/ 4 July 2012

SA makes plans to fortify economic relations with Belgium

Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.
Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.


She told reporters in Pretoria on Wednesday that a visiting Belgian delegation would meet South African ministers to explore the possible cooperation.

Belgium's deputy prime minister Didier Reynders is on his first official state visit to South Africa. He is also the country's minister of foreign affairs, foreign trade and European trade.

"I am encouraged by the fact that you will be meeting other members of our Cabinet, specifically our minister of trade and industry, and also the minister of mineral resources," Nkoana-Mashabane said.

"We believe there is an opportunity there [in the mining sector] to work with Belgium on our plans for beneficiation of our mineral resources and taking advantage of your historical expertise in this field."

She said the west European country had helped support South Africa's national priorities since 1994. The help had covered areas such as health, ports management and logistics, education, rural development, and further education and training, Nkoana-Mashabane said.

"Despite the ongoing economic challenges confronting Europe, Belgium has remained steadfast in its support for our development efforts," Nkoana-Mashabane said. She said South Africa had expressed interest in having Belgium play an active role in the mooted Tripartite Free Trade Area (T-FTA), which involves the Common Market of East and Southern Africa, the East African Community and the Southern African Development Community.

"I indicated to the minister that the T-FTA will encompass 26 countries, with a combined population of 600-million people and a GDP [gross domestic product] of approximately US $1-trillion," she said.

"We are convinced that the key to economic development of the continent lies in creating the necessary infrastructure to facilitate the free movement of goods and services," Nkoana-Mashabane said.

Reynders said Wednesday's meeting had focused on renewed interest in deepening bilateral trade between his country and South Africa. On the international front, Reynders said the discussions touched on the possible ways to bring lasting peace and stability to its former colony, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"Our role is not to blame the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or Rwanda or any one of the parties in the conflict in the eastern parts of Congo. We called for dialogue to bring peace in that region."

An army mutiny by a group of former Congolese Tutsi rebels known as M23, who were integrated into the army but defected this year, started more than two months ago in east DRC. Rwanda, also a former Belgian colony, has denied accusations that it has been helping the M23 mutineers. &ndash; Sapa