The Indian Ocean Rim Association (Iora) conference, held in Durban on June 17 and 18, presented an opportunity to reconfigure the conference from what has ”largely been a talk shop” to “something that will make sense to business people”, Aspen Pharmacare senior executive Dr Stavros Nicolaou said.
Addressing the issue of private sector perspectives on trade facilitation, he said the multinational, which was founded in South Africa and had a strong footprint within the Indian Ocean Rim, had encountered a number of road blocks and would share “on-the-ground perspectives” that could help member countries “start to do things”.
Aspen generated R42.6-billion in revenue during its 2018 financial year, producing 24-billion tablets at 25 manufacturing facilities. Products sell in 150 countries.
He noted poor business representation at the conference and echoed other speakers’ observations that greater inclusion of the private sector would help realise Iora’s objectives.
“Business is usually intolerant of going to talk shops because there’s a bottom line to be delivered in the office. So, we need to restructure Iora.
“My suggestion is a business council that allows business people to start taking accountability for some of the discussions and also implementing some of the trade investment and commerce deals that need to happen,” he said.
Admitting that, as a member of the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa business council that was already taking “trade, investment and commerce to a different level” he felt conflicted, he said Iora was in a highly competitive space with a number of other trade and investment organisations active within the region.
Philanthropism was out as all countries competed for investment, job creation and trade growth. However, there was still room for countries to complement each other.
“From what I can see, that hasn’t been identified and that’s probably why you are not getting that spark of interest from the business sector,” he said.
Nicolaou identified three areas that needed to be addressed at a high level.
The first was nontariff barriers. “Standards vary across countries and many countries use the issue of standards to prevent trade from taking place. So, if you are going be serious about Iora, you need to unlock where genuine concern around standards exists and where this is being been used as a nontariff barrier for the sake of protectionism.”
The second issue was collaboration and partnership. “Many countries, including South Africa, have a localisation and industrialisation agenda. There has to be some type of preference given.
“If we formalise Iora to the extent where it makes sense to business people, there has to be some preference or some benefit to being part of that club. If, for example, Mauritius has a localisation agenda, we need to see [the complementary areas and] how that can work for a South African company investing there. This cannot be done grudgingly or it is not going to work,” he warned.
On the regulatory side, he said customs cooperation and sustainability were also key.
“There’s a tendency for companies, especially in South East Asia, to invite companies to tender for products but then, three years later, they lose the tender.
“Companies need to know whether a country is serious about driving an Iora agenda or simply cherry picking the best price on the day. That way, there’s no sustainability … You have to have consistency. You can’t have rollercoaster rides where you win a tender for two years and then two years later, you are out of the market. You are not going to go back and invest after that,” he stressed.