Japan Cultivates Trade Ties with South Africa

By John Battersby, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 2, 1992 | Go to article overview

Japan Cultivates Trade Ties with South Africa


John Battersby, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


JAPAN, which five years ago faced international censure for emerging as South Africa's major trading partner, could become the first country to make substantial investments there during Pretoria's transition to democracy.

Japan has set two prerequisites for a closer economic relationship with South Africa: a free market economy and stabilization of the country's volatile political and social situation.

"We see opportunities that could lead to investments as long as the trend toward an open economy continues," says Masamichi Fujimori, leader of the influential Keidanren economic mission presently visiting South Africa. "But the most important prerequisite is the creation of political and social stability."

After it emerged in 1987 that Japan had quietly become South Africa's major trading partner, the Japanese government was politically embarrassed and instructed its Ministry of Trade and Industry (MITI) to scale back trade. Tokyo has since fallen to fifth position in the international lineup on bilateral trade, but remains well-placed to stage a rapid comeback.

In 1990 Japan's trade with South Africa amounted to $1.2 billion, behind Germany ($1.7 billion), Britain ($1.4 billion), Italy ($1.2 billion), and the United States ($1.2 billion).

"While the Japanese have proceeded with characteristic caution and understatement, it is clear that they are preparing to play a substantial role in South Africa in the future," a Western diplomat says. Japan has maintained its trade potential with South Africa by consulting closely with neighboring African states such as Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Tanzania, and with the Organization of African Unity, which has consented to Tokyo's exploration of investment prospects.

"The lifting of sanctions does not necessarily mean that investment will follow," says Japanese Ambassador Masatoshi Ohta. "We will also look at the prospects for prosperity and we are awaiting the outcome of the negotiating process. …

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