Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

About 100 delegates from China’s coastal Zhejiang province are on a week long roadshow in SA "in direct response" to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s call for $100bn in investment in the country over the next five years.

The "entrepreneurs" from one of China’s most market-friendly provinces will participate in a China-SA business forum in the Eastern Cape, including a visit to the Coega special economic zone (SEZ) near Port Elizabeth.

Coega is already home to China’s FAW automotive manufacturer and the Beijing Automotive Industry Holding group (BAIC). Both companies have invested heavily in truck and passenger car production in the zone for sales into Africa.

"Relations have grown from a small boat to a huge vessel travelling [towards] mutual benefit," Che Jun, party secretary of the Zhejiang provincial committee of the Communist Party of China, and leader of the delegation said on Thursday. "The bilateral relationship between China and SA is at its historical best." China is SA’s single largest trading partner, with bilateral trade of more than R318bn in 2017.

The visit, with many representatives from private enterprise, comes ahead of the 10th Brics summit in Sandton in late July. This will focus on a digitally driven "fourth industrial revolution" that includes the internet of things, where everyday products, such as refrigerators, will be able to send and receive data.

Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel said ... the country wanted increased Chinese investment in value-added manufacturing, especially in joint ventures with black South Africans

Che said the Zhejiang delegates would build on Ramaphosa’s call for investment and two prior state visits to SA by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 and 2015, after which $60bn of Chinese funding had been pumped into African development.

The visit also comes ahead of the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation summit that will be held in Beijing in September 2018. In April, Xi announced that China would "comprehensively deepen reform and open up" further to the world.

Zhejiang is the fourth largest provincial economy in China with GDP of $767bn, twice that of SA, despite a similar size of population. The province specialises in advanced manufacturing and has per capita GDP of $13,600, and accounts for 12.7% of China’s total exports. Total foreign trade for the province amounted to $378bn in 2017.

Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel said in a keynote speech on Thursday that China was a "strategic partner" to SA. He said the country wanted increased Chinese investment in value-added manufacturing, especially in joint ventures with black South Africans, for export into the rest of Africa and worldwide.

Apart from FAW and BAIC, China’s Beijing Automotive Works SA assembles taxis in Gauteng, while Hisense, a Chinese maker of household electronic products, operates from the newly designated Atlantis SEZ near Cape Town.

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana and the Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry Bulelani Magwanishe were among dignitaries at the event, along with one of Ramaphosa’s special envoys for investment, Jacko Maree.

Magwanishe said "radical economic transformation" would only come about by building skills and capacity "as the main exit out of unemployment, poverty and inequality" in SA.

He said Africa was committed to a free-trade area and the "gradual liberalisation" towards an African customs union. The Department of Trade and Industry’s one-stop shop and reduced red tape for businesses, the imminent release of a new integrated resource plan for the country, and the SEZs were the result of "rigorous consultation", he said.

Meanwhile, Maree told Business Day on Thursday there was more coherence among government ministers since Ramaphosa has become president. "You can pick it up in sentiment — there is generally more confidence and a sense of hope."