South Africa: Joint press conference by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell and Minister for International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor
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Thank you, Minister [of International Relations and Cooperation, Dr Naledi] Pandor. Thank you very much.
It has been a real pleasure and a great honour for me to travel to South Africa and to co-chair with you, Minister [Pandor], today’s South Africa-European Union Ministerial Dialogue, and to hold our bilateral consultations yesterday.
I am pleased to be here and of course I am accompanied by my colleagues, the European Commissioners that are here with me.
The European Union and South Africa came together to establish a strategic partnership 16 years ago, and South Africa is the only African country that has this qualification of a strategic partner. And the word means something. It is the only partnership on the African continent. This is a recognition of the importance that South Africa has for us - the European Union - but also internationally.
We agreed on something evident: that today the world is facing a high degree of global instability. We have challenges inherited from the past for which we have not been able to look for the right solution, and new ones that are arising, creating tensions and threats to all of us.
We are certainly living in testing times, but in spite of the times being testing, challenging and difficult, our partnership has been moving along – I think – with a positive trajectory. Certainly, there are things on which we do not agree, there are irritants, but I think that, overall, we continue being strategic partners.
We have discussed a certain number of issues. Allow me to highlight a few of them.
We focused on our political and security cooperation and on regional and continental crises, for instance in Mozambique, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). As European Union, we are very much aware that we cannot impose solutions, but we know about the huge potential to partner with South Africa to contribute to build peace and security.
As to our trade and economic relations, these have been growing steadily over the years. In 2021, our [bilateral] trade reached a record level of €44 billion. South Africa is our main trading partner in Africa. European firms continue to represent a large part of South Africa’s overall foreign direct investment and certainly help to create jobs in a wide range of sectors.
We are supporting South Africa in implementing the South African vision to shift to a greener and cleaner energy. We are working together towards the implementation of the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP), and my colleagues Commissioners have put the accent on the fact that the energy transition will be just, or it will not happen. We are mobilising €35 million of grants and €1 billion of concessional loans through the European Investment Bank for it.
We have been covering so many issues. Allow me to stress the importance the area of health.
We are working to strengthen the vaccine and pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity on the continent - including the expansion of Aspen’s vaccine production capacity, the establishment of the first mRNA technology transfer hub in Cape Town, and the support of BIOVAC’s vaccine manufacturing capacity.
I think that what this meeting has shown today is that we can do even more together at the multilateral level and to defend and reinvigorate the multilateral system.
And here I have to mention the illegal aggression by Russia against Ukraine. Because it is the most important event that affects peace and stability in the world. What Russia calls a “special military operation” is nothing less than a full-scale invasion of a sovereign country, and an attempt to destroy it, killing Ukrainian civilians, destroying civilian homes, hospitals, power plants – all kinds of civilian infrastructure.
Facts are facts: what is happening in Ukraine is nothing less than a blatant violation of the United Nations Charter and the international rules-based world order.
This blatant action, disregard of international law and principles of sovereignty is as much a threat for Europe as it is for the whole world, including Africa. This is not only a European war. It is happening on European soil, but it affects the whole world. The consequences are felt around the globe, and the energy and food crises are the most evident and direct result.
We have always respected South Africa’s traditional non-alignment stance in foreign policy.
The European Union does not ask [South] Africa to choose sides. We are just asking all countries in the world to stand on the side of the United Nations charter. Nothing more, but nothing less. Because what is at stake is the survival of multilateralism. And the European Union regards South Africa as an important partner to uphold and reinvigorate a rules-based international order.
This is why I very much hope that South Africa, our strategic partner, will use its good relations with Russia and the role it plays in the BRICS group [Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa] to convince Russia to stop this senseless war.
And you are right, Minister [of International Relations and Cooperation, Dr Naledi Pandor], the question of peace in Ukraine is the most important one: we must seek a political solution to the conflict. Because every conflict has an end and, in principle, the end of a conflict leads to peace. Therefore, I think that you could
do [make] an important contribution to this process.
Thank you again Minister [of International Relations and Cooperation, Dr Naledi Pandor], for hosting me and my fellow Commissioners in this beautiful country, our strategic partner in Africa.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-236439
Q. We recently had a visit from the Russian Minister, Sergey Lavrov, and South Africa will be hosting military exercises with Russia and China later on in February. I just wanted to know, what is the European Union’s view on that – do you think that South Africa is taking sides too much with Russia?
You know, first thing I have to do when I talk about the position of third countries on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is that we respect the right of every state to conduct its foreign policy according to its own interests. Certainly. And we have never tried to say to anyone the way they have to behave.
Every country has the right to have their own foreign policy according to its own interests. By the way, this is also true for Ukraine. It is true for South Africa, it is true for all independent countries in the world.
Since the beginning of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, we have been expressing our view and developing our commitment and engagement on supporting Ukraine. And try to explain to the rest of the world why we do that. Facts are facts. 140 states – which is a considerable number – have condemned Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. And I know that South Africa respects the Charter of the United Nations and territorial integrity of states.
Allow me to stress that, from a legal point of view, there is no doubt that the Russian aggression is illegal and illegitimate under international law – to which South Africa and the European Union are very much attached.
Recently, some Member States have decided to increase their military support to Ukraine. It is the news of the day – or of the past week. Germany and others have decided to increase and to upgrade the military support to Ukraine. This is done in view of the permanent bombing of the civilian infrastructure, of the killing of civilians, and the destruction war that Russia is carrying out against Ukraine.
And I think this is the right thing to do. I encourage all the Member States of the European Union to participate in this effort.
About navy drills between the South African Navy, the Russian Navy and the Chinese Navy, this is part of my first statement: every country has the right to develop its foreign policy according to its own interests. In other moments of the time, there were drills with other fleets and I understand the desire of certain countries – including South Africa – to spare Russia, for one reason or another.
I cannot be against any activity, but I have to say that this coincidence between the [anniversary of the] starting of the war and these military drills, for us is something that is not the best thing that we would have preferred. But our preferences do not mark the foreign decisions of our partners.
Q. I would like to know if the Dialogue discussed at all the false codling moths regulations that have been deemed discriminatory and unfair restrictions on South Africa when it comes to its citrus imports to the European Union.
On the citrus issue – which is a less dramatic one, but I understand the importance because it affects jobs and the agricultural activity in a country that needs to create jobs. Unhappily, we haven’t reached an agreement today.
We just expressed our will to continue discussing about it at the highest political level. We understand the urgency, we understand the importance but, today, it was not possible to reach an agreement. We decided to continue working in order to have a solution to these differences in view of the next Summit.