Pretoria — South Africa and Chile are looking into advancing diplomatic, economic and trade ties, especially in the mining and energy sectors.
This emerged after President Jacob Zuma and his Chilean counterpart Michelle Bachelet Jeria met at the Union Buildings on Friday. The two held talks on how to advance cooperation and expand mutually beneficial opportunities for South Africa and Chile.
The talks were held in line with the growth targets set out in South Africa's New Development Plan, which includes measures to provide energy security and promote sustainable mining communities. The session was also an opportunity of the two countries to reaffirm the existing areas of cooperation.
Bachelet, who is on a two-day State Visit, received a proudly South African welcome at the Union Buildings, complete with a military parade and a 21-gun salute.
Bachelet said her visit was the perfect moment to set a new pace in bilateral relations between Pretoria and Santiago.
"We truly believe that South Africa and Chile are like-minded countries. We share a lot of values. We believe that we can also bring resources from both countries to cooperate trilaterally with the less developed countries of Africa, joining efforts and funds," she said.
South Africa, according to President Zuma, has expressed an interest in exploring cooperation in energy, defence, science and technology, trade and investment, mineral resources, social development, agriculture and environmental issues. Chile, for its part, has expressed an interest in South Africa's master energy plan and mining, which two key pillars in the country's economy.
There are numerous opportunities for cooperation between the two countries in the areas of energy pollution and emissions control; and alternative clean energy sources such as nuclear power, natural gas, thermoelectric and hydroelectric energy.
President Zuma said with South Africa being a major investor in the Chilean mining sector, there is huge potential for exchange of technologies to promote a safer mining environment.
This would be imperative as Chile moves from open pit to underground mining.
President Zuma said South Africa will share its expertise in this regard, with a bilateral agreement on cooperation in the field of mineral resources in sight.
"We have agreed that dialogue between the relevant ministries should take place to discuss cooperation," President Zuma told a media briefing after the talks, which he described as successful.
This would be beneficial for the trade relations of the two developing countries.
South Africa is Chile's largest trading partner in Africa, making South Africa one of the largest foreign investors in the Chilean mining sector. South African companies also regularly participate in large international mining exhibitions that take place in Chile (EXPOMIN, EXPONOR and Electra Mining Exhibition).
The top exports from South Africa are steel and steel products, which amounts to 61.6% of total exports.
Balancing trade relations
Although trade ties between the two countries are robust, the trade balance is currently in favour of Chile.
To address this, an Agreement on the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Memorandum of Understanding on the establishment of a Joint Trade and Investment Commission are on the cards.
"To further expand trade and investment, we have agreed that the Memorandum of Understanding on the Establishment of a Joint Trade and Investment Commission, which was signed between the two governments in July 2012, should be implemented without delay.
"We agreed that the Joint Commission on Trade and Investment will meet in Chile before the end of 2014 in order to finalise a short, medium and long term plan of action," said Zuma.
South Africa and Chile are leading countries in the field of astronomy. The two countries host technologically-advanced observatories such as MeerKat in the case of South Africa and the European Southern Observatory, in the case of Chile.
President Zuma said there was a significant potential for research and development co-operation between the two countries in this regard.
With regards to defence, South Africa has shown interest in cooperating with Chile on defence matters.
Chile plays a significant role as provider of UN peacekeeping troops, being the fourth largest contributor of troops in the Latin American region.
South Africa also envisages cooperation amongst the navies of the two countries. This, according to President Zuma, will help South Africa gain knowledge on how to deal with challenges such as piracy, drug and human trafficking in the coastlines.
This will be imperative, especially since South Africa has recently unveiled Operation Phakisa, which is expected to place marine resources at the centre of the economy.
In the global arena, South Africa and Chile are like-minded countries in terms of their mutual positions on international issues of reform of multilateral institutions.
In this light, they reiterated their call for the reforms of the UN to be more representative of the developing countries.
"The UN Security Council should be represent the views of the South, Africa and to more efficiently tackle the crisis going on in the Middle East and Palestine," said Bachelet.
"They must respect human rights. Not only must they stop the fire and stop the killing they must allow the humanitarian support that is needed to enter the country and peaceful negotiations." With Chile in the UN Security Council, Bachelet said they are raising their voice and calling for all parties in the Israel-Palestine conflict, which she labelled as a "tragedy", to commit to an immediate ceasefire and to work towards a peaceful settlement.
South Africa has in the past shared the same views.
Bachelet, whose state visit will also see her delivering a keynote address at the 12th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in Cape Town, said she has always looked up to Mandela and was inspired by his wisdom, integrity and his quest for a better life for all.