The Southern African–German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SAGCC) opened a new regional branch in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) earlier this month to provide direct contact to member companies operating in the region. It will facilitate German presence in the province and support Southern African commerce initiatives moving into a German realm.
“We are aligning ourselves with the second-strongest provincial economy in South Africa,” says SAGCC trade fairs department head Carryn Todd. The new branch will offer the same services as the SAGCC’s Cape Town and Johannesburg offices, including legal advice, translation services, address searches and feasibility studies on behalf of the chamber’s members.
The SAGCC has appointed Yvonne Iyer to represent the new branch. Iyer is a KZN local, who grew up in the region, to represent the new branch.
Todd says that, in the past, the chamber had perhaps been perceived as a German governmental department exclusively repre- senting the interests of German companies, but assures Engineering News that it has Southern Africa’s best interests at heart.
“The chamber continues to foster the needs of Southern African commerce initiatives and offers bilateral trade networks within Southern Africa and Germany for all Southern African businesses to access, for the benefit of their trade activities.
“The aim of setting up a new branch is to ensure that each region in South Africa has the opportunity to benefit from sector- and region-specific interests from Germany,” she says, adding that this fulfils the terms of the chamber’s mandate to support small, medium-sized and microenterprises (SMMEs), specifically in the Southern African region.
The Scramble for Africa
Global interest in Africa is profound at the moment, which is another driver behind the launch of the KZN SAGCC, says Todd. She believes that South Africa’s inclusion in the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, or Brics, grouping could have been influenced by the country’s status as an entry point to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region and ultimately, Africa, which has a collective gross domestic product of nearly $2-trillion.
“We are taking note of the Deutscher Aktien Index-30 companies that consider penetrating Africa as the last remaining omission from their global network,” says Todd. “They have penetrated South America and the Middle East but, because Africa is such a strong emerging economy, they would now like to tap into Africa.”
In response to the growing interest in Southern Africa and meeting SAGCC members’ demand to connect with business regions that hold the greatest potential revenue, the chamber has initiated an individually tailored 18-month African exposure strategy for its exhibitors.
The chamber has joined forces with non-profit organisation Africa Exchange to host monthly business commerce luncheons for companies interested in doing business in the SADC region.
This year, the SAGCC sent two delegations from Germany to Mozambique, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and will host a business luncheon at the chamber with the Mozambique embassy, later this month.
These events will shed light on what needs to be done in terms of business in the region with regard to the commercial terms and the process of establishing a venture, discussing the medium-term programmes of the country and what particular sectors are in focus, from agriculture, information and communications technology, to infrastructure, water and sanitation, and mining and mine-shaft rehabilitation.
The itineraries for each SADC business luncheon, held monthly at the chamber, are country-specific and in line with each country’s key performance indicators from the medium-term programmes issued by its government. “We all know that time is precious, so we’re trying to ensure that our information distribution is linked to the yearly medium-term reports issued by the different countries,” says Todd.
She also stresses that the SAGCC aims to ensure that the information sources it distributes emanate directly from the rele- vant embassies and regional investment promotion agencies.
The chamber looks at case studies of member companies that have started up businesses in countries of interest. This gives the chamber the opportunity to converse with the ambassadors or embassy representatives regarding administrative issues such as visa applications, work permits, concessions, subsidies, tax regimes and the various processes of setting up a company in any particular region, says Todd.
“We are trying to do away with the boundaries between SADC countries to facilitate smooth and enhanced business networking opportunities and share information with accurate and reliable sources,” she adds.
Todd tells Engineering News that there are many success stories of positive connections made within countries in the SADC region, citing the relationships between Botswana, Mozambique, Angola, Namibia and Zambia as some examples.
She says communication is currently free-flowing, which creates a trade connection between the abovementioned countries. “A very good relationship exists and for us [SAGCC], it is important to know which countries are networking,” says Todd.
She adds that the chamber is looking into forging the contacts and mentions that where a business enters one region, it is likely that it would enter into a second, or even third, spin-off benefit, if managed correctly.
The SADC region is gaining strength in the handcraft and textile sector, which has become very competitive in European markets, says Todd. “We are seriously considering a bilateral mandate between Germany and Southern Africa to gather the strong handcraft and textile industry in the SADC region, and introduce young entrepreneurs and SMMEs to the European markets through German trade fairs.
“Trade fairs are a great opportunity to profile the strength of the Southern African textile industry on European platforms,” says Todd.
The SAGCC works closely with South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to identify potential trade exhibitors in Southern Africa and link them with a trade show in the SADC region or in Germany. The DTI funds the exhibitors’ participation.
“Historically, the DTI supports disadvantaged SMMEs in South Africa,” says Todd, noting that South Africa is the only country in the world that fully funds an exhibitor as it steps onto the European platform.
“The DTI offers full or partial fiscal responsibility for exhibitors’ costs, such as travel expenses, shipping fees, stand costs, stand construction, print material and media packages from the German Trade Fairs department represented in each region on a case by case basis.”
In collaboration with the DTI’s support, the SAGCC facilitates business-to-business connections once the exhibitor is in Germany, scheduling buyers’ meetings and networking opportunities with potential decision-makers in the region.
“Our job is to network with our trade fair organiser contacts and to offer as much support as possible to ensure a profitable experience for the DTI-funded and privately funded exhibitors,” says Todd.
The SAGCC recognises the global interest in Africa. “We are aware of anxiety among SMMEs and young entrepreneurs, which is preventing them from tapping into the range of opportunities that exist within the SADC region,” says Todd.
The chamber aims to reduce anxiety through knowledge and education, prepared- ness and carefully organised itineraries at the SADC and German trade fairs.
“We are trying to drop the metaphorical trade borders between regional countries and encourage communication and networking, open-door policies and information-sharing so that it’s not as intimidating for SMMEs to progress beyond the borders of South Africa.”
Todd believes that because Southern Africa is a developing economy, it requires on-the-ground networks to pursue business connections in other parts of the world, which is why the chamber actively supports member companies attending African trade shows.
“The SAGCC is the largest chamber of commerce in sub-Saharan Africa and the fact that we represent the strongest economy in Europe is a significant benefit to us,” says Todd. “This makes it possible for us to continue building relationships with ambassadors [from SADC countries] because we have proven our loyalty to the region.”
This year marks the chamber’s sixtieth anniversary in Southern Africa.