SA economy ‘can grow much faster’

The South African economy is capable of growing much faster than it has in the past, a panel of experts told a group of government ministers in Pretoria on Thursday.

The panel, comprising economic and political experts from Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of London, briefly met President Thabo Mbeki at the Union Buildings before discussing the government’s accelerated and shared growth initiatives with Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel.

”They told us that we are not ambitious enough and that we have to be thinking long term,” Manuel said, adding that the panel was only on its first visit.

”We are not at the point that they [the panel] can make firm recommendations. What we want to get to is that they [identify] 10 or so issues we need to think about, and [then] we see what to do about those,” Manuel said.

The team has already had meetings with the government, economists, trade unions and business representatives.

”We’ll be focusing on the nature of opportunity that arises from the rise in commodity prices, and the new opportunities outside natural-resource exploitation,” said Richardo Hausmann, professor of the practice of economics development at Harvard University.

”We will analyse and discuss what we have learnt over the next few months to come up with suggestions, but we are not there yet,” said Hausmann.

He said the president’s instruction was to be bold and think outside the box.

”We believe the government needs to be much more focused on key areas than broad-based, and there is a need to be bold and ambitious,” said Dani Rodrik, professor of international political economy at Harvard University.

”This will be the hardest test we have faced,” Manuel said about the panel’s scrutiny.

Asked if the lifting of exchange controls would be considered, Manuel replied: ”You know I won’t say anything until Budget day.”

Manuel will announce the annual Budget on February 15. — Sapa

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