Following a change in the way in which South Africa’s international trade is calculated, the country achieved a trade surplus in November 2013 (the last month for which figures are available). This means that South Africa exported R770 million (USD 72 million) more in value than it imported in the second-last month of 2013. This is welcome news to the country’s embattled manufacturers, who have contended with depressed consumer demand and lacklustre export growth for the past five years – while per-capita annual GDP growth, according to Fitch Ratings, hovered under 1 per cent.
The trade surplus follows on from October’s R12.4 billion deficit, but the swing is not as significant as it first appears. Before November, neighbouring states like Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland – whose economies largely depend on South African exports of everyday products and key commodities – were not included in South Africa’s official export calculations.
Despite the recent surplus, however, South Africa’s trade deficit has nearly doubled year-on-year to almost R75 billion (or 360 Nkandlas) as mining and manufacturing continue to post slow growth figures. South Africa’s exports of services to the rest of the world, a potential growth area identified by the National Growth Plan, have also failed to grow, hampered by complex labour laws, red tape and woeful access to world-class internet.