South Africa’s trade deficit with Saudi Arabia balloons

Trade between South Africa and Saudi Arabia has more than doubled from R29.7billion in 2009 to R80.1 billion in 2013 but there will be concern about a huge deficit where South Africa is concerned.

The trade between the two countries is dominated by petroleum imports from the oil rich kingdom which largely explains the deficit. Over the past few years South Adrabia may have taken up a large portion of oil imports that previously came from Iran which has been hit by sanctions.

Trade between the two countries came under the spotlight last week during the South Africa-Saudi Arabia Joint Economic Commission (JEC), held from 18 to 20 March 2014 in Pretoria, South Africa.  The Minister of Trade and Industry Minister, Dr Rob Davies and his Saudi counterpart, Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, co-chaired the JEC.

This was the fifth JEC. The fourth session of the South Africa-Saudi Arabia JEC that was held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 2012 resolved to increase total trade between the two countries to a targeted R60 billion within the next five years.

From 2012 to 2013 trade between the two countries grew by 17.62% from R 68.1 billion to R80.1 billion.

Davies noted that South Africa’s trade deficit with Saudi grew to R74.8 billion in 2013 from R 62.2 billion in 2012. He said South Africa is keen to strike a more balanced trade between the two countries

“We have expressed our desire to collaborate with the Saudi side in the promotion of investments between the two countries.  This can be done through the exchange of company visits. To this end, the South African side will make available its top 10 investment projects to its Saudi counterparts. We also invited the Saudi side to arrange a technical visit of Saudi investors to South Africa to attend the Annual Investment Meeting (AIM),” said Davies.

He added that the two countries have agreed in finalising negotiations of the proposed agreement on cooperation in the fields of agriculture, livestock and fisheries.

“In this regards, we have proposed to have one umbrella agreement, which will be submitted through diplomatic channels. With regard to cooperation between Onderstepoort Biological Products and Agricultural Research Council in South Africa and the Centre for Veterinary Vaccines Production in the Kingdom, the details of such collaboration will be exchanged through diplomatic channels,” he said.

Davies highlighted that the Joint Economic Commission (JEC), also resolved to promote and develop aspects of cooperation in the fields of oil, gas and minerals through participation in conferences and specialised seminars held in both countries.

“This will be achieved through the exchange of meetings between oil and mining companies in both countries and holding bilateral meetings to discuss joint investment opportunities and possible areas of cooperation. The JEC agreed to increase aspects of cooperation in the field of mineral resources, mineral beneficiation, and exchange of expertise for professionals in the field of mining in both countries.  Such exchanges would involve learning about mining investment systems, training of professionals, capacity building in the field of information technology related data bases, exchange of information, research and development cooperation in the mining sector, he indicated.

The JEC was preceded by the South Africa-Saudi Arabia Business Forum, that attended by business people from both countries. The Forum mandated the South Africa–Saudi Arabia Business Council to identify complementary projects they will collaborate on.

The Joint Economic Commission (JEC) is an initiative agreed upon between the two countries in order to strengthen economic ties, to attract foreign direct investment from Saudi Arabia into South Africa in targeted sectors and to promote sound business-to-business cooperation.

In January this year, Saudi Arabia overtook Germany to become South Africa’s 2nd largest source of imports, with China being the biggest.

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