South Africa is hoping its small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will get a slice of the Chinese market and a chance to participate in infrastructure development projects in the Belt and Road Initiative, said a senior South African official.
"When we talk about infrastructure, people always think about big projects taken by big companies, but there is an opportunity for SMEs too," said Lindiwe Zulu, South Africa's Minister of Small Business Development. Zulu said the South African SMEs can play a role in the infrastructure development under the Belt and Road Initiative.
Exposure to the Chinese market
Zulu said he hoped that the South African SMEs would gain more exposure to the Chinese and global markets by participating in major trade fairs in China.
"We are exposing our smaller companies to the world, and part of what we think is important is to bring them here to China," she told Xinhua on the sidelines of the China International Small and Medium Enterprises Fair (CISMEF) held in Guangzhou from Tuesday to Friday.
As a co-host, South Africa has sent dozens of its SMEs to attend the fair, with businesses ranging from wine to engineering, fashion to agriculture.
"Our responsibility is to create a conducive environment for the SMEs, and to support the SMEs in the global market," she said.
The minister said some of the participating SMEs have never traveled abroad before, and it is important for them to come out and understand "how the world is operating."
"It's not just about selling the products; it's also about looking for Chinese partners so that they can work together," she said.
"I am hoping that many of the Chinese companies would also get an opportunity to go and see what the South African SMEs have brought to China," she said.
In the interview, Zulu also highlighted the significance of the SMEs in tackling major social issues in South Africa.
"We've got challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality, so part of what our government is trying to do to address those issues is to support the SMEs as well as cooperatives," she said.
China and South Africa, both developing countries, face similar challenges, and learning from each other can be mutually beneficial, she said.
"What I think is important is that we've seen how China has really managed to leapfrog [in industrial development], and improved the lives of ordinary people" she said, adding that this is exactly what South Africa aims to do.
On future bilateral cooperation, the minister suggested that the two countries focus on the implementation of their policy agreements under the BRICS mechanism and boost academic exchanges between universities in areas of science, technology and innovation.
"That is where the future is," she said.