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South Africa is Exporting more Food. But it Needs to find New Growth Frontiers

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By Wandile Sihlobo

South African agricultural exports were up for the third consecutive year in 2022, reflecting favourable production conditions and higher commodity prices. The export numbers for the full year have not yet been published. I have calculated the annual data for 2022 using quarterly trade export statistics published by Trade Map, a trade statistics portal developed by the International Trade Centrethe United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the World Trade Organisation. The major export crops continued to be maize, wine, grapes, citrus, berries, nuts, apples and pears, sugar, avocados, and wool.

These products have been the drivers of exports over the past couple of decades. In particular, fruit and wine have increasingly become the leading export products. These have driven a rise in the value of agriculture (and agro-processing) exports, which have averaged 11% of the South Africa’s overall exports, up from 9% in the decade before. South Africa now exports roughly half of its agricultural produce in value terms. Citrus, table grapes, wine and a range of deciduous fruits dominate the export list. Increasingly, we are seeing the encouraging uptick in beef exports

These robust exports have enabled South Africa to retain its position as a net exporter of agricultural products over time. In 2022, South Africa’s agricultural exports reached US$12.8 billion, up 4% from the previous year. Imports, nevertheless, remain significant, averaging US$6.6 billion over the past five years. In 2022, the top imported products were rice, palm oil, wheat, poultry and whiskies. These originated primarily from Asia, the European Union, the UK and the Americas.

Based on my calculations, using Trade Map 2022 data, South Africa’s agricultural imports amounted to US$7.3 billion, up 6% from the previous year. Considering this import value against the export value of US$12.8 billion, South Africa’s agriculture realised a record trade surplus of US$5.5 billion.

In view of this, focus should now be on expansion of South Africa’s agricultural exports beyond its typical markets in the African continent, EU and parts of Asia, to new growth frontiers. There is growth in domestic production, and South Africa will require new markets for the expanding harvest.

The priority countries for expanding agricultural exports should be China, South Korea, Japan, the US, Vietnam, Taiwan, India, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, the Philippines and Bangladesh. All have sizeable populations and large imports of agricultural products.

Who is buying South African?

My calculations using Trademap data  show that the African continent remains a leading market, accounting for 37% of South Africa’s agricultural exports in 2022.

These exports are concentrated within the Southern African Development Community region. But my recent research shows that South Africa’s agriculture export opportunities within the African continent will be limited due to structural challenges, preventing the agricultural sector from expanding its exports into untapped markets. This is despite the hope that’s been placed on the African Continental Free Trade Area.

Asia was the second-largest agricultural market, accounting for 27% of exports, followed by the EU, accounting for 19%. The Americas region was the fourth largest, accounting for 7%, and the remaining 10% went to the rest of the world. Within the rest of the world category, the UK, historically South Africa’s major market for agricultural produce, was one of the leading markets.

The products of exports to these markets were primarily the same, with the African continent and Asia importing over two-thirds of maize harvests. Meanwhile, exports to other regions were mainly fruit and wine. Asia has seen much faster growth in exports over the past six years, while the African continent and the EU have remained fairly stable.

Challenges

South Africa’s robust export earnings were achieved in the face of various challenges in ports and key export markets. For example, at the start of 2022, logistical challenges in the port of Cape Town disrupted the exports of table grapes and other deciduous fruits. Thankfully, cooperation between Transnet and organised agriculture helped minimise the constraints, and opened up channels of communication that were critical for managing the flow of exports and attending to pressing problems.

The Durban port, which handles about 60% of the country’s exports and imports, faced fewer challenges than the previous year. As a result, citrus exporters faced a relatively better export season from a logistics perspective. The smoother flow of agricultural exports through Durban was also brought about by increased cooperation between organised agriculture and Transnet.

Credit should go to organised agriculture groupings, the government, Transnet and various logistical groups that worked tirelessly to ensure a flow of products to export destinations. While there are still many challenges within logistics, Transnet’s willingness to cooperate closely with the agricultural community has helped improve product flow. South African exports also faced non-tariff barriers in some key export markets, such as China for wool and the EU for citrus. China temporarily blocked South African wool in response to the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in South Africa.

This was a misstep on China’s part as there is already a framework for dealing with an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease to ensure the safety of wool exports to China. Notably, the outbreak was on cattle, not sheep, which should have provided further comfort about the safety of wool exports.

China lifted the ban after about four months. However, it had already had a notable financial impact on South African wool farmers and exporting businesses. China accounts for just over 70% of South Africa’s wool exports.

For its part, the EU imposed protectionist measures on South Africa’s agriculture by changing its regulation on plant safety for citrus without notifying its trading partners in reasonable time.

The new regulation purports to protect the EU from a quarantine organism, “false codling moth”, by introducing stringent new cold treatment requirements, particularly on citrus imports from Africa, mainly affecting South Africa, Zimbabwe and Eswatini. This was a contentious issue, especially as South Africa had already put rigorous measures to control the moth, which the EU used as a pretext to restrict citrus imports from Africa.

Focus areas

Given that South Africa’s agriculture is export-orientated, the focus should be on maintaining smooth relations with existing critical export markets while searching for additional new markets. This is particularly important in the context of growing tensions between the east and the west, specifically the US and China. South Africa has to maintain open and friendlier relations with both groupings as the exports of agriculture are evenly spread across these regions.

Wandile Sihlobo is a Senior Fellow, Department of Agricultural Economics, Stellenbosch University

Courtesy: The Conversation


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A Labour Government Should not Frighten the Horses

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The UK general election is likely to mean changes, but Gulf citizens need not be too worried.

By James Drummond

If the tension was killing you, now you know. If it wasn’t, then be aware that a general election in the United Kingdom will be held on July 4 – less than six weeks away.

For the hapless Rishi Sunak, it looks like a case of “If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly.” Polls indicate that after 14 years of conservatism, real or imagined, voters are likely to elect a new Labour government.

What does this mean for us here in the Gulf?

The six Gulf states are certainly exposed to Britain. The extent of GCC holdings in the UK is enormous, ranging from Qatari ownership of the Shard building in London, stakes in the Sainsburys supermarket chain and Barclays bank, to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid’s Godolphin stables in Suffolk.

Manchester City and Newcastle United football clubs are owned by Emirati and Saudi interests, respectively. Kuwait’s wealth is managed by the Kuwait Investment Office near St Pauls Cathedral.

Labour has been careful to detail very few policies (or hostages to fortune, as its strategists may see it), but last week, David Lammy, the likely new foreign secretary, outlined a further campaign against dirty money.

Britain is a “corruption services centre”, while London is a “hotbed of kleptocracy”, Mr Lammy said. He said that he wanted to reward whistleblowers and clamp down on “enablers” of financial crime.

Given the paucity of public announcements, Lammy’s speech is significant, because it implies that the incoming government is likely to act. Fighting financial crime is relatively uncontroversial and attracts cross-party support – although in the UK’s case with limited success.

British politicians have made similarly grandiose statements before. But after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, London has moved particularly against Russian dirty money, and sanctioned individuals. It finally introduced an obligation mandating the disclosure of beneficial owners of property.

Overseas trusts are also now required to disclose their ultimate beneficial owners, and there is now greater transparency when registering entities at Companies House.

This seems to have had only limited effect, however. Last week Andrew Mitchell, the deputy foreign secretary, cited estimates that 40 percent of the world’s dirty money still passes through London.

Spotlight on Corruption, a non-governmental organisation, wrote in October last year that “major reform is needed to how lawyers and accountants, the property sector and company formation agents are regulated for money laundering.” Lammy may choose to take further action against these and other professionals.

Other so-called enablers include retired politicians, some of them in the House of Lords, who work as advisors to unsavoury actors. Labour could move to tighten disclosure, although several of its senior former members are likely to lobby against further transparency.

It is also possible that Labour will go further in taxing expatriates. In its limited public commitments, the party has promised to clamp down on “tax dodgers”.

Those with property in the UK already pay tax on rental income they receive, and worldwide assets are subject to Britain’s inheritance tax. Some Gulf Arab families with UK property have been caught by inheritance tax.

A government led by Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, could go further, as the US does, in taxing worldwide income of its citizens, more than 200,000 of whom live in the UAE alone. The argument is that if you have the privilege of carrying the passport, you have an obligation to pay tax.

Another question surrounds nationalisation. Labour is committed to re-nationalising the railways for one, although the infrastructure is already under central government control.

But another target may – may – be England’s water supply network, which was privatised in 1989. Shareholders in various of the rump companies include the Qatar Investment Authority and Adia of the UAE.

The water companies have been the subject of a vociferous campaign, for allegedly paying their shareholders high dividends while neglecting maintenance and investment. It is possible that an incoming Labour government will nationalise the industry.

All that said, the primacy of the rule of law and respect for property rights remain strong in Britain.

Barratt, a mass housebuilder, reported earlier this week that London remains the top choice among world cities for UAE investors looking to buy overseas. The holdings of Gulf states and rights of Gulf citizens in the UK remain secure, even with a Labour government.

James Drummond is Editor-in-Chief of the AGBi

Courtesy: The AGBI.Com


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Kuwait’s Political Crisis Adds to Economic Uncertainty

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Kuwait’s latest standoff is deeply concerning for both the near and long term, writes Andrew Cunningham

The decision by Kuwaiti emir Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad to dissolve the country’s recently elected parliament just days before its inaugural session on May 14 presents overseas investors and Kuwaiti citizens with more uncertainty.

The situation raises concerns about the country’s economic prospects over both the short and long term.

Disputes and stand-offs between Kuwait’s emirs and its boisterous parliament are nothing new. Parliament has been dissolved, and the constitution suspended, numerous times over the past 40 years. The country has held four elections in the past four years.

Squabbling between the two sides is rooted in political disagreements and this most recent outbreak is no different.

A major factor behind the latest dissolution is believed to have been parliament’s objection to Sheikh Mishal’s choice of crown prince. Although the crown prince is nominated by the emir, the appointment has to be ratified by the parliament.

But these political, and sometimes personal, disputes have real consequences for Kuwait’s economy and financial system and, ultimately, for the long-term welfare of its citizens.

Kuwait is a prosperous country. If we take a snapshot today, we see it producing nearly 2.5 million barrels of oil per day (bpd), and there are plans under way to increase production capacity to 4 million bpd by 2035.

State foreign reserves are around $930 billion, according to National Bank of Kuwait, the country’s largest bank. With a population of a little over 4 million, its GDP per capita is one of the highest in the world.

Squabbling between the two sides is rooted in political disagreements and this most recent outbreak is no different.

A major factor behind the latest dissolution is believed to have been parliament’s objection to Sheikh Mishal’s choice of crown prince. Although the crown prince is nominated by the emir, the appointment has to be ratified by the parliament.

But these political, and sometimes personal, disputes have real consequences for Kuwait’s economy and financial system and, ultimately, for the long-term welfare of its citizens.

Kuwait is a prosperous country. If we take a snapshot today, we see it producing nearly 2.5 million barrels of oil per day (bpd), and there are plans under way to increase production capacity to 4 million bpd by 2035.

State foreign reserves are around $930 billion, according to National Bank of Kuwait, the country’s largest bank. With a population of a little over 4 million, its GDP per capita is one of the highest in the world.

In March this year, rating agency Fitch described Kuwait’s fiscal and external balance sheets as among the strongest of any of the governments it rates.

But when we look at long-term trends, the picture is more complex and less secure.

Kuwaiti government spending remains overwhelmingly dependent on oil and gas revenues. The government has made almost no progress, over many decades, in diversifying the economy away from oil, or in reducing the huge burden of government salaries and welfare payments.

Oil and gas revenues currently account for nearly 70 percent of total income and, according to IMF projections, will continue to do so for the rest of the decade.

These revenues have served the country well in the past, despite the volatility of oil prices, but such overwhelming dependence looks foolhardy when consumers worldwide are striving to reduce consumption of oil and gas and investors and energy firms have pivoted towards renewables.

Nearly all of the Kuwaiti government’s non-oil and gas revenue arises from overseas investments and from dividends from state-owned companies. Tax revenues account for less than 1 percent of total government income.

Looking beyond the fiscal imperative to diversify the economy is the need to provide employment opportunities for Kuwaiti citizens.

No less than 84 percent of the Kuwaiti workforce was employed by the government at the end of 2022. It is hardly surprising that nearly half of government expenditure is allocated to the salaries of public employees.

Pressure for social spending will increase in the years ahead. A World Bank report, published last year, showed that levels of obesity and Type 2 diabetes were higher in Kuwait than in any of the other GCC countries and nearly double the average in OECD countries.

Partly as a result of this, the World Bank estimated that Kuwait’s old age dependency ratio – the number of people over 65 years old in relation to those of working age – will be nearly double that of its neighbours by 2040.

Kuwait is also a country that is being significantly affected, even today, by climate change. Temperatures during the summer can exceed 50 degrees, making Kuwait one of the hottest places on earth.

These are difficult and complex challenges, both economic and social, but they are hardly unique to Kuwait. That they are, in some cases, more acute in Kuwait than elsewhere is due to decades’ long procrastination and political paralysis.

The government’s General Reserve Fund, which held most of its liquid assets, was entirely depleted in September 2020, according to Kuwait’s own ministry of finance. With AA ratings, the obvious solution was to borrow money – Kuwait’s debt-to-GDP ratio is less than 5 percent. Yet the parliament has still not passed a so-called ‘Liquidity Law‘ that would allow modest issuance of foreign currency debt.

The parliament also held up the introduction of Value Added Tax (VAT), making Kuwait one of two of the six GCC countries not to fulfil a joint commitment to implement a minimum VAT of 5 percent.

Over the past four years, all three of the big international credit rating agencies have downgraded the government of Kuwait.

In their rating reports, all agencies cited a dysfunctional and slow-moving political environment that was reducing the country’s financial flexibility and delaying much needed economic and financial reform.

Politics matters.

It is unrealistic to think that after decades of enmity the ruling family and the parliament will soon form a harmonious working relationship.

But they do need to find some common ground that will enable them to start addressing fundamental economic and social issues while the country still has large financial reserves and strong credit ratings.

Time is running out.

Andrew Cunningham writes and consults on risk and governance in Middle East and sharia-compliant banking systems


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ICD and JSC Ziraat Bank Collaborate to Boost Uzbekistan’s Private Sector

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At the 3rd Tashkent Investment Forum, the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector (ICD) and JSC Ziraat Bank Uzbekistan took a significant step forward in their partnership to empower small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and foster economic growth in Uzbekistan. The forum, held in the capital city of Uzbekistan, brought together key stakeholders from the public and private sectors to discuss investment opportunities and economic development strategies for the region. The collaboration between the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector (ICD) and JSC Ziraat Bank Uzbekistan is aimed at boosting the private sector in Uzbekistan.

During the forum, ICD and JSC Ziraat Bank Uzbekistan formalized an expression of intent to collaborate on various initiatives aimed at supporting SMEs. One of the key elements of this collaboration is the provision of a Line of Financing (LoF) facility by ICD to JSC Ziraat Bank Uzbekistan. This LoF facility will enable the bank to fund private sector projects as an agent of ICD, thereby providing SMEs with access to the necessary capital to initiate and grow their businesses.

The partnership between ICD and JSC Ziraat Bank Uzbekistan is expected to have a significant impact on the SME landscape in Uzbekistan. By equipping entrepreneurs with the resources they need to succeed, this collaboration will not only support the growth of individual businesses but also contribute to the overall economic development of the country. SMEs play a crucial role in driving economic growth, creating jobs, and fostering innovation, and this partnership will help strengthen the SME ecosystem in Uzbekistan.

JSC Ziraat Bank Uzbekistan, as a strategic partner for ICD, brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the table. As a prominent commercial bank with foreign capital, JSC Ziraat Bank Uzbekistan has a strong track record of supporting SMEs and promoting economic development. The bank’s partnership with ICD further underscores its commitment to advancing the private sector in Uzbekistan and its dedication to supporting the country’s economic growth.

ICD, for its part, is a leading multilateral development financial institution that focuses on supporting the economic development of its member countries through the provision of finance and advisory services to private sector enterprises. By partnering with JSC Ziraat Bank Uzbekistan, ICD is furthering its mission of promoting economic development and fostering entrepreneurship in Uzbekistan and across the Islamic world.

The LoF facility provided by ICD to JSC Ziraat Bank Uzbekistan is just one example of the many initiatives that the two entities are undertaking to support SMEs in Uzbekistan. In addition to providing financial support, the partnership between ICD and JSC Ziraat Bank Uzbekistan will also include capacity-building initiatives and technical assistance programs to help SMEs succeed in today’s competitive business environment.

Overall, the partnership between ICD and JSC Ziraat Bank Uzbekistan represents a significant step forward in supporting SMEs and fostering economic growth in Uzbekistan. By working together, these two institutions are helping to create a more vibrant and dynamic private sector in Uzbekistan, which will ultimately benefit the country’s economy and its people. The collaboration between the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector (ICD) and JSC Ziraat Bank Uzbekistan is expected to have a far-reaching impact on the private sector in Uzbekistan.


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