I was in two minds when I read reports today about an insistence that South African chicken must be clearly labeled so that consumers can know they are buying the local stuff and not something that has been imported. While I tend to support the sentiment that we must do all we can to support local businesses, I also believe in free and fair trade (even if it is not yet a reality). And I am sure than many South Africans are more concerned about price than origin when buying chicken.
However, there is certainly potential to boost local content and to promote local goods where possible and viable. We have seen several ministers, including President Zuma, stress the importance of securing more locally-made components for the vehicles which are assembled in South Africa, supported by billions of rand in state subsidies. As government plans the successor auto incentive scheme, which will run from 2020, the auto giants should be aware that there is frustration that they are not doing enough to source from local component suppliers, and that penalties may be incurred in future if they do too little.
I was interested when retailer Verimark gave a presentation to analysts at which it said that it, too, hopes to procure more from local producers. Surely we should now start seeing a better dialogue between companies like Verimark – which appears to get most of its stuff from China – and local manufacturers? Of course, there are some products which the Chinese will always be able to make more cheaply. But how about we bring in the innovators and entrepreneurs and start devising the sort of smart gadgets which Verimark markets, and then producing them from a local base?
With the weak rand, Verimark is trying harder to secure more sales outside South Africa, so any initiative to produce more here would not only reduce imports but could also boost exports as well.
We need innovation, imagination, better dialogue and a strong commitment to reviving South Africa’s manufacturing sector. Tinkering with the labelling on packs of chicken isn’t going to help much.
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