Wednesday, 9 May 2012

DA: Govt's funding withdrawal hurt fruit exports

Exports compromised by withdrawal of government funding for international trade fair, says DA
Published: 2012/05/07 05:22:06 PM
SOUTH Africa’s fruit exports have been compromised by the recent withdrawal of Department of Trade and Industry funding for a trade fair in Europe, the Democratic Alliance (DA) has claimed.
In February, the department withdrew funding for the local Fresh Produce Exporters’ Forum to exhibit its products at the Fruit Logistica in Berlin, Germany — seen as one of the most important trade fairs for South African fruit producers. This forced the sector to attend the show with few resources, participants and products.
According to the department, the organisers had not sufficiently involved emerging South African producers and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Wilmot James, DA spokesman on trade and industry, last week accused the department of reneging on its promise last year to fund the exporters’ forum. He said this had led to "a diminished and disorganised presence" of South African exporters at an event of great importance for the fruit export sector.
According to forum organisers, Mr James said, the department "did not honour the final agreement (and) never explained why".
However, Lionel October, director-general of trade and industry, said while there could have been miscommunication, the exporters’ forum lost the department’s support because it failed to satisfy the criteria for promotional funding by lacking a sufficient number of entrepreneurs and small businesses.
"Most funding in the past supported big business, but the government now expects departments to ensure that entrepreneurs in small and medium businesses across all sectors are offered similar opportunities to access international markets and to be assisted to exhibit their products at these international trade fairs," he said.
As an example, Mr October said, the department supported 80 businesses — 50 large companies and 30 SMEs — on a trip to China last year to forge trade links and access that market.
"At the moment big business provides lots of jobs and contributes to the gross domestic product," he said. "However, we have to cater for SMEs because they also have potential to create jobs, provided market access and business opportunities are offered to them."
Mr October added: "We are trying to strike a balance between preserving what we have, which is valuable, and encouraging new entrants, involving sectors that have potential to contribute to the future economic growth of the country."
Mr James said the fruit industry should not be taken lightly because it was a highly productive sector, employing 460000 South Africans who in turn support 2-million dependants. The industry earns roughly R12bn a year in foreign exchange through exports to 70 countries.
He urged the Department of Trade and Industry to repair its relationship with exporters and "clarify its strategy" by working with organised agricultural groups to ensure access for South African products to overseas markets.

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