Feb 03, 2012
Is South African industry globally competitive?Back
© Reuse this
One lasting impression is that South African industry is tied into an enormous battle to be globally competitive. This view appears to be quite representative across a broad section of industries.
Severe challenges posed by imports, primarily (but not exclusively) from the Far East, are a reality. Our market is just another target market for companies producing enormous volumes and the extent of government subsidisation and support in some of these countries poses a real threat to local industry.
Against this backdrop, one would expect more frequent and more focused applica- tions for protection in the form of antidumping and countervailing duties. Yet many industries are just too fragmented to orchestrate a focused approach when applying for protection. At least, remedies are available to deal with dumped or subsidised imports and better communi- cation within industries can go a long way to ensuring that these remedies are properly exploited.
Of greater concern is the real possibility that our industries are just not competitive, even in a fair trade environment.
Our history entails a legacy of protection and a focus on being self-sufficient, stemming from the sanctions era. While we developed world-class technologies in areas ranging from defence to the chemicals industry and agriculture, very few of our major inventions and technological advances made it into the global arena in a big way.
In addition, our primary industries con- sist of only a handful of players established in an era where ‘sanction busting’ was the way to get into global markets. Many of these cornerstone industries are the ones most often applying for additional protection against imports.
Our most commonly recognised big indus- try that finds itself integrated into global supply chains is the automotive industry and this seems to be possible mainly as a result of substantial government support. While this may sound rather damning, it provides enormous insight. Most governments around the world support big industry in one way or another. Should our government not have more industry-focused programmes at the scale of the automotive industry programme?
With an enormous need for job creation, the current focus on support for small, medium-size and microenterprises (SMME) is both commendable and necessary. SMMEs are, however, exposed to global trends and unfair trade practices, with limited ability to withstand the rigours of the international market. While building an economy primarily on SMMEs may assist in job creation and provide greater social stability, it does little to integrate our industries into global supply chains, where production takes place with the benefit of real economies of scale.
To develop a globally competitive export industry, a substantial local market is often required. Even with the size of our population, our spending power on more than the most basic items is limited. For many industries, the benefit of having a significant local industry as a springboard just does not exist.
The common strategy of always seeing Africa as a primary market to develop that springboard into the global market is also flawed as most African markets are already importing at globally competitive prices, and obtaining market penetration is a lot more difficult than originally thought.
It should be clear that the stumbling blocks to South Africa becoming a global player are not only a lack of skills and perceived high electricity costs – the truth is we are behind the curve on global industrial development and challenges like skills shortages and a volatile currency are just secondary hurdles.
There appears to be only one answer – government and industry need to replicate what has been achieved in the automotive sector for other key industrial sectors, and this needs to be done with the same urgency and in parallel with the development of SMMEs.
Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu© Reuse this Comment Guidelines (150 word limit)
Other Pieter du Plessis & Donald Mackay News
Recent Research Reports
Steel 2015: A review of South Africa's steel sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Steel 2015 report provides an overview of the key developments in the global steel industry and particularly of South Africa’s steel sector over the past year, including details of production and consumption, as well as the country's primary carbon...
Projects in Progress 2015 - First Edition (PDF Report)
In fact, this edition of Creamer Media’s Projects in Progress 2015 supplement tracks developments taking place under the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme, which has had four bidding rounds. It appears to remain a shining light on the...
Electricity 2015: A review of South Africa's electricity sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Electricity 2015 report provides an overview of State-owned power utility Eskom and independent power producers, as well as electricity planning, transmission, distribution and the theft thereof, besides other issues.
Construction 2015: A review of South Africa’s construction sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Construction 2015 Report examines South Africa’s construction industry over the past 12 months. The report provides insight into the business environment; the key participants in the sector; local construction demand; geographic diversification;...
Liquid Fuels 2014 - A review of South Africa's Liquid Fuels sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Liquid Fuels 2014 Report examines these issues, focusing on the business environment, oil and gas exploration, the country’s feedstock supplies, the development of South Africa’s biofuels industry, fuel pricing, competition in the sector, the...
Water 2014: A review of South Africa's water sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Water 2014 report considers the aforementioned issues, not only in the South African context, but also in the African and global context, and examines the issues of water and sanitation, water quality and the demand for water, among others.
This Week's Magazine
Today’s organisations execute projects within increasingly complex environments – particularly in the engineering sector. The ability to successfully execute these projects is what drives the realisation of successful projects and, ultimately, the achievement of...
South Africa’s distribution grid is a twentieth-century relic, which must be changed to serve the country’s modern electricity needs, says South African National Energy Development Institute (Sanedi) Smart Grid Programme manager Dr Minnesh Bipath. “What we are...
There is a disparity in government funding provided to integrated transport networks – bus rapid transit (BRT) networks ¬¬– and that given to conventional bus services, says Putco executive director Thys Heyns. “We have neglected and strangled conventional bus...
The Johannesburg Social Housing Company (Joshco) is building 502 rental housing units, valued at R200-million, in Dobsonville, Soweto, which are scheduled for completion in June 2016.
Automotive component manufacturer and distributor Metair is centralising its research and development (R&D) work in Turkey, in an attempt to bolster the company’s ability to produce affordable start/stop batteries. The new R&D centre is part of an expansion plan in...