South Africa is the lynchpin economy of the whole African continent, accounting for 40% of all industrial output and a quarter of GDP.
Although the Department of Enterprise Trade & Investment (DETI) does not have specific figures for South Africa, DETI’s latest manufacturing exports survey shows Africa with £185.5m sales is the fourth biggest export market, outside the EU, for Northern Ireland firms.
South Africa is also a country that continues to undergo considerable economic and social development, with major public and private sector investment programmes in areas such as energy, construction, mining, sport and leisure and financial services offering opportunities for ambitious local companies with an export focus.
Much of this activity results from a 10-year capital expenditure initiative by the South African government worth around £56bn. Almost half of this amount is to be invested in power generation infrastructure by the state-owned energy monopoly, creating significant demand for a range of engineering and control services.
A number of Northern Ireland companies have already experienced success in the South African market.
Local quarrying and mining machinery manufacturers Sandvik and Terex Finlay supply equipment for the country’s extractive industries and various quarrying operations. South Africa’s success in securing the 2010 FIFA World Cup has proven a catalyst for significant progress and development in many areas.
In the short term this is giving rise to demand for expertise in security and crowd safety whilst many opportunities still exist in infrastructure development.
With 10 host stadia in nine cities right across the country, legacy considerations also feature strongly.
Long term openings are available for the operation and maintenance of stadia and training facilities as South Africa seeks to regenerate disadvantaged areas and position itself as a venue for future global sporting events.
Cookstown company FSL Electronics has already tapped into that opportunity providing scoreboards for one of the World Cup stadia and for a number of cricket and rugby grounds around the country.
Invest Northern Ireland’s director of trade, Dr Vicky Kell said: “South Africa is the powerhouse economy of the African continent and with its continuing development and the associated demand for high quality products and services, it represents a significant potential export market for Northern Ireland companies.”
Invest NI is keen to help even more local businesses tap into the opportunities available in this burgeoning market.
There will be a trade mission to South Africa from October 31 — November 10 that will visit the major economic cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.
Dr Kell added: “Invest NI’s mission to the country in November will give participating companies access to top executives with real buying power in a range of industries.
“These meetings offer a valuable entry point to the South African economy and could lay the foundations of future business deals.”.
Agriculture accounts for significant import and export business in South Africa, especially wine, fruit and vegetables and technology is increasingly being used to boost efficiency and profitability.
With English the primary business language and transparency, corporate governance and accountability all central to business culture, it is clear that South Africa represents a strong potential export market for Northern Ireland companies.
The country’s position as the primary African economy also means that it is an excellent springboard to other markets in the continent.
The rapid development in many sectors is accelerating the growth of the country’s financial services industry, with the South African Rand now one of the most actively traded emerging market currencies around the world.
Despite the global economic difficulties, South Africa remains an emerging market that presents many opportunities.
Northern Ireland companies, delivering high quality products and services, are well placed to benefit and boost their export potential.