Now UK defence firms target South Africa

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The Independent Online
SOUTH AFRICA is asking British defence manufacturers to help it re-arm as part of a wider campaign to bolster trade between the two countries.

The campaign will be launched tomorrow by the President of the Board of Trade, Margaret Beckett, who will unveil a range of initiatives including extra support from the Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD), advice on privatisation, and help for smaller and medium-sized enterprises.

Mrs Beckett said South Africa had been identified as one of the 10 key markets where the Government believed substantial extra business could be achieved. Britain is South Africa's largest single trading partner with exports of goods reaching pounds 1.7bn last year and direct inward investment from the UK almost pounds 2.5bn.

The key sectors for trade promotion this year will be automotive products, healthcare, tourism, design, railway equipment and consumer goods. The Deputy High Commissioner at the South African embassy in London said military equipment was also on the shopping list, in particular submarines, tanks and helicopters. This could bring orders for VSEL, Vickers and Westland, which is now part of GKN.

South Africa's decision to buy new weaponry follows a long and bitter debate, won by the country's defence minister Joe Modise. Those within the African National Congress who argued the money would be better spent on schools and clinics lost the debate last August when approval for four Corvettes, four submarines, tanks and fighter aircraft was finally given by parliament.

Most analysts agree the defence forces are in a bad way, and that military spending is essential if South Africa is to maintain its regional supremacy. The current shopping list is apparently just the beginning.

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