SA, France commit to strengthening relations

President Cyril Ramaphosa and his French counterpart, President Emmanuel Macron, have committed to strengthening relations between the two nations following bilateral talks at the Union Buildings on Friday.  

President Ramaphosa, who hosted President Macron for a State Visit in Tshwane, said discussions spanned over a number of issues, including the COVID-19 response, climate change, global peace and security, and their relationship.

“It is on COVID-19 that we’re feeling France’s keen support and solidary, in that they’re prepared to take the lead in advocating Africa’s case. President Macron would like to see the whole continent succeed,” he said.

It is for this reason, he said, that South Africa was willing to cooperate with France on a number of forums on multilateral levels around the world.

South Africa and France have a shared interest in ensuring that multilateral efforts are effective in ending the pandemic, resuming international travel and commerce, accelerating economic recovery and strengthening public health systems.

“This pandemic has shown that disasters of this scale respect no borders and that no one is safe until all of us are safe.

“It is for this reason that we must accelerate our collective efforts to ensure that vaccines become a global public good and are made accessible to all countries in the shortest possible time,”  said President Ramaphosa. 

As part of these efforts, Africa is working to develop its own vaccine production capabilities and capacity to ensure security of supply.

“While funding is key, it needs to be complemented by the transfer of technology and a commitment by international procurement agencies to buy vaccines made in Africa,” said the President.

The two leaders share a commitment to make the knowledge related to COVID-19 health technologies and products a global public good. They agreed to work towards expanding research, innovation and production beyond COVID-19 to promote public health security in Africa.

Trade, climate change

During the meeting, the Presidents reaffirmed the importance of bilateral trade and investment relationships. They will therefore continue working together to remove obstacles to bilateral and regional trade and investment.

Both countries, said President Ramaphosa, further agreed to work together towards the implementation of the EU-SADC Partnership Agreement and the success of the African Continental Free Trade Area. 

“We look forward to France’s continued involvement in the Square Kilometre Array intergovernmental radio telescope project, and its related fields of research and development.

“We recognise that the climate change threat, the loss of biological diversity and other global environmental challenges must be addressed with urgency and ambition,” President Ramaphosa said.

The Presidents said their nations were fully committed to the progressive development of a multilateral response to global environmental challenges, guided by science and the principles of fairness and equality.

They also agreed to continue working together towards a prosperous, secure and peaceful future for the African continent.

“We reaffirmed the bonds of friendship and solidarity that exist between our two countries, and we look forward to continued collaboration for the benefit of our peoples, our countries, our respective regions and the world,” said President Ramaphosa.

President Macron, who thanked President Ramaphosa for hosting him, said he was convinced that France’s commitment to assist Africa succeed, especially its youth, was a huge opportunity for the continent, while strengthening relations between the continent and Europe.

South Africa and France reaffirmed the bonds of friendship and solidarity that exist between the two countries and look forward to continued engagement that would benefit their peoples, countries and respective regions and the world.

Macron arrived in South Africa after visiting Rwanda on Thursday, where he engaged President Paul Kagame. – SAnews.gov.za

SA sees increase in alien species

The number of alien species that has been established in South Africa has increased by 15% from 1 637 to 1 880, about a third of which are invasive, says Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Barbara Creecy.

Biological invasions pose a major threat to South Africa’s unique biodiversity, and to the livelihoods and health of the people in the country.

“Current estimates suggest the ecological costs of invasive alien plants and animals to be more than R6.5 billion each year.

"The main costs associated with losses are a decline in ecosystem services such as water and grazing and agriculture crop loss as a result of invasive pests,” Creecy said on Friday.

The Minister was addressing the launch of the Status of Biological Invasions and their Management in South Africa.

Formal assessments of the impact of invasive species are underway using a new United Nations scheme that was developed in collaboration with South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology scientists.  

“The second finding is that invasive trees use up 3–5% of South Africa’s surface water runoff each year, a serious problem in an already water scarce country that is increasingly prone to drought.

“Some scientists have calculated that Day Zero in Cape Town was brought forward by 60 days due to invasive trees sucking up water. The same impact occurs in other drought-stricken areas, such as the Eastern Cape,” Creecy said.

The report also found that invasive trees increase the risk and intensity of veld fires, with 15% more fuel burnt in invaded areas.

“Consequently, fires burn at a higher temperature and containment measures are more difficult. Biological invasions are the third largest threat to South Africa’s biodiversity (after cultivation and land degradation), and are responsible for 25% of all biodiversity loss,” the Minister said.

She said biodiversity loss is closely linked to the collapse of ecosystem services such as the provision of fresh water and grazing.

“Current estimates are that if we do not control the impact of biological invasions on grazing land, we could lose up to 70% of this valuable natural asset. This will reduce the capacity of natural rangelands to support livestock production, thereby threatening rural livelihoods and food production.

“Most disturbingly, the report highlights that new alien species continue to arrive every year in South Africa. A notable new invasive species is the polyphagous shot hole borer beetle,” the Minister said.

Creecy said the polyphagous shot hole borer and its associated fungus have already killed thousands of trees in South Africa and it looks set to be one of the most damaging and costly biological invasions faced by the country.

Managing biological invasions

In an effort to manage alien and invasive species, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment is spending over R1 billion a year on projects to control biological invasions and create jobs.

“Since its inception, the Working for Water programme has cleared more than 3.6 million hectares of invasive alien plants, with an average of three follow up treatments. To date, more than R10 billion has been spent on clearing, with more than R1 billion during 2020/21 alone.

“Over the years, more than 2 000 person years of employment has been created.  During 2020/21 alone it created more than 53 000 work opportunities, which include retaining 23 000 opportunities that would have been lost were it not for the Presidential Economic Stimulus programme. Removals are of both plant and animal species,” the Minister said.

A recent programme has successfully removed bass from selected wetlands and stretches of river, leading to rapid recovery of native fishes and biodiversity in general.

“The use of biological control against invasive alien plants has also been shown to have very high positive returns on investment. This is a critical and well-regulated tool to manage biological invasions, with South Africa recognised as a global leader in the field,” the Minister said.

She noted that the challenge is s a multifaceted problem that needs a multi-faceted approach.

“We need to cut through red tape and the silos of different government departments so we have a common national approach. Accordingly, our department is in the process of developing a policy on the management of biological invasions. Its implementation will be supported by a 10-year National Invasive Species Strategy and Action Plan,” the Minister said.

The main objective of the strategy is to facilitate a cohesive and collaborative approach by government, industry and the broader community in identifying and managing biosecurity risks.

Creecy said the strategy and action plan will soon be published for public comment and input.

In addition, South Africa, through financial support from the Global Environmental Facility, under the biodiversity focal window, has secured funds for a project to enhance the efficient and effective management of high-risk biological invasions.

The financial commitment is $3 million over five years.

“The project is aimed at directly mitigating the negative impacts of biological invasions on South Africa’s biodiversity, whilst contributing to the improvement of rural food security and livelihoods. It is envisaged that the project will have a significant contribution towards the efforts to mitigate the impact of biological invasions on South Africa’s biodiversity,” the Minister said. – SAnews.gov.za

President Macron on a State Visit to SA

President Ramaphosa will host French President Emmanuel Macron for the State Visit at the Union Buildings. The two Heads of State will also pay a visit to the Vaccine Production Support Initiative for Africa at the University of Pretoria.

“The visit aims to deepen bilateral cooperation within the framework of the strategic partnership between South Africa and France and within the framework of existing bilateral agreements,” the Presidency said.

The engagement also aims to deepen understanding regarding multilateral and global issues of mutual concern, such as the need for reform of the United Nations Security Council.

The leaders are also expected to discuss the establishment of a predictable framework of cooperation between Africa and the United Nations and its agencies on ensuring peace and security on the African continent.

The Presidents will also talk about trade and investment, including technical skills training in South Africa in collaboration with the private sector.

South Africa is France’s largest trading partner in Africa, while France is South Africa’s second-largest trading partner in the European Union (EU).

France is a major investor in South Africa and a significant development partner, according to the Presidency. French companies pledged R20 billion of investment into the country during the 2019 South Africa Investment Conference.

“The leaders will deliberate on climate change and peace and security on the African continent,” the Presidency said.

Meanwhile, the Heads of State will also focus on issues about the global response to COVID-19 and the economic, health, and research and manufacturing responses to the current pandemic and beyond.

“The leaders are expected to discuss post-COVID-19 recovery, including further discussions under the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a temporary World Trade Organisation intellectual property waiver and the future manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines and other vaccines in South Africa and the rest of the continent.”

Following the programme at the Union Buildings, the leaders will proceed to the University of Pretoria where they will lead a High-Level Seminar on manufacturing vaccines in Africa.

The event will take the form of a hybrid media conference and a High-Level dialogue between Presidents Ramaphosa and Macron, in conversation with scientists and industry leaders.

“This session will address questions such as what the experience has been in managing COVID-19 and what needs to be done to strengthen the public health system and in addressing the pandemics in Africa,” said the President’s office.

Delegates will also look at what kind of support is needed to develop the capacity of the African continent to manufacture vaccines in the short and long term.

South Africa plans to articulate its campaign, shared with India, for international support and solidarity that will enhance access to vaccines and enable the domestic production of life-saving pharmaceutical products.

The South African ministerial delegation includes International Relations and Cooperation Minister, Dr Naledi Pandor, Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, Higher Education Science and Technology Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel, and Acting Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni. – SAnews.gov.za

SA economy rebounding from 2020 recession

The South African economy continues to rebound from the 2020 recession, albeit at different growth rates across sectors, the South African Reserve Bank’s Financial Stability Review (FSR) has revealed.

On Thursday, the SARB released the first edition of the FSR for 2021. The FSR is the primary means through which the central bank communicates its assessment of financial stability risks and mitigating policy actions to the public.

The document, however, noted that the economic outlook remains “highly uncertain” and would depend on the pace of the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out.

“In line with improving economic activity, asset prices are recovering, and banks' loan default rates appear to be stabilising,” the Reserve Bank said in a statement.

The report noted that the country’s financial institutions remain “well capitalised”.

“Profitability across both the banking and insurance sectors has been materially lower, but remained positive in 2020, which played an important role in bolstering capital levels.

“Owing to ongoing profitability and reduced dividend payouts, the regulatory capital ratios for both the banking and insurance sectors remained at roughly the same levels at the end of 2020, as they were before the onset of COVID-19.”

In view of the fact that the banking sector seems well placed to withstand near-term challenges, the central bank said that the Prudential Authority (PA) relaxed its guidance on the payment of dividends by banks and proposed returning bank capital requirements to their pre-COVID-19 level by next year.

The PA had previously announced a reduction in bank capital requirements and had advised that banks refrain from paying dividends during the early stages of the COVID-19 economic shock to ensure that banks retain sufficient capital buffers to continue lending.

“The Loan Guarantee Scheme, which was implemented in response to COVID-19, has been extended to July 2021 and several other extraordinary policy measures remain in place. Among these measures, the most widely used has been the allowance for banks to restructure credit agreements for borrowers who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, without the need to hold additional capital against those loans,” the SARB said.

Despite the improving outlook, the bank said there are still “material risks to financial stability”.

“These risks relate to the durability of the economic recovery, the potential for global financial conditions to shift abruptly, as well as to the high and rising level of public debt in South Africa. The latter risk is discussed at length in the FSR." 

The ability of South Africa’s financial sector to cope with a once-in-a-century recession and severe operational disruptions during 2020 reflected a “high degree of resilience”, the bank said.

“This resilience is expected to remain an important mitigant against potential future risks.” – SAnews.gov.za

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