South African chamber arrange showcase to boost trade
By Paola Iuspa
In an effort to boost trade between regions, a delegation of entrepreneurs from South Africa meets next week with counterparts in the Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa Bay areas.
About 12 business representatives, brought together by the Cape Chamber of Commerce & Industry in Cape Town, plan to show Floridians what they have to offer, said Bryant Salter, director of the African Trade Expansion program with Enterprise Florida, a private and public partnership in charge of promoting trade and business development in the state.
He said his office in Johannesburg helped Cape Chamber's directors get in touch with local chamber officers.
Products to be showcased include hair-care and beauty products, waterproof paint, wine, juices, tea, apparel, textiles, sailboats and household items, said Leslie Herren, international trade coordinator for the Miami-Dade Mayor's Trade Mission Center of the Americas. She said the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, the Port of Miami and her group are sponsoring a roundtable and business card exchange for the African delegation at 8:30 p.m. Oct. 9 in the Renaissance Hotel, formerly the Omni, 1601 Biscayne Blvd.
More than a year after Congress passed the 2000 Growth & Opportunity Act, partially removing trade barriers on products originating in sub-Saharan nations, interest in inbound trade missions from Southern Africa seems to be on the rise, Mr. Salter said.
"We are striking a balance," he said, "which is important because the 2000 African Growth & Opportunity Act seeks to expand two-way trade. We are trying to develop a relationship that equally promotes imports and exports."
But despite help from the trade act, activity between Florida and South Africa went down to $127 million in 2000, from $300 million in 1998, according to Enterprise Florida.
Anthony Okonmah, executive director of the Foundation for Democracy in Africa at St. Thomas University, said trade between the two regions dropped for many reasons. He said political instability in Zimbabwe and neighboring nations affected South African trade statistics because shipments bound to unstable regions would go in and out of South African ports.
Mr. Okonmah, also co-chairman of the Miami-Dade Mayor's African Trade Task Force, said HIV, the virus that can lead to AIDS, is another destabilizing factor that affects the economy.
"A lot of people are going to die, reducing the human capital," he said. "The human capital is the bottom line, the ones who buy your products. Without them, you have a weak trade formula."
Democracy fosters trade, he said. Trying to build on that, Mr. Okonmah said, his foundation is playing host to a two-week seminar this month for the equivalent of US city mayors and commissioners in Nigeria.
With one of the highest purchasing power in the sub-Saharan region, Nigeria is Florida's major strategic partner on the African continent, he said.
The seminar, Mr. Okonmah said, would focus on principles of democracy, human rights, democratic elections, ethics and transparency in government.
"We need to empower grass-roots governments so they get their people involved in the development of democracy," he said. " Most democracies in Africa are top, top heavy. That is not good for their economy. Democracy helps the creation of a middle class, which pays taxes and consumes."
Angela Simon, chairwoman of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce's African committee, said some of next week's delegation is small business owners interested in learning how to operate under the new act in order to sell merchandise in the US.
Officials from South Africa's port authority visited Florida in August to try to tighten relations with local authorities, Mr. Salter said. A group from the northern provinces of South Africa met last week with local entrepreneurs while another group is heading this way in late November, he said.
Other trips have taken Miami-Dade groups to South Africa. Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas headed a trade mission there in spring 2000 and a second in mid-July, Mr. Slater said. Enterprise Florida led another one in February.
"Each of those missions continued to reaffirm the idea of doing business with South Florida," he said.
Anton Hendler, president of the South Africa-USA Chamber of Commerce in Fort Lauderdale, said many of his 160 members think there is a large and untapped market in Africa.
"There is a general appeal for US goods in South Africa," he said. "They have a fascination for anything that represents the US. American movies are in high demand. African handmade goods, specially artwork, are some of the African products in demand in the US."
Mr. Hendler's group, with others, plans a reception for the delegation Oct. 9 at the Sheraton Biscayne Bay, 495 Brickell Ave.
Details: Miami-Dade Mayor's Trade Mission Center of the Americas (305) 375-3526, South Africa-USA Chamber of Commerce, (954) 333-7770.