Officials from South Africa and Saudi Arabia have met in Johannesburg to discuss further avenues of business between the two countries, such as the encouraging Saudi Arabian investment in order to reduce the South African economy’s rapidly widening trade deficit.

The event was the 5th South Africa-Saudi Arabia Joint Economic Commission (JEC), held from 18 to 20 March 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa, co-chaired by Dr Rob Davies, South Africa’s minister of trade and industry, and his Saudi counterpart, Minister Tawfiq Al-Rabiah.

The trade between the two countries is currently dominated by petroleum imports from the oil-rich Arab Kingdom, with Saudi Arabia taking up a large portion of the slack in South Africa’s imports of oil that has resulted from the decline in previous lines of supply from Iran.

Between 2009 and 2013, the value of this trade more than doubled from $2.82bn in 2009 to $7.62bn, almost entirely in the form of trade deficit on the part of South Africa. In January this year, Saudi Arabia also overtook Germany to become South Africa’s 2nd largest source of imports after China.

Highlighting South Africa’s desire to balance the trade between the two countries, Dr Davies noted: “We have expressed our desire to collaborate with the Saudi side in the promotion of investments between the two countries, and one way in which this can be done is through the exchange of company visits.”

“To this end, the South African side will also make available its top 10 investment projects to its Saudi counterparts, and we also invited the Saudi side to arrange a technical visit of Saudi investors to South Africa to attend the Annual Investment Meeting (AIM).”

He added that the two countries are finalising negotiations over proposed cooperation in the fields of agriculture, livestock and fisheries, and that the JEC was looking to promote similar cooperation in the fields of oil, gas and minerals through seminars in both countries.

The JEC was preceded by the South Africa-Saudi Arabia Business Forum, attended by sector bodies and business parties from both countries. The Forum mandated the South Africa – Saudi Arabia Business Council to identify complementary projects they will collaborate on.

Dr Iqbal Surve, South African chairman of the South Africa – Saudi Arabia Business Council, said at that event: “There are a lot of expectations from both sides that more should be done. South Africa represents huge opportunities for investment and similarly, Saudi Arabia represents huge opportunities for South African business.”

Co-chairperson Dr Amin M. Al Shanqiti added that South Africa has a good business environment, and noted: “Perhaps we had a lack of information about each other, but these kinds of meetings help us to learn about one another, and there are huge opportunities between the two countries.”

In June 2012, the two countries also set up Saudi Arabian South Africa Holding (Sasah), a joint holding company to enhance business opportunities and investment between them with the stated target of creating $1.9bn worth of business opportunities.