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Thursday, 07 March 2013 09:39

Building on the Brics bloc

Written by Larry Claasen

SA's relations with its African neighbours and fellow Brics members - Brazil, Russia, India and China - are set to get a boost. Government is placing increasing importance on cementing trade and investment ties in the region and with the Brics bloc to drive economic growth.

Finance minister Pravin Gordhan proposed a number of measures to relax cross-border financial regulations and tax requirements on companies, making it easier for banks to invest and operate in other countries.

This illustrates a pivot towards economic issues in SA's international relations. SA is now looking at foreign policy in a very different way, says SA Institute of International Affairs programme director Catherine Grant. "Our foreign policy is becoming increasingly economic. Treasury is becoming much more involved."

The Brics countries are widely seen as leading drivers of global growth over the next decades. And the rest of Africa is perceived as ripe for investment.

Some local companies, such as mobile operator MTN and grocery retailer Shoprite, have enjoyed remarkable success providing services to Africa's growing middle class. And SA's exports to the rest of the continent make up 17,6% of total exports, much of which are routed through the subsidiaries of SA firms.

Though SA companies made about 1000 new investments in 36 African countries between 2007 and 2011, there is a view that local businesses have not taken full advantage of their proximity to these burgeoning economies, with many complaining that SA's foreign exchange control regulations make it difficult to fund their cross-border operations.

Government is not blind to this. As part of a pilot project, treasury is allowing SA-listed companies wanting to invest on the continent or offshore to register a subsidiary which will not be subject to foreign exchange restrictions.

The parent company can transfer as much as R750m/year into the subsidiary (additional funds can be transferred with Reserve Bank approval). The subsidiary is free to raise and use its capital offshore, but it will have to register with the surveillance department of the SA Reserve Bank.

The goal is to get SA companies to manage their offshore operations from SA rather than from an office abroad. The ease of doing business in Mauritius (along with its flat 15% company tax rate), for example, has resulted in companies like Vodacom setting up international operations there.

Making it easier for companies to transfer funds across the border is only part of government's strategy to tap into the robust economic growth in the developing world.

The international relations & co-operation department, headed by minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, is looking to broaden regional co-operation through the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and by setting up the Southern African Regional Development Agency.

SA has supported a summit between the SADC , the East African Community and Common Market for East & Southern Africa, which is looking to create a free-trade zone by March 2014.

The department is renovating existing or building new chanceries, official residences and staff accommodation. Spending on new facilities is expected to rise from R202,9m in 2013/2014 to R213,9m in 2014/2015 and then to R223,8m in 2015/2016.

It is also looking at going into some kind of public-private partnership to open new facilities in several African countries, the Middle East and South America.

Support continues for the New Partnership for Africa's Development , the African Union , the Pan African Parliament and the African Court of Justice.

The African Renaissance & International Co-operation Fund' s budget allocation will rise from R518m in 2012/2013 to R605m by 2015/2016.

 

This article was originally published by the Financial Mail.

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