DURBAN, South Africa – South Africa will have a new integrated maritime policy by July, it emerged at a special maritime trade forum organized by the South African Maritime Safety Authority in Durban on Sunday.
Delegates at the SAMSA gathering heard that part of the strategy was to ensure that South Africa derived maximum benefit from the maritime industry given that at least 90 per cent of exports and imports into the country were done via the ocean.
Sunday`s Maritime Trade Forum gave industry experts an opportunity to talk about the challenges the industry faced and possible solutions.
Transport Minister Dikobe Ben Martins, SAMSA CEO Tsietsi Mokhele Labour Minister Mildred Olifant, Deputy Minister of Minerals Resources Godfrey Olifant, CEO of the National Ports Regulator, Riad Khan, and Tau Morwe CEO of the Transnet National Ports Authority were among the many who participated in the event. Members of the BRICS Chinese delegation were also present.
The Forum came as the country prepared to host the 5th BRICS summit which starts on Tuesday. Explaining South Africa`s crucial membership of BRICS, SAMSA CEO, Commander Tsietsi Mokhele, said there was no question about the importance of the country`s role in the grouping. “Apart from being a maritime state with a very strong infrastructure, South Africa was also the gateway to Africa, ” said Mokhele.
The event saw maritime experts and senior government representing discussing the concerns of the industry and engaging with forum participants on the challenges it faced.
Mokhele said :“The areas of engagement we brought into the room are already being looked at. The maritime industry is of huge importance in terms of natural resources and energy, trade and industry, sciences and leisure activities. It forms an essential part of our trade and prosperity, which demands innovative solutions and careful management systems to ensure its long-term sustainability.
“International trade is very critical to the South African economy (constituting approximately 58% of SA Gross Domestic Product), and the maritime system underpins the vast majority of South Africa’s international trade. In fact, about 98% of goods by volume that South Africa sells to and buys from the rest of the world is moved on water. International commerce by water affects people and industries throughout the entire country, including those living far from the coast. Many goods that consumers regularly purchase arrive at the nation’s ports and are then distributed by rail and truck to warehouses, retailers and finally to consumers. “
Equally he found there was slow pace of transformation in the sector, lack of focus on maritime education and development of skills as well as inadequate investment in maritime infrastructure and the lack of beneficial ownership of merchant ships which remained a significant challenge.
However, with the proper infrastructure and training an estimated 400 000 jobs could be created in the maritime sector, Labour Minister Mildred Olifant said they were looking at retraining unemployed South Africans so that they could play a role in the maritime industry.
The vibrant debate in the Forum prompted delegates and the Transport Minister calling for a revised integrated maritime policy which needed to be reassessed with the changing environment.
Martins said his department had prioritized 2013 as the “Maritime Year” and that there had to be policy clarity. He said By July they wanted to know where they were to build on and also fix the mistakes of the past.
The SAMSA gathering also heard from panelists that Africa was a key party in the BRICS alliance because at least 3.6 per cent of BRICS trade with Africa was with South Africa.
In addition Africa was important because it had the youngest population, while the rest of the world’s population was ageing, and it was the fastest growing continent in the world.
Martins said the forum was not just a “process of lamentations” but a chance for industry representatives to openly discuss their concerns.
Executive Director of the Southern African Shipyards, Prasheen Maharaj, said : “Interventions need to normalise our industry to the same standard as our BRICS partners so we can be equal.”
Nana Sabelo the owner of PACE Container Stevedores said there was a disjuncture between the various government departments because while government spoke about promoting the industry, its development finance institutions refused to assist maritime businesses perceiving it to be “`high risk”.
Some of the other issues the forums delegates called for included :
- Calling for a change in the trade terms with other countries because currently the purchaser of the goods determines which fishing vessel should be used. Participants in the trade forum believed that by changing the terms it would facilitate the development of the South African industry ;
- Prompting mining houses be incentivised and tell their trade partners to make use of SA companies;
- Exploring why South Africa, unlike other countries, did not allow private companies to build ports and become involved in port infrastructure ;
- Seeking assistance from financial institutions to fund business opportuinities in the maritime industry
- Promoting equity in the maritime industry as it lagged behind in terms of the racial and gender demographics of the country.