Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies. File picture: Leon Nicholas

Johannesburg - South Africa viewed Nigeria’s ascendancy to the status of Africa’s largest economy as a “matter of opportunity rather than of concern” because a flourishing Nigeria was good news for Africa and the rest of the developing world, Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies said yesterday.

Speaking in a wide-ranging interview with Business Report, Davies held out the possibility of South Africa taking an active role in pushing for Nigeria to take its rightful seat at such multilateral institutions as the Group of 20 (G20), which brings together the world’s 20 leading economies.

“Where this may bring about changes is that it may enhance Nigeria’s claim to be seated at various tables,” Davies said. “I think what’s important about the G20 is that there has been an acknowledgement that the world can no longer be governed just in the interest of developed countries, that some representatives of developing countries need to be at those tables.”

Asked whether South Africa would take an active role in lobbying for Nigeria to get a seat at some of the global institutions, Davies said: “Well, that is something I don’t think we’ve been discussing directly but it’s something that may come on the cards at some point in time.

“But in general terms, even when it comes to UN reform, we have been in favour of there being a greater voice for the developing world.”

Davies said the make-up of the G20, in particular, still did not reflect reality on the ground and needed to change – along with that of other global institutions – to better reflect “population and country balance”.

“There’s still a preponderance of developed economies that are present in those organisations. So if there were to be more players coming from the developing world, I don’t think that would be anything that we would be opposed to.

“We want more representative global governance at all levels,” Davies said.

The G20 comprises Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the UK, the US and the EU.

With Nigeria’s ascent to the top economic spot on the African continent, its economy now ranks 26th in the world – ahead of South Africa, which was ranked 33rd by the International Monetary Fund last year.

The development raises the prospect of Nigeria garnering support for a broader role in international bodies alongside South Africa, which so far has been the primary voice for Africa on the global scene.

South Africa is a member of the Brics bloc of leading emerging economies along with Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Nigeria’s economic rise “from a South African point of view is a good thing. It’s a good thing because our future is inextricably linked to that of the African continent,” Davies said.

“And very concretely and very directly, we are involved in a number of potential projects with Nigeria, resulting from Nigeria’s attempts to industrialise, which could be of mutual benefit to both our countries.”

One example of South Africa’s engagement with Nigeria, Davies said, was the work both countries were doing in helping develop Nigeria’s automotive industry.

“They are launching an automotive programme and we are discussing with them the possibility of an agreement which would support the development of their automotive programme,” he said, noting that South Africa was already among the largest foreign investors in Nigeria.

“We are looking for South African component manufacturers to be supplying inputs into the semi-knocked-down kit production that they have in Nigeria. That is our ambition. It is made possible by the fact that Nigeria, as a result of the improved environment there, is now focusing seriously and effectively on diversifying their economy,” Davies added.

His comments to Business Report are the most candid so far by a key South African minister on the news of Nigeria’s economic ascent.

Nigeria’s Bureau of Statistics on Sunday recalculated gross domestic product based on production patterns in 2010, increasing the number of industries it measures to 46 from 33 and giving greater weighting to sectors such as telecommunications and financial services.

Follow Ellis Mnyandu on Twitter @Ellis_Mnyandu