While South Africa runs a trade deficit with the rest of the world, its relations with neighbouring countries are increasingly profitable. Over the past two decades, the trade surplus with the rest of Africa has grown steadily, from just R6.3 billion in 1994 to R41bn last year, according to Shireen Darmalingam, an economist at Standard Bank.
In a report on trade with the continent, Darmalingam said: “A total of R123bn worth of exports made its way to the rest of the continent in 2012, compared with R8.9bn in 1994 and R98.8bn in 2008. The bulk of revenue was generated by machinery and mechanical appliances, which contributed R25bn of the total revenue. Exports of this category have historically been the highest-generating export category.”
She identified South Africa’s biggest markets on the continent as Zambia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
Exports to Zambia last year were worth just more than R20bn, with nearly 80 percent made up of machinery and mechanical appliances, base metals, chemical products, vehicles, aircraft and vessels, and mineral products.
Exports to Mozambique were valued at R18.9bn, with the biggest contribution, R4.7bn, coming from mineral products, she said. Zimbabwe bought goods worth R18.6bn, the major category being machinery and mechanical appliances to the value of R3.5bn, according to Darmalingam.
She noted that growth in exports to Africa had fluctuated in post-apartheid South Africa, with average annual growth from 1994 to last year at about 17.4 percent year on year.
“Import growth from Africa has also been stellar, with growth averaging 26.7 percent in the period 1994 to 2012.”
She noted South Africa’s import footprint in Africa had changed significantly over the past two decades.
“In 1994, 2 percent of total imports originated from Africa. This increased to 12 percent in 2012. In 1994, Zimbabwe was the largest import partner, with 40 percent of [African] imports originating from this country, followed by the Democratic Republic of Congo (14 percent), Malawi (7.5 percent) and Ivory Coast (5 percent).
“By 2000, Nigeria moved into second place, followed by Mozambique and Zambia. By 2012, more than one-third of imports from Africa came from Nigeria, while imports from Angola increased from 1.5 percent in 2000 to 29 percent in 2012. Zimbabwe’s contribution to the import basket fell to below 5 percent in 2012. The top five countries (including Mozambique and Zambia) account for close to 87 percent of total imports from Africa.”
Darmalingam put the total import bill with Africa last year at R82.4bn from “a mere R4.4bn in 2000, and R2.5bn in 1994”.
“The picture in 1994 was starkly different. The import bill was mainly driven by precious and semi-precious metals and stones, textiles, prepared foodstuffs and vegetable products. Base metals and mineral products also featured among the top 10 commodities in 1994.
“In 2000, mineral products dominated the import bill, accounting for close to 40 percent of the total bill. The top 10 import categories accounted for 89 percent of the bill.”
Data from the SA Revenue Service last month showed exports to Africa rose 21 percent to nearly R69bn in the first half of this year, while imports soared 29 percent to R46.8bn.
Bilateral trade with Africa from January to June thus amounted to R115.7bn.