A high-level and very large Belgian economic mission of 333 participants, including 252 business leaders, arrives in South Africa today hoping to boost trade, investment and other ties.
South Africa’s recent unilateral termination of its long-standing bilateral investment treaties with several EU countries, including Belgium, is expected to figure in discussions between the political leaders of the Belgian mission and their South African counterparts.
Didier Reynders, the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, is the political head of the delegation, but several other federal ministers plus leaders of the Walloon and Flanders sub-national state governments are also participating. The overall mission is headed by Princess Astrid, representing her brother, the new King Philippe.
The Belgian government said the high number of business leaders in the mission “confirms the many possibilities our Belgian companies see in the South African market”.
South Africa’s ambassador to Belgium and the EU, Mxolisi Nkosi, wrote in a recent article in The New Age newspaper that the size of the Belgian delegation “refutes the view” that the termination of the bilateral investment treaties “is turning investors away from the country”.
The Belgians apparently thought that went too far; they say the political and business leaders are anxious to hear from the government exactly what it intends to substitute for the cancelled treaty.
Belgium says the industries most represented in the mission will be energy; environment and green technology; transport and logistics; and construction and infrastructure.
However, diamonds will also be high on the delegation’s agenda as the leading Antwerp diamond processing industry will be well represented. The Antwerp World Diamond Council will host a seminar on the Kimberley Process established to try to filter blood diamonds out of global markets.
South Africa chairs the Kimberley Process, which is fiercely debating whether to extend the ban on blood diamonds from those mined by rebel groups to anyone who violates human rights – including governments.
European Kimberley Process members generally favour this extension, but African members oppose it. And South Africa seems to be using its chairmanship to steer the subject off the agenda.
Diamonds also figured prominently in the visit to Angola by the Belgian delegation, which ends today.
South Africa is losing its historic trade surplus with Belgium. Last year South Africa exported R25.8 billion of goods and services and imported R23.36bn, a surplus of R2.44bn. But in the first six months of this year, South Africa’s exports declined almost 16 percent to R11.26bn and Belgium’s rose about 6.7 percent to R12.08bn, leaving South Africa with a trade deficit of about R817 million.
Belgium is the sixth-largest investor in South Africa, mainly in mining, green energy, ports, logistics and agriculture. Major individual investors include Belgotex (carpets), Umicore (catalysers), Magottaux and Manuchar (logistics), Ziegler (logistics) and BD Sarens (hoists).
South Africa is also an important investor in Belgium. One of the largest investments is by Bidvest, in the food distribution, service and trade corporation Deli XL Belgium. The Belgians will bestow a special state distinction on Bidvest chairman Cyril Ramaphosa, as well as one on Nicky Oppenheimer for his contributions to the diamond industry.
The visit will also advance co-operation between the two countries in other fields such as science, academia and development. The two governments will sign an agreement for cooperation in polar research, including the transport of equipment to Belgium’s Antarctic research station by South Africa’s Agulhas II.