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#South Africa-European Union strategic partnership

| July 5, 2017 | 0 Comments

South Africa is one of the European Union’s 10 Strategic Partners. The SA-EU Strategic Partnership was established in 2006 and followed by a Joint Action Plan in 2007 as a forward-looking platform that facilitates the wide-ranging co-operation between the two parties. The year 2017 marks the 10th anniversary of the Joint Action Plan and the roundtable focused on the current status of SA-EU Strategic Partnership and its future developments.

The European House – Ambrosetti organized, in partnership with multinational South African pharmaceutical company Aspen Pharmacare, the Roundtable “South Africa-European Union Strategic Partnership – Strengthening economic relations and cooperation and fostering social innovation”, a gathering for high-level debate on strategies and priorities to advance SA-EU collaboration.

This event is part of the program of activities of the Observatory on Europe, The European House – Ambrosetti 12 years-old European think tank on competitiveness and integration of the EU, which provides strategic analysis and recommendations to improve the EU’s integration process and bolster European competitiveness.

As Marcus Cornaro, European Union Ambassador to the Republic of South Africa, mentioned in his opening speech, it is about “Ten years of strategic partnership, but decades of close cooperation and friendship starting in 1986 with the Special Programme for the Victims of Apartheid”. “Today – continued Ambassador Cornaro – the EU is South Africa’s biggest export market and its biggest source of FDI. EU investment in South Africa creates close to 350,000 jobs. In addition, through the EU-funded Risk Capital Facility, as well as through a number of Local Economic development programmes, the EU has been able to support over 150 SMEs providing jobs to some 12,000 individuals. And today we can rightfully commend ourselves and each other for the entry into force of the SADC Economic Partnership Agreement that promotes sustainable development and unlocks the potential for more and better trade investment.”

In his speech DG DEVCO Director General Stefano Manservisi pictured how the global challenges faced by the world today have been captured in the new agendas the World and the EU have set to themselves. These challenges have an impact on the EU Partnership with South Africa. He thereafter illustrated how development cooperation – in particular Science & Technology and innovation – has been instrumental in shaping EU-SA Partnership.

Paolo Borzatta, senior partner of The European House – Ambrosetti, remarked the importance of developing deeper relations between Southern African and the European manufacturing systems. Indeed, current trade and investment relations are heavily influenced by commodities whereas, he argued, the greatest strategic opportunities lie in the manufacturing sector. Particular attention should be dedicated to Small and Mid-sized enterprises, creating platforms to facilitate their growth on both markets. On the other hand, lack of mutual knowledge is an obstacle for developing deeper relations among big and structured companies. In particular, Mr. Borzatta pointed out the necessity to develop Africa-specific strategies, are often conventional business models do not allow companies to thrive in SADC. If these obstacles are overcome, both regions could greatly benefit in terms of societal and economic development. Borzatta also commented on the Brexit topic: “South Africa-EU relations are facing a significant turning point, as Brexit will influence the geopolitical context and both trade and investment patterns between South Africa and Europe. Although Brexit outcome is still uncertain, it will likely push the UK towards a tighter “special relationship” with the United States, the UK could increase tensions with geopolitical entities strategic for South Africa, especially other BRICs Countries. Also, Brexit is pushing EU-27 towards a more integrated union, providing further interesting opportunities of cooperation with South Africa (defense, migration, investment, education, …). An integrated EU-27 will have a transparent agenda of joint economic development with South Africa and SADC Countries – he said, whereas BRICs Countries might have less transparent agendas”.

A round table discussion among panelists coming both from Europe and South Africa followed. Boris Zala, MEP and Vice-Chair of the Delegation for Relations with South Africa, recalled some questions about Strategic Partnership: “What it means “strategic partnership”? What is the difference to the “simple” partnership? Why is the EU strategic partner for SA and vice versa?” Those are the questions we must search adequate answers to, if we want the notion of “strategic” to be fulfilled, rather than its being only an empty phrase.” Hence, in Mr. Zala opinion, it is of the utmost importance “trying to search for answers to these questions from the perspective of global politics, EU-Africa relations and regional institutions” and “clearly identify the obstacles that limit the EU-SA relations to become really “strategic”, at the economic level, particularly at the level of investments.”

Alec Erwin, the chairman of UBU Investment Holdings and former Minister of Trade and Industry and Minister of Public Enterprises in South Africa offered his view about the benefits of the trade agreement between the EU and South Africa: “Looking back at the experience of the FTA between South Africa and the EU I believe it has been a good example of the long term advantages of such agreements”.

Diana Acconcia, head of unit in DG TRADE responsible for the Economic Partnership Agreements with the ACP countries, provided an overview of the EU trade relations with South Africa in the framework provided first by the Trade and Development Co-operation Agreement signed in 1999 and entered into force in 2004, and replaced in 2016 by the EU-SADC Economic Partnership Agreement. She explained the key features of these agreements and how implementation of the latest one is moving forward against the key challenges in the current political and economic context of South Africa.

Finally, the round table concentrated on strategies to promote investments and share experiences in areas of common interest and where the two parties face common challenges, such as environment and climate change, life science technologies and access to healthcare, which represent issues affecting people’s well-being, where innovation can have a social benefit.

From the South Africa side, Aspen Pharmacare Senior Executive Stavros Nicolau brings the experience of a leading SA multinational company in Europe:  “Aspen is now one of South Africa’s largest investors in Europe – he said – with significant manufacturing presence in countries such as France, Germany and the Netherlands. Aspen continues to invest in both production capacity and innovative product pipeline in Europe, with its recent acquisition of a portfolio of key anesthetic products, set to continue innovative supply of affordable quality medicines to European patients. Anesthesia, compliments other high tech, specialty products, such as anti-thrombosis solutions that Aspen presently makes available to patients in the EU.”

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