International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor, has acknowledged fears that rich countries may “hoard” vaccine stocks and use intellectual property rights to block access by developing countries.
“Vaccine nationalism is a very real threat as it will create supply problems to poorer countries thereby denying their citizens access to life-saving vaccines,” the Minister said.
Addressing the media on Monday, Pandor said the African Union Commission and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are paying close attention to the matter, while also seeking ways of ensuring all countries have access.
“Defeating this virus still requires countries to collaborate and to work with multilateral institutions to ensure that all people access the required health and medical interventions and that they benefit from economic and social measures required for a sustained response to the pandemic,” she said.
The Minister, who briefed the media in Pretoria, was updating the nation on international relations and cooperation highlights in 2020 as well as upcoming events in 2021.
Meanwhile, she said government would continue Africa’s focus on the post-COVID-19 economic recovery.
“In April this year, the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr Antonio Guterres stated that the COVID-19 pandemic would be a humanitarian crisis that would see people ‘suffering, sick and scared’,” the Minister recalled.
Guterres also called for the increased levels of cooperation and solidarity from all nations of the world.
Meanwhile, President Cyril Ramaphosa advocated for international solidarity during the United Nations General Assembly this month, as the pandemic proved that no country could operate from a position of isolation.
“As Chair of the African Union, South Africa initiated a coordinated Africa response that focused on addressing the immediate challenges to the public health systems in Africa and measures to mitigate the economic and humanitarian crisis,” she said.
“This included establishing a COVID-19 Response Fund and launching an African Medical Supplies Platform to ensure all countries have access to the necessary equipment and supplies.”
Meanwhile, the African Union (AU) has also developed a vaccine strategy for the continent.
The established COVID-19 African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), in support of the Africa Vaccine Strategy, is tasked with ensuring that vaccines are available for Africans.
“Building on the call made by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the African Union has also called for a comprehensive economic stimulus package for Africa and the suspension of interest payments on Africa’s external and public debt.”
Pandor has reiterated South Africa’s interests in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the rest of the continent.
“We require and want an African continent that is peaceful, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist, united, and prosperous,” she said, adding that much work still needs to be done to achieve this vision.
She also raised concerns about people who still live in areas infested by instability, violence and conflict, citing Libya, the Sahel, Cabo Delgado in Mozambique, South Sudan and the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Pandor also spoke about the recent developments in Western Sahara, in which the United States’s recognition of Morocco goes against international law and the African Union’s Constitutive Act.
“These developments may fuel hostilities between Morocco and the Sahrawi. Silencing the guns in these situations requires dealing with the root causes of conflicts, which invariably includes governance deficits, human rights abuses and contestation over resources.
“The recent AU Summit agreed that the role of foreign interests in the conflicts needs greater attention,” she said.
Pandor said Asia has managed to limit the economic harm that has affected most other regions because of measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Pandor, Asia is projected to have the strongest regional rebound projected at 8% growth in 2021 according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“This is good for continuing the robust trade and investment that South Africa enjoys with countries in the region.”
She said total two-way trade with Asia and the Middle East including Oceania breached the important milestone of R1 trillion, for the first time, in 2019.
“With South Africa having recently acceded to the Treaty of Amity with ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations], we anticipate increased opportunities for further collaboration with the key Indo-Pacific regional actors; this provides a strategic platform for enhanced trade and economic initiatives with a wider range of Asian partners.”
Forging strong relations
Meanwhile, South Africa has also continued to enjoy strong and mutually beneficial relations with countries in Europe, South America and North America.
She said government has strong cultural, social and economic ties with all countries including Latin America and the Caribbean.
“We are concerned though that Cuba and Venezuela remain severely affected by unilateral sanctions outside of the legalities provided for sanctions by the United Nations Charter.”
The United States remains a strategic trade and investment partner with partnerships in critical areas such as health, education, transport, environment, science and technology and energy, with exports of goods and services.
Pandor said the income from US investments in South Africa amounts to US$ 412 billion per annum.
The country also enjoys cordial relations with Canada, while the nation has mature and excellent relations with the Nordic countries.
She said this is based on mutual respect, human rights, dialogue, consultation and cooperation, with a strong emphasis on supporting South Africa’s drive to greater autonomy.
Meanwhile, the country has good cooperation with Russia as a strategic partner bilaterally and within formations such as Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS) and the UN amongst other multilateral fora.
“The country is South Africa’s 4th largest trading partner in BRICS,” she added.
Other countries in the Central and Eastern Europe region demonstrate great potential for expansion in trade and economic relations with South Africa and government intends to explore these further in 2021.
“The countries of Western Europe remain critical for South Africa’s economic development. These countries include some of our major foreign investors, largest trading partners and sources of tourism. Some 2 000 European companies represented in South Africa are also a major source of employment and skills development.”
The European Union (EU), remains the largest economic bloc in the world, accounting for 25% of global GDP and about 20% of global trade.
She said the EU is South Africa’s largest and leading trading partner as a bloc with a total trade which has increased from R150 billion in 2000 to R693 billion in 2019.
“Despite that, there remains a declining trade deficit, and an ongoing negative trade balance, exports to the EU have increased steadily over the years, growing from R64 billion in 2000 to R319 billion in 2019,” she said.