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President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: REUTERS /MIKE HUTCHINGS
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: REUTERS /MIKE HUTCHINGS

President Cyril Ramaphosa has urged SA diplomats to act as “economic envoys” in a quest to find more investors for SA and to bolster trade.

He also told the more than 100 heads of mission at their four-day biannual conference in Pretoria, which started on Thursday, that “the African agenda is paramount”.

He said: “Our missions must be at the forefront of building networks and being part of activities to strengthen the AfCFTA (African Continental Free Trade Area).”

Ramaphosa has said before that he wants to invite investment to SA from the rest of Africa, but heads of missions in some of the biggest economies on the continent said they weren’t aware of any potential investors from their countries attending the conference.

“It is not our target market,” a staffer from one of the high commissions said when asked if they invited business people to the conference.

A diplomat from another country said the trade balance in that particular country was in favour of SA and acknowledged that it needed to change.

International relations officials could not say whether any of the 82 companies that made pledges at the president’s investment conference in March were from the rest of Africa.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta brought a delegation of business people when he paid a state visit to SA in 2021. Ramaphosa also took a business delegation on his West African tour in December, when he visited Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Senegal. Some business opportunities flowed out of this for a number of emerging black business people who travelled along, he said yesterday.

State visits should include economic and investment forums in future, he added.

“With the economic challenges that the world is facing now, economic diplomacy is what is often prominent for many countries,” he said.

He encouraged diplomats to interact with the responsible departments in SA — such as international relations and trade, industry and competition — to mobilise businesspeople to go on such trips while at the same time speaking to local businesspeople to “interest them in investing in SA”.

Ramaphosa said SA’s missions should brief potential investors in the countries they are situated about SA’s “structural reform, our infrastructure build programme, immigration reform and new investment in all their engagements”.

The recent Investment Conference should be held up as an example of success, since R332bn in new investment pledges was received. This brought investment to 95% of the target of R1.2-trillion set by Ramaphosa in 2018.

International relations minister Naledi Pandor told heads of missions they should “find innovative ways to promote SA”.

She said they should do this even in private conversations. “When you’re whispering together, whisper positive, not negative. We must portray to the world that SA has what it takes to compete on the world stage.”

She said the performance of their missions would in future be measured by whether they can convince potential investors to come to forums like the Investment Conference.

She said SA should “continue to champion Africa’s development agenda, which will ultimately lead to our own prosperity”.

Under the AfCFTA “SA companies are poised to play a key role in taking up the opportunities this presents for preferential access to other African markets”,  said Pandor. 

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