Address by President Nelson Mandela at the banquet for the President's Award for Export Achievement

24 November 1994

Minister of Trade and Industry Director-General of Trade and Industry Ladies and gentlemen

It is a privilege as well as a pleasure to present awards and thus help acknowledge and encourage outstanding achievement.

I therefore welcome the opportunity to present the Award for Export Achievement, in this first year of democratic government in our country. I feel honoured to be in the company of the cream of South Africa's exporting community.

We are all agreed on the critical role of exports in generating sustained economic growth. We are at one that a vibrant export industry is vital for meeting our primary objective, a better life for all South Africans.

Agreement on what is to be achieved is, however, one thing. Clarity on the steps needed, is another. More so still, is the implementation of what has to be done. This is especially so in the changed environment in which we find ourselves, as a nation in general and, in particular, as far as exporters are concerned.

As we applaud this year's winners of the President's Award for Export Achievement, we can celebrate some export success as a nation.

Despite serious recession in many countries, South African companies continued even to penetrate new markets. Our export performance this year increased by 14% until the end of August compared with last year. With stronger economic growth forecast for most of our major trading partners this trend should continue.

But even as we note these positive developments, we must acknowledge that the number of successful, regular, committed exporters is rather limited for a country with an economy as open as ours. More than that, our economic and trading environment, internal and internal and international, is altering radically and rapidly. Opportunities on a scale far beyond those to which we are accustomed, are opening up. And so are the challenges. We have to ask, is the business community gearing up for the challenge with sufficient seriousness, boldness and clarity?

The Government recently had to make the difficult decision to scale down the General Export Incentive Scheme and to terminate it by the end of 1997. Our own financial constraints and our obligations under GATT necessitated that decision. Measures to help firms become more competitive are being examined in close co-operation with the labour and business sectors.

The new international openings are being investigated and expanded by the government with a view to obtaining the most favourable terms and opportunities for South African exporters.

The extension of special tariff preferential treatment to South Africa by several countries individually, such as the USA, Japan, Canada and Norway, as well as by the European Union as a trade bloc, has widened access to important international markets.

The European Union, our biggest trading partner, has also indicated its willingness to negotiate a long-term relationship with South Africa. This brings the possibility of even greater market access for South African products than what is normally granted under the European Union's system of preferential tariffs. This year also saw the signing of the United States/South Africa Business Development Committee Agreement, aimed at facilitating the development of commercial relations between the two countries.

Further advantages for South African exporters will result from the recent signing of the Marrakesh Agreement wiccudh latest round of multilateral negotiations under the GATT - the so-called Uruguay round. We seek to involve all local organisations and economic sectors affected to ensure that our commitments are fulfilled in ways that bring the maximum benefits to our economy.

The changes taking place are in many instances most dramatic in our trade relations with the rest of the African continent. The preliminary trade figures for this year show that in the period since the acceptance of South Africa into the community of African nations, trade with African countries has grown to the extent that several African countries are now in the top twenty of our trading partners.

This increasingly African orientation will be enhanced by the lifting of United Nations restrictions on its agencies sourcing supplies and services from South Africa. South African involvement in regional trade is bound to flourish with our acceptance into the Southern African Development Community. The depth of our involvement in, and trade with, Africa is encouraging, as is the myriad of opportunities for all business, but in particular for small and medium-sized enterprises.

To seize all these opportunities, however, will require concerted and joint efforts by government, business and labour.

The direction of government's economic policy is clear: it is creating an environment in which businesses, big and small, will prosper. But only if they show bold enterprise and initiative.

The government is committed to facilitating the processes of restructuring which are essential if South Africa is to become internationally competitive. The whole range of services provided to exports is being reviewed in order to make the most strategic use of limited resources. The export extension services are being made. more client-oriented and better suited to cater for the needs of small and medium size enterprises.

But no amount of support from government can bring success unless businesses are ready to show their worth on the highly competitive international markets that are now open to them. This includes markets which have not been traditionally open to South Africa, such as India.

Some of the openings are conditional on our exports being produced in enterprises meeting international standards concerning labour relations and environment. This should be taken as an incentive to further raise our standards.

Success in meeting these challenges will be reflected in next year's awards. We will then be able to include additional factors such as commitment to human resource development, employment creation, labour relations and innovation. Smaller exporters will also be given a chance of competing on an equitable basis.

Congratulations to the winners! I am convinced that, with the new opportunities and challenges, all of us will be able to show our mettle.

I wish you every success in your efforts and look forward to even greater achievements next year.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation