Opinionista Naledi Pandor 8 June 2021

SA’s foreign policy and trade strategy on our key partnership with Asia and Middle East

Asia and the Middle East are important trading partners for South Africa. Our two-way trade stood at R984-billion in 2020. But in addition to the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic, our brothers and sisters in a number of countries in the region had to endure the pain and suffering of armed conflict and oppression.

One of the major determinants of the strength of the short-term economic recovery after Covid-19 will be the effectiveness of pandemic containment measures. South Africa intends to strengthen cooperation with the Asia and Middle East region in containing further Covid-19 outbreaks. As part of this strategy, we are aggressively pursuing opportunities towards the production of vaccines in Africa.

South Africa, alongside India, has submitted a proposal to the World Trade Organization for a temporary waiver of certain rules in the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (Trips) agreement to facilitate wider access to technologies needed to produce vaccines and medicines, especially to the poorer countries. We are pleased with the support of the international community that we have received. 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. Several countries in the Asia and Middle East region have committed significant resources to the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (Covax) facility. This will benefit many African countries as well as other nations. South Africa firmly supports the World Health Organization in spearheading Covax to roll out vaccines to the global South.

Sadly, in addition to the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic, our brothers and sisters in a number of countries in the Asia and Middle East region 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 testament 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 ceasefire. The government of South Africa will continue to campaign for the independence of Palestine under the two-state solution, based on the international recognition and independence of the viable State of Palestine, based on the 4 June 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, with both Palestine and Israel existing peacefully as independent states. All outstanding status issues must be resolved through direct negotiations without preconditions between the parties, with support from the international community.

South Africa counts itself among progressive members of the international community advocating for the settlement of disputes through inclusive dialogue, and the protection of the rights of vulnerable nations. Given our history, it is natural that we are in solidarity with the oppressed.

Regarding the conflict in Syria, we believe that only a Syrian-led solution 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 reaffirms its call for a United Nations-mediated and Yemeni-led negotiation to resolve this conflict.

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

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

South Africa’s accession to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in November 2020 is a milestone and will contribute to closer and more beneficial economic opportunities.

We fully support the association’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 this region to pursue more trade, investment and business potential. There is substantial scope for improving current levels of investment, especially in 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 which to access the vast African market to gain the full benefit of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement is another opportunity.

The Middle East will also be crucial to our reconstruction and development after the pandemic. In 2020, total trade with the 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 is to diversify our trade and this has been happening gradually, but the dominance of crude oil and petrochemicals remains. We are now working on diversifying this trading dynamic through growth in other sectors.

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, and the global issues that confront us and that will have an impact on or guide our future relations.

South Africa values the partnership with countries in Asia and the Middle East. We are particularly happy that these countries agree with our view that we should preserve the centrality of multilateralism, speak out against unilateralism, protectionism and populism, and continue to call for the respect of international law and a reformed global order that is more equitable, inclusive and representative of current global realities. DM

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