File image: Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies. (Photo: Leon Nicholas).
JOHANNESBURG - Trade  and Industry Minister Rob Davies has called on Japanese investors to assist South Africa embrace the much-touted fourth industrial revolution in order to grow Africa’s largest and most industrialised economy.

He said the revolution would be a challenge for the country in terms of inclusivity, training and skills development.

“You will find us knocking on your doors asking for partnerships,” he said.

“We don’t have an AI (artificial intelligence) industry, we know these things are coming, they will be part of our economy as we move on. We need to build strong partnerships to make sure the fourth industrial revolution contributes to high levels of economic growth.”

Davies was speaking at the inaugural Japan-Africa Public-Private Economic Forum in Sandton, Johannesburg, on Thursday (May3).

The forum which ends on Friday was attended by Japanese and African government and business leaders. 

It’s aimed at accelerating private sector-led economic growth in Africa by encouraging business encounters between Japanese and African companies.

Davies said there were economic opportunities for the continent and Japan across various sectors including IT, infrastructure development, construction, energy, health and transport.

He said there were over 140 Japanese companies investing in the South African economy, which include Toyota, Nissan, Isuzu, Subaru, Mitsubishi, Hitachi, Yamaha and Hitachi, among others.

“They are key economic citizens of our country,” said Davies, adding that they wanted to deepen and strengthen their relationship with the island nation of Japan.

“We want to integrate the African continent with a view to diversify and move up the value chain. We want to be significant players in world economy.”

Davies said they were on course to raise investment and growth levels in the country.

The new continental free trade agreement called the African Continental Free Trade Area would take them towards establishing a continental market to allow industrialisation to flourish and for Africa to become a significant player in the world economy.

Davies said President Cyril Ramaphosa had put the country on a new course of improving economic governance and dealing head on with problems that bedevilled South Africa in recent years.

Ramaphosa has appointed special envoys to hunt R1.2 trillion in investments to boost the economy over the next three years.

Davies said that would change the fortunes of the country and “hopefully of the continent as a whole”.

Japan’s Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko said direct investment in Africa has expanded nearly four times in the past five years.

“Japan has contributed to Africa’s industrial development. The government of Japan fully supports efforts to make the business relationship between Japan and Africa wider and stronger,” said Seko, adding they could help the continent realise the African Union’s Agenda 2063, a blueprint to address Africa’s socio-economic challenges by 2063.

He said Japanese investments in the continent amounted to US$30 billion between 2016 and 2018.

In 2019, Japan will hold the G20 summit meeting, in which South Africa will be the only member country from the African continent. The East Asian country will also host the seventh conference of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development in Yokohama as well as the Rugby World Cup next year.