SA export industry remains resilient

Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

While several industries have been hit by the drought and economic downturn, some in the citrus, automotive and wool sectors had a good trade year in 2019.

Exporters in the Eastern Cape have experienced growth in the agricultural and automotive sectors.

Panellists at the Exporters Eastern Cape Export Growth Panel Discussion on Wednesday in Nelson Mandela Bay spoke with optimism and all agreed 2019 had been a good year for the country’s trade balance.

Thomas Schaefer, MD of Volkswagen Group SA (VWSA), said the company had achieved its best year since 1951.

“VWSA had the best year of its existence, really.

“In terms of production numbers, the highest number we ever produced was achieved.

“We also achieved amazing market share — I think it’s the third-highest market share ever achieved in the country, so we are very happy.”

He said they were pushing further in the current year with opportunities in Africa and that many African countries were ahead of SA in terms of infrastructure and political will.

In 2016, VWSA opened a new assembly plant in Kenya and a small-scale vehicle assembly plant in Rwanda.

Meanwhile, despite the crippling drought, the SA fruit industry had also grown in leaps and bounds in the last decade, Hannes De Waal, MD of Sundays River Citrus Company, said.

He said new markets had opened up in Asia and Eastern Europe.

“In 2009, the SA citrus industry exported 85m cartons. Now we are on 130m and if it wasn’t for the drought, we would have been on a 150m cartons.”

De Waal said the industry had not yet been significantly affected by the coronavirus; however, rather than panicking, most industries were asking suppliers to do risk assessments.

Paul Lynch, director of the SA Wool & Mohair Buyers’ Association (Sawamba), said the virus had also not greatly  affected the wool industry despite its biggest markets being in the east.

“Between 75-80% of SA’s wool gets exported to China and we are still waiting to see if prices will drop.

“At the moment, however, there is rather an increase in the price of wool.

“We are also fortunate that there are other markets that can absorb our wool, including the Czech Republic,” Lynch said.

Lauren Goddard, regional country sales manager of Expediters International, said shipments continued to flow in and out of the harbours despite the virus, and many factories were starting up again in China.