president - and other ministers - being out of the country so often, he said "it is in this context that all visits ... are engineered to further expand and consolidate economic diplomacy initiatives.

"South Africa is also in the process of opening new missions in Africa in order to create the conditions for bilateral political relations to be enhanced by strong economic relations between countries."

He noted the largest growth in manufactured goods was from South Africa to the rest of the African continent.

Free trade agreements were part of the economic diplomacy initiative.

The South Africa-European Union trade development and co-operation agreement was finalised in May 2004.

He said this would benefit all countries in the pursuit of sustainable development through an open, equitable, ruled-based multilateral trading system - underscoring the need to successfully complete the Doha development agenda negotiations.

Pahad said South African Customs Union ministers had given a mandate to the union to negotiate free trade agreements with India as well as China.

"The government has already started extensive consultations with the National Education Development and Labour Council (business and labour) and there are also possible study tours to be undertaken to India and China. Work is in progress".

A SACU-EFTA (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) agreement could be signed by next month - June - with a possible entering into force of the agreement early next year.

Pahad said talks about a US- SACU free trade agreement had been a little more difficult that others.

"Attempts to revive the talks have been ongoing and were taken forward when former US trade ambassador, Robert Zoellick, visited the region in December 2004 to meet with SACU trade ministers," he added.

Edited by Adrienne Taylor