Richard's Bay – The target set by President Cyril Ramaphosa to garner $100 billion in local and foreign investment to boost the South African economy is “modest” and would be achieved within a year, Professor Anil Sooklal said on Tuesday.
“The $100 billion is a modest target. I believe we will reach that in a year,” said Sooklal, who is the South African sous-sherpa (ambassador) for the economic bloc of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, known as BRICS.
He is also the deputy director-general for Asia and the Middle East at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco).
Sooklal was speaking at a BRICS roundtable discussion with captains of industry at the Richards Bay Industrial Development Zone on Tuesday afternoon.
The event was a precursor to the annual BRICS Business Council meeting taking place in Durban from July 22 to 23, hosted by South Africa.
Ramaphosa is looking to attract $100 billion in new investments over the next five years to boost the economy and create employment.
On April 16, he announced that Phumzile Langeni, Mcebisi Jonas, Trevor Manuel and Jacko Maree would form the Presidential Special Envoy for Investment, tasked with attracting investments.
Sooklal said that Ramaphosa was “the best salesperson” for South Africa.
“Our president was treated like royalty by royalty in Saudi Arabia,” said Sooklal.
On a state visit to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last week, Ramaphosa secured a $10 billion minimum investment from the Saudis and another $10 billion from the UAE.
“They have taken to the president. The way he marketed our country in these two countries, the Saudi King was enamoured with him. The Sheikh in the UAE asked him what he wanted them to do for South Africa, he was ready,” said Sooklal.
He said that Ramaphosa’s leadership style was conducive to attracting investment.
“He is paving the way for business people.
“The Saudis have a game farm in Limpopo province where they come twice a year. The crown prince told president Ramaphosa that he loves South Africa. ‘You don’t have to market your country to me’, he told the president. ‘I love your country and we want to come and invest in your country,’” said Sooklal.
The Chinese were just as positive about the country when Sooklal interacted with them, he said.
“The Chinese ambassador has said he wants to bring at least $30 billion during the investment summit, and I am sure this will materialise. He has said this to the president and to my minister,” said Sooklal.
Chinese President Xi Jinping will be in South Africa on a state visit on the eve of the BRICS leadership summit, which takes place next week in Johannesburg.
Sooklal said the “deals” that would be signed next week would be “very significant”. During Xi’s 2015 visit to the country, deals of R94 billion had been signed, he said. “That’s the level of confidence we see.”
There were 150 Indian companies operating in South Africa, he said, which provided opportunities for growth. “The Indians are very keen to come and create a pharmaceutical hub here to tap into Africa.”
Bin Salman also told Ramaphosa that they needed his help to “enter the African market,” according Sooklal.
“To show how serious they are about Africa, they appointed a full time minister this year,” said Sooklal.
“It is the first time in their government they have created a minister for Africa. His first visit to the African continent was to South Africa two months ago, he came as a special envoy,” he said.
South Africa’s total trade with BRICS countries was about R450 billion, said Sooklal, with the bulk of this coming from China at R300 billion.
Trade with India accounted for R107 billion, with Brazil at R30 billion and Russia was under R10 billion. He said that trade with China was still “in its infancy”, Indian trade was not a reflection of the full trade potential and Russia and Brazil were small markets.
There was a great appetite for investing in South Africa and refocusing on the country from other countries besides the BRICS bloc, said Sooklal.
“Japan is a major investor into the South African economy, the third after the USA and China. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was one of the first to phone president Ramaphosa when he was made president. The Japanese want to scale up investment significantly into Africa,” said Sooklal.