Dialogue Discussion on SA’s Foreign Policy in relation to its Economic Diplomacy

In a recent online dialogue discussion session, held on 23 May 2022, the In Transformation Initiative (ITI) and invited participants from the spheres of the public and private sectors, foreign affairs, policymakers and members of civil society to engage in discussion on a number of recent developments in the realm of foreign affairs in South Africa.

ITI in collaboration with the Hanss Seidel Foundation (HSF), the Kgalema Motlanthe Foundation (KFM) and the Gordon Institute for Business Science (GIBS), hosted a well-attended high-level Dialogue to explore to what extent South Africa’s Economic Diplomacy is being successfully implemented and the impact thereof.

The dialogues session was conducted online via the Zoom meetings platform, under Chatham House Rules. The session was convened and chaired by Prof Nick Binedell, founder of the Gordon Institute for Business Science (GIBS) and convened by Ambassador Geoff Doidge, Diplomat, Former Minister of Public Works and Former High Commissioner to Sri Lanka.

The objective of the dialogue series has been to create a space where high-level interactions and dialogue can take place on sensitive topics of national importance. The main topics under discussion in this session focussed on South Africa’s Foreign Policy in relation to its Economic Diplomacy, Economic Cooperation, Constitutional values and related themes.

The panel for the discussion was constituted as follows: 

  • Professor/Ambassador Anil Sooklal – Former Ambassador and DDG DIRCO 

Focus Topic: High-level overview of Government’s policies: Foreign Policy, South Africa’s National Interest and Economic Diplomacy (role of SA Embassies abroad). What have we not done so well? Proposals for raising the bar in boosting SA’s Economic interests in particular.

  • Aditi Lalbahadur – SAIIA/Crisis Action 

Focus Topic: Impact of South Africa’s Foreign Policy in respect of the African Agenda being an enabler for promoting SA’s role in International Relations/SA’s Economic interest, and in supporting and improving relations with the EU/African countries and globally, including a more visible role in Human Rights and Peacekeeping initiatives on the continent and globally. What are Government’s achievements and what can be improved upon? 

  • Lebogang Zulu- Business Woman 

Focus Topic: South Africa’s Foreign Policy in respect of economic cooperation (Economic Diplomacy) and its impact on the women’s business sector in SA and Africa. To what degree Is the current policy enabling or inhibiting and what could be improved upon to expand opportunities for the women’s business sector? 

  • Peter Fabricius- Foreign Policy Analyst  

Focus Topic: South Africa’s pursuit towards a foreign policy fit for economic growth and prosperity, towards SA Incorporated.

All presenters are experts in their sectors and added much value to the dialogues. The outcome of the dialogue session was both informative and raised debates around several critical areas of our Foreign Policy.

Presenters reflected on the National Development Plan, the Report of the Ministerial Review Panel on SA’s Foreign Policy as well as various recommendations authored by Ambassador Gert Grobler. Moreover, a publication by Mr Peter Fabricius’ “A Fit for purpose Foreign Policy: Integrating Investment, Growth and Diplomacy” was also discussed, which highlighted South Africa’s National Interest and Economic Diplomacy as an integral part of our overall Foreign Policy.

The dialogue explored the shortcomings and the extent of how well-equipped our diplomats and missions are. The discussion created awareness of the opportunities that currently exist and highlighted elements that could bring about much-needed prospects for collaboration between government and business. The aim would be for these sectors to join forces and work with our diplomats abroad to explore networking, trade and investments opportunities which are the mandates of both the Departments of International Relations and Cooperation as well as the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition incorporating InvestSA and Export SA, with an objective to create employment, grow the economy and bring in much needed foreign direct investment.

Little is known of this critical policy that is spearheaded by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation and the Department of Trade, Industry, and Competition, which is implemented by South Africa’s Diplomatic Missions or better known as South Africa’s Embassies abroad. Diplomats are required to undergo specialised training to equip them with the skills and techniques required to promote exports from South Africa and to garner information related to SA’s Foreign Direct Investment requirements, with the objective of promoting South Africa as a competitive and viable investment destination.

Whilst significant trade and investments have been achieved, Ambassador Gert Grobler reminds us that: “South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation recognises that it needs to focus more on economic diplomacy, including upskilling its diplomas to promote trade and investment. This work needs to go further if South Africa is to pursue a foreign policy fit for economic growth and prosperity. There is a broad consensus that it needs to better coordinate the different elements – including business – which have a role to play in economic diplomacy, broadly defined.”

It is clear from the presentations and discussions that it is still early days for South Africa and as our missions gain momentum we have noted that some missions have been very successful in the sector of foreign direct investment as well as, expanding into foreign markets not previously explored and some in which we formerly had no access to.

Dialogue Discussion on SA’s Foreign Policy in relation to its Economic Diplomacy
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