Trade relations between T&T and South Africa look promising
BY MARSHA MOKOOL
The establishment of a South African High Commission in T&T will help enhance trade relations between the two countries.
This was the view expressed by the Charge D’ Affaires of the new South African High Commission of T&T Roy Setlhapelo.
Setlhapelo and first secretary, corporate services of the High Commission, Elizabeth Erasmus arrived in Trinidad on December 16 to set up a high commission.
The foreign delegates have since set up a temporary office on the second floor of the Victoria Park Suites at Victoria Square, Park Street, Port-of-Spain.
However, the high commission is not yet in full operation.
In an interview on May 17 at the Guardian office, Setlhapelo noted there has not been much by way of diplomatic relations between South Africa and T&T.
As a consequence, he said, there has been very minimal trade between the countries.
He attributed this to the apartheid system, which ended in 1994.
Apartheid was an official policy of racial segregation involving political, legal, and economic discrimination against non-whites.
Prior to 1994, Setlhapelo said, “The Caribbean islands and many members of the United Nations had decided not to have relations with apartheid South Africa.” But they had relations with anti-apartheid institutions in South Africa.
Another ill effect stemming from this is that “T&T has not been influenced in any way by the South African culture.”
But he hopes this will soon change.
“We both come from painful histories and we can relate a lot on that aspect,” said Setlhapelo.
Background on Setlhapelo
Setlhapelo has been a member of the African National Congress (ANC) since 1976.
The ANC is a South African political party and black nationalist organisation. Founded in 1912, its main goal was to unite all South Africans.
From the 1940s the ANC spearheaded the fight to eliminate apartheid.
Setlhapelo, who played a crucial role in this fight, lived in exile from 1976 to 1992 in an attempt to fulfil the goals of the Congress.
“We wanted to create one South Africa which does not discriminate on the basis of race, gender or creed.
“I have always subscribed to the goals and missions of the Congress,” he said.
Expansion of missions
South Africa has been increasing its missions internationally since apartheid ended and is now in the process of setting up five more high commissions.
South Africa has more than 100 embassies, high commissions and counsel generals worldwide.
(High commissions are diplomatic missions to members of the Commonwealth, while embassies are set up in countries outside of the Commonwealth.)
In 2005, the first team of the South African Government came to T&T to analyse the situation and evaluate the prospects of accommodation and other factors, including the exchange rate and voltage.
The Advanced Team then made a recommendation on how to establish offices here.
Setlhapelo indicated that the establishment of a high commission is not an overnight process.
He cited a number of reasons for the delay of a fully-functioning South African High Commission.
For one thing, the temporary office where they are now located is too small.
“There is no way we can convert it to the way we want it,” said Setlhapelo.
He expects that the South African High Commission will be relocated to a permanent location within the next two to three months.
The staff of the commission presently comprises only Setlhapelo and Erasmus.
The rest of the foreign contingent has yet to arrive in the country, he indicated.
Setlhapelo said they are also in the process of recruiting five locals to work in the commission.T&T High Commission in South Africa
In April 2004, the T&T Government opened a high commission in South Africa. It has helped South Africans get T&T visas so far.
But we are yet to reap the same benefits.
“It is more difficult for T&T nationals to get a visa to travel to South Africa because they still have to go through the high commission in Kingston,” he noted.
He said this will change once the South African High Commission is in full swing.
“Both countries are in the process of negotiating a visa regime to waive the visa on certain passports,” he said.
There are three types of passports; normal, diplomatic and official.
He also noted that negotiations have been underway to fly direct from South Africa to T&T, without having to go through London.Trade relations
Setlhapelo expressed hope that T&T and South Africa would be able to improve trade relations by the high commission’s presence.
“We will be able to identify sectors in the T&T economy and advise our South African importers,” he said.
“We will be identifying particular markets for competitive South African products and we will be identifying products in T&T for South African importers.
“We will be facilitating invitations for South African business delegations to visit T&T and meet with counterparts, stakeholders.
“We will also be identifying ways of transport and shipping of goods, either by air or sea,” he said.
He said South Africa would be participating in the Trade and Investment convention in T&T next year to encourage our exporters and companies to participate in trade fairs and expositions in South Africa.
“This will promote cultural co-operation to help both peoples to get to know each other in promoting business relations,” he said.
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