Despite the current economic climate in South Africa and the global downturn in mining, owing to low commodity prices, South Africa and Australia will continue to build their reciprocal trade relationship, says law firm ENSafrica.
“South Africa is Australia’s biggest trading partner on the African continent and Australia has more mining projects in Africa than anywhere else in the world,” ENSafrica mining director Lloyd Christie tells Mining Weekly.
He adds that Australia looks westward for investment opportunities and recognises South Africa as its port of entry into Africa and the Southern African Development Community, which includes 15 African countries. “Australia continues to build on a constructive and mutually beneficial business relationship with South Africa.”
South Africa and Australia have similar legal systems, business cultures and practices, as well as accounting practices; and both countries are also well endowed with mineral resources and technical expertise, says Christie.
These common traits make it easy to facilitate trade and, with the two countries forming the Australia–South Africa Joint Ministerial Commission in 1997, collaboration has increased ever since, he elaborates.
To aid continued collaboration, the Australia–Africa Minerals and Energy Group was established in 2010 to facilitate active engagements between the continents’ mineral resources industries.
Christie points out that, according to employers organisation the Australian Industry Group, there has been a 10% yearly average increase in trade between South Africa and Australia in the past five years.
“This serves as motivation to reinforce the relationship with Australian counterparts and continue attending events that facilitate trade.”
Therefore, ENSafrica will attend the annual Africa Down Under conference for the second time from September 6 to 8 in Perth, Western Australia, to interact and network with clients and investors, and learn about the latest developments in mining in Australia and Africa.
Further, Christie says legal certainty, which is an issue in some African countries, is often a consideration for investors, especially foreign investors such as Australia, when deciding to enter new markets.
“Africa’s labour unrest and factious industrial relations might also scare off mining investors. But, with the global mining industry having to endure depressed commodities markets for many years, volatility is a natural consequence in any mining jurisdiction.”
He adds that declining commodity prices and profit margins can, ultimately, put strain on employee circumstances, as companies threaten retrenchment and are unable to increase wages. This is not unique to Africa, and is typically not an environment conducive to investment.
Regardless, there are still indicators of continued interest and investment in South Africa and other African countries, says Christie.
ENSafrica mining director Ntsiki-Adonisi Kgame says Australian mining companies still remain significant employers in Africa, which also encourages innovation and skills transfer between the involved countries.
“We’ve seen skills migration from South Africa to Australia, especially in terms of deep-level mining expertise. Australia has recognised South Africa’s proficiency in this regard and has benefited from that skills transfer.”
ENSafrica plays a significant role in representing South African and Australian mining entities – such as diversified miners BHP Billiton and South32 – when navigating mergers, legislation and general trade issues regarding mineral resources.