SOUTH Africa risks missing out on the economic boom happening on the African continent if it does not establish a focused trade strategy and open itself for trade, according to the Democratic Alliance (DA).
The country is believed to have missed the recent commodity boom due to a lack of foresight and planning, said Tim Harris, the party’s finance spokesman, on Monday, adding that South Africa was "poised to squander our window of opportunity" in terms of Africa’s growth, because of "arduous regulations and an unfocused strategy".
The DA presented its "Opening SA for Business" document to the media in Johannesburg on Monday. It said the country had to diversify its trade to avoid being held back by the recession in Europe, and make the most of the high levels of growth across Africa.
Mr Harris said South Africa had to introduce one-stop border posts, speed up the customs clearance process with an electronic data interchange system, and streamline import and export procedures to reduce delays and costs that businesses faced when trading with African and global markets.
He also promoted the introduction of a Southern African Development Community (Sadc) tourist visa, and the abolishment of "apartheid-era exchange controls".
Hennie Heymans, MD for Central Africa and Indian Ocean islands at DHL Worldwide Express, said at a trade forum last month that delays in moving goods across African borders were adding significantly to the cost of doing business in the region.
Mr Heymans said it would be cost and time effective if imported goods were cleared at a single point in one Sadc country for the entire region, adding that border posts should operate 24 hours a day to reduce business costs, while all customs authorities across Africa should use electronic data interchange.
Former transport minister Sibusiso Ndebele said at the Freight Intra Africa conference in March that delays and congestion at South African border posts, especially at Beitbridge, was concerning and costly to African companies and economies.
Mr Ndebele said at the time that the Cabinet was looking at creating one-stop border operations, but Mr Harris said on Monday that no progress had been made in this regard, even though "small things" such as border congestion were important to get right to unlock trade with Africa.
Alan Winde, the Western Cape MEC of finance, economic development and tourism, said at the briefing on Monday that fast growth in other African countries meant South Africa was losing its status as the "gateway to Africa", with other countries increasing their efficiencies and growth.
Up until recently, ships were delayed at Angola’s Port of Luanda for up to a month, but these delays had been reduced to only a few days, and such infrastructure developments meant trade and ships were now bypassing South Africa, Mr Winde said.
He added that the country’s ambassadors should receive continuous training as they were the "front-line forces" in attracting trade and investment to South Africa.
The DA’s briefing on trade was part of the party’s current jobs campaign.
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