Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

SA is in danger of falling behind in embracing "disruptive" technology, which would affect its competitiveness, says deputy director-general in the Department of Trade and Industry Garth Strachan.

Disruptive technology covers electric cars, cellphones, social media and smart tech.

"We cannot remain an automotive-producing country which only produces petrol and diesel vehicles," he said. Incentives were needed for consumers to purchase electric vehicles (EVs) and for companies to invest in them.

That SA was a small market and far from the big ones was a major concern. Changes to the Automotive Production Development Programme had to encourage investment in future technology, including EVs, fuel-cell and gas-powered vehicles.

"Unless we change now, then down the road we could face tariff barriers. Unless the government achieves policy cohesion now, we will be in trouble," he said.

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said last week SA had to adapt to the looming disruptive technology.

Early in 2017 the department released a study outlining the opportunities and the barriers to developing a low-carbon industry in SA. It pointed out that there were considerable barriers to creating consumer demand and to attracting investment.

The study also noted that the government and the private sector were slow to adapt to a changing global market. "Sasol and other corporations have to get involved and start taking the lead," Strachan said.

Shahkira Parker of the Department of Environmental Affairs said the government intended eventually to phase out its fossil-fuel-powered vehicle fleet but progress was slow.

"We cannot continue on a carbon-polluting industrial strategy. It is absolutely imperative that a transition is well planned," said Strachan. "We have to work together to achieve industrial development that is sustainable. However, this is not just a sustainability issue but a socioeconomic issue.

"If anybody believes we can continue with a coal-intensive industrial process and remain internationally competitive they are living in cloud cuckoo land," Strachan said.

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