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The China Effect: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

China’s meteoric growth has destroyed local industries – but it has also opened new markets.




There’s no doubt about it – China has changed the way the world does business. And with its increasingly massive clout and the state’s growing closeness to the South African government the Asian giant is likely to play an even greater role in the lives of business owners here in future years.

In just over two decades China has catapulted from its spot as the 10th biggest economy, to become the second biggest economy in the world. It’s now also the globe’s biggest exporter and its hunger for resources has made it the third biggest importer in the world, after the US and Germany. Estimates are that it will overtake the US to become the world’s largest economy in the next seven to 15 years.

In the meantime, China will continue growing at  breakneck speed, albeit at a lower forecast average of 7,5% over the next four years. This is more than double South Africa’s expected growth over the next three years, but down on the 11,2% a year China recorded between 2006 and 2010.

Local manufacturers suffer

In the last decade cheap Chinese imports have wiped out large swathes of local industries. There is already evidence that fewer South Africans are setting up factories. Figures from Business Partners reveal that between March 2004 and March 2007 (the year before the recession), the SME financier’s investments in manufacturing grew from just 107 a year to 119, bottoming out to 105 the following year.

During this time the manufacturing sector, as a percentage of the financier’s total number of deals, shrunk from 20,9% to 17,9% of its portfolio, before falling to 15,7% in 2008. This was at a time when the local economy was pumping, but these figures suggest that not many South Africans were rushing out to set up factories.

On top of this, vacancy levels for Business Partners’ industrial properties had moved from 5% five years ago to 10%, says managing director Nazeem Martin. He adds that many of the properties which were once filled by small factories are now filled by businesses with repair shops or suppliers of goods to the services sector.

In the furniture sector where manufacturers have been hard hit by cheap imports, Michael Reddy, chief executive of Seda furniture incubator Furntech, says the only way for furniture manufacturers to stay in business is by supplying fewer goods at higher prices.

In Brazil, the South American country is ratcheting up support for small firms. But cheap Chinese imports only make up 3% of consumption in the Brazilian market, according to Lawrence Edwards, associate professor in the School of Economics at UCT.

Edwards, who is studying the effect of Chinese imports on South African businesses, believes that Chinese imports make up a much greater percentage of the market here – easily 5% or more. The penetration of Chinese imports into South Africa will be higher because the country has a small economy with a small scope for manufacturing, he says.

Yet, it’s only in recent months that the government has appeared ready to step in to assist local firms hit by the China effect, with the Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan’s announcement in the 2012 Budget Speech that billions would be given in incentives to improve the competitiveness of local businesses.

Edwards believes that despite SA’s more defensive trade policy approach, following the stalling of the Doha round of World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks, South Africa won’t be bringing down tariffs, which are as high as 40% to 45% on clothing.

This might be good for some local factories, if it continues this way, but it won’t stop Chinese entrepreneurs from coming to South Africa. More local companies are being approached by Chinese companies that want to sell them raw materials.

Colin Mkhonta, the chief executive of Seda’s chemical sector incubator, Chemin, says he receives “almost weekly” requests from Chinese firms to sell raw materials for cleaning products to incubatees.

Now, as they have done in other parts of Africa, Chinese firms are steadily moving into South Africa to take shares in mines and manufacturing companies. Chinese investors are also likely to keep an eye on infrastructure projects announced by President Jacob Zuma in his State of the Nation address in February.

Already three Chinese automotive manufacturers are set to move into the country soon, according to Martyn Davies, emerging markets analyst and chief executive of Frontier Advisory. But Davies, who is helping the South African government to bring Chinese investors to the country, says local businesses won’t necessarily score big, as many Chinese firms will bring their own suppliers with them when they set up here.

Peter Draper, a trade analyst and senior fellow at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIA), believes China’s demand for commodities will be key. He argues that China’s enormous economic might presents certain opportunities for local entrepreneurs, including a quest for land, as the Chinese are looking for land from which to export goods or foodstuffs to China.

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New opportunities

Yet it’s not all bad. The China effect, as some have termed it, has helped spawn new businesses, such as suppliers and importers, and opened up a large new market in the Asian giant itself.

The Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) has set up a matchmaking programme with chambers in Sao Paulo, Brazil; Shanghai, China; and Delhi, India, to allow local entrepreneurs to interact with one another over the Internet.

“We are going to work with the new BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) thing, instead of fighting it,” concedes JCCI chief executive Keith Brebnor. “China is not going to go away, so we are embracing them. If you don’t embrace them these other countries outside Africa will go direct to African countries. So we should move in.”

China’s continued rise is likely to bring with it both threats and opportunities for South African entrepreneurs. Here are some predictions:

  • Chinese exports to move to high-tech

Chinese goods will continue to land on our shores in large numbers, but years ahead these are likely to include more sophisticated, high-tech products. Even if prices are expected to be a bit more expensive than before, local factory owners manufacturing high-end products will have to ensure they have cornered a niche market and can compete on price and delivery with Chinese products, by turning to just-in-time delivery or doing small runs.

Some say China is where Japan was in the 1960s – producing cheap goods which were often of dubious quality, before shifting to more technical electrical and computer products.

Under its current 12th five-year plan (2011-2015), China is looking to aid seven priority sectors as it moves to focus more on high-technology. These are: renewable energy, energy conservation, new materials (such as high-end semi-conductors), biotechnology, IT, high-end manufacturing in telecoms and aerospace equipment and clean-energy cars.

China is also making significant investments in the development of new products and between 1998 and 2007, the country along with Korea, showed the biggest increase in R&D spending, according to the Beijing Axis.

At the same time wages are set to rise. In February the Chinese government released a job market plan to set minimum wage levels at 40% of average local salaries within three years. Cheap labour, which up until now has been supplied by the country’s poorer interior, is also becoming more scarce.

Also, under the current plan the country is making a concerted effort to strengthen its domestic economy, or the share made up by private consumption, but Chinese exports won’t slack off. According to a KPMG report, exports will continue to grow – from ¥11,3 trillion last year to an expected ¥16 trillion in 2015. So expect more high-tech goods at higher prices to start streaming into South Africa in coming years.

  • Opportunities in Africa

Much has been made of Chinese businesses backed by easy finance, moving into Africa, particularly where infrastructure projects are rolled out in exchange for mineral resources. Some liken it to neo-colonialism, others say the Asian country’s projects are a godsend to a poor developing continent.

China’s growing presence on the continent may even create big opportunities for South African firms in financial and other services.

Barrie van Wyk of Beijing Axis points out in a September 2011 edition of Beijing Axis publication, China Analysis, that China’s increased business in Africa has also created demand for services, and thus opportunities for legal firms, banks and other service providers. These are areas of strength for South Africa, and more local companies should be exploring the African market.

Standard Bank economist, Jeremy Stevens says that while China’s focus is turning towards domestic matters, the Asian dragon is also eyeing Africa now more than ever – particularly with the uncertainty in traditional northern markets of Europe and the US.

Africa remains a key market for China, particularly when it comes to its demand for commodities,including minerals and oil. Last year China-Africa trade hit a high of $155 billion.

Africa is also growing fast, and has already been outlined by McKinsey and others as one of the most attractive markets over the next few years. Yet despite this, Africa is in need of an urgent infrastructure overhaul. Stevens estimates that the continent needs about $100 billion a year to build new roads, erect new powerlines and maintain and develop other key infrastructure.

And although it will mean stiffer competition for local firms operating on the continent as they struggle to compete against cheaper Chinese turnkey projects, Stevens, who has been based in Beijing for six months, believes it also means more opportunities for South African entrepreneurs.

He stresses that it makes “long-term structural sense” for China to partner with South Africa, the biggest manufacturing sector on the continent. Added to this, many larger South African firms have become household names across the continent. Stevens believes Chinese firms could also help with another South African problem – unemployment.

  • Prospects to enter the Chinese market look good

With over 1,3 billion people China has become a valuable market for entrepreneurs to tap into. Chinese consumers are on the rise and the country is already the biggest car manufacturer and second biggest energy consumer in the world, as incomes have tripled between 2000 and 2010, according to Beijing Axis.

China is set to become the largest market for luxury goods by 2015, when it will account for 29% of consumption of luxury goods, according to the Boston Consulting Group.

And China’s goal to increase technological capabilities in a range of sectors will mean that Chinese regulators will welcome advice and training from experienced foreign companies, according to public affairs global giant Apco.

South Africa is looking for a slice of the action and the Department of Trade and Industry last year presented the Chinese Ministry of Commerce with a list of ten key sectors that they would like to promote to Chinese consumers, including wine and vehicle manufacturing.

But, trade analyst Draper cautions that South African entrepreneurs who export food products to China will come up against health checks and have to compete with China’s heavily subsidised local agriculture sector.

For South African firms looking to invest in China, having expertise in a cutting edge technology or service is far more important than arriving with briefcases of cash, says emerging markets analyst Davies. China, with the world’s largest dollar reserves, isn’t short on funds.

Breaking into the market, he says, will also require good people skills, as doing business in China is a very human relations-dependent exercise. There is also the issue of language. Any meaningful transactions will require knowledge of Mandarin.

According to Davies, about a dozen or more South African companies have a presence in China. These include Kumba Iron Ore, Naspers, SAB Miller, Anglo American, Hollard, Old Mutual, earth compacting company Lanpac, Barloworld, FirstRand, Capespan (which invested 20% in a food distribution company in Shenzhen) and Discovery Health.

Despite this, Davies says the number of South African companies in China remains limited, particularly compared with Australian firms which have been there for some time.

“South African companies have been late to the party,” he says, adding that a small country like Switzerland already has 500 companies based in China.

This means that entrepreneurs will have to keep a watchful eye on China – be it exporters looking to expand into new markets or  business owners looking to roll out a new factory. The Asian giant offers both opportunities and threats, but, with careful planning, the opportunities can outweigh the threats.

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Stephen Timm is a freelance writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.


Business Landscape

How Economic Crime Is Impacting Business In South Africa

77% of SA organisations have experienced economic crime and CEO’s and boards are increasingly being held accountable for economic crime.






South African organisations continue to report the highest instances of economic crime in the world with economic crime reaching its highest level over the past decade, according to PwC’s biennial Global Economic Crime Survey.

South African organisations that have experienced economic crime is now at a staggering 77%, followed in second place by Kenya (75%), and thirdly France (71%). With half of the top ten countries who reported economic crime coming from Africa, the situation at home is more than dire.

The Global Economic Crime and Fraud Survey examines over 7200 respondents from 123 countries, of which 282 were from South Africa.

The rise of economic crime

Trevor White PwC Partner, Forensic Services and South Africa Survey Leader, says: “ Economic crime continues to disrupt business, with this year’s results showing a steep incline in reported instances of economic crime. At 77% South Africa’s rate of reported economic crime remains significantly higher than the global average rate of 49%. However, this year saw an unprecedented growth in the global trend, with a 36% period-on-period increase since 2016.”

Related: PwC Focus On Sugar Tax

Economic crime in South Africa is now at the highest level over the past decade. It is also alarming to note that 6% of executives in South Africa (Africa 5% and Global 7%) simply did not know whether their respective organisations were being affected by economic crime or not.

While the overall rate of economic crime reported was indeed the highest for South Africa, the period-on-period rate of increase for South Africa and Africa as a whole was below that of our American, Asian and European counterparts.

Global indicators of a rise in economic crime

From a regional perspective, the biggest increase in experiences of economic crime occurred in Latin America, where there was a 25% increase since 2016 to 53% in respondents who indicated they had experienced economic crime. The US was a close second with a 17% increase over 2016 to 54% of respondents, while Asia Pacific and Eastern Europe experienced increases of 16% and 14%, respectively.

Asset misappropriation continues to remain the most prevalent form of economic crime reported by 45% of respondents globally and 49% of South African respondents. While the instances of reported cybercrime showed a small decrease in the South African context (29% in 2018 versus 32% in 2016), it retained its second place in the global rankings (31%) albeit at a lower rate of occurrence than 2016.

One of the new categories of economic crimes was that of “fraud committed by the consumer”.

It is the second most reported crime in South Africa at 42% and takes third place globally at 29%. This was followed closely by procurement fraud (39% in South Africa versus 22% globally). This indicates that the entire supply chain in SouthAfrica is fraught with criminality.

Related: PwC: Pria Chetty

When combined with the high instances of bribery and corruption reported (affecting more than a third of organisations at 34%), the resultant erosion in value from the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) is startling. Accounting fraud, which is usually perpetrated by senior management and results in the largest losses, increased from 20% to 22%.

Accountability of the board

Accountability for fraud and economic crime has moved into the executive suite, with the C-Suite increasingly taking responsibility, and the fall, when economic crime and fraud occur.”

The survey shows that almost every serious incident of fraud has been brought to the attention of senior management (95%).

85% of South African respondents indicated their organization had a formal business ethics and compliance programme in place.

In addition, 20% of local respondents indicated that the CEO (who is part of the first line of defence) has primary responsibility for the organisation’s ethics and compliance programmes, and is therefore more instrumental to the detection of fraud and the response to it.

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Business Landscape

PwC Focus On Sugar Tax

The proposed sugar levy is unlikely to make sizeable dent in fiscal deficit, but the Sugar Beverage Industry is offering a helping hand to reduce obesity.






In 2016, the National Treasury announced a Sugar Beverage Levy (SBL) on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) scheduled to take effect April 2018. The aim of the levy was to prevent and control obesity in South Africa, but key industry players also viewed it as a potentially significant new source of revenue that could help plug the growing fiscal deficit.

The fiscal deficit has been widening as National Treasury faces slow economic growth and a shrinking tax base. Initially estimated at 3.1% of GDP, fiscal deficit projections increased to 4.3% of GDP in October last year.[i]

However, official data suggests the deficit already reached R195 billion in the first 8 months of the 2018/19 fiscal year, so it could amount to approximately R250 billion, thereby exceeding Finance Minister Gigaba’s October projections by 25%.

The levy has undergone various changes since it was first announced.

When the levy takes effect in April this year, it will amount to 2.1 cents per gram of sugar per 100ml, above 4 grams per 100ml.

This is down from an initial 2.29 cents per gram of sugar with no exempted amount.[ii]

Related: Silver Linings For Smaller Businesses In Budget 2018

Our estimations suggest the tax burden is approximately 10% given current levels of sugar content, down from approximately 20% previously. In addition, industry has recently reacted to the news of the SBL, reducing the sugar content of popular beverages by including non-nutritive sweeteners.

In addition to efforts to reformulate, the industry introduced smaller bottle sizes to curb excessive sugar consumption and limit the excise tax burden.

SBL excise revenue estimations

We estimated that in a scenario in which the beverages industry makes no change to the sugar content of SSBs, the levy would result in an estimated R1.5 billion loss in sales revenue and a R 1.4 billion excise revenue gain for government.

However, a reformulation by industry would result in a lower loss in sales revenues of only R1.07bn and lower than expected excise revenue gain for government of R990mn.

Given the estimated fiscal budget deficit of up to R250bn, additional revenues of between R990mn and R1.4bn are unlikely to make a significant dent in plugging the deficit and could support the assertion that the levy will focus on curbing sugar consumption rather than providing significant additional revenue inflows.

In our quantitative analysis of the proposed tax on SSBs, we use the PwC Economic Impact Assessment Model to derive the potential impacts, based on a 10% sales reduction calculation due to potential excise driven price changes.

Although excise revenues are expected to increase, other tax revenue streams are likely to experience a decline. Not considering excise impacts, the prospective tax revenue loss stemming from reduced sales revenues and showing in lower VAT, corporate income tax (CIT) and personal income tax (PIT) could range between R363 million and R518 million in the reformulation and non-reformulation scenarios, respectively.

Related: 4 Budget Speech 2018 Outcomes To Know For Your Business

Therefore, the net impact on estimated tax revenue combining the implications for excise tax, VAT, CIT and PIT revenue would only range between R631 million and R856 million, subject to which scenario is implemented.

It is unclear whether the SBL levy will assist in reducing consumers’ sugar consumption. However, industry facilitates lower sugar consumption by reducing bottle sizes and through reformulation.

Smaller sizes nudge consumers to lower sugar consumption

In addition to reformulating popular SSBs, the beverages industry has altered the size of the 500ml buddy bottle to 440ml, potentially nudging consumers to reducing their sugar consumption.

The move to the 440ml bottle represents a 12%[iii] reduction in size and means that sugar content fell from 53 grams in the 500ml bottle to 46.6 grams in the 440ml bottle.

The implementation of the new levy could still result in an approximately 61 cent increase in the price of the 440ml bottle.

It remains to be seen how South Africans will react to the current and impending price change of SSBs and if the SBL can indeed assist in reducing obesity. It is clear that monitoring and evaluation are key tools to help government and industry understand the effectiveness of this initiative to prevent and control obesity in South Africa.

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Business Landscape

What It Will Really Take For South Africa’s Businesses To Scale And Create Jobs

It is the “low-hanging fruit” of scaling up South Africa’s established SME businesses that we believe is at the core of how we can grow this economy further.

Graham Mitchell




Much has been said about the potential of SMEs to drive job creation and economic growth for South Africa. Our unemployment rate is at 26.7% – an astonishing figure that speaks volumes about the dire need for job creation. On the back of this, we are seeing increasing amounts of money being channeled into incubators and the funding of startup companies.

Although important, the starting of new businesses, unless they are completely innovative, well-timed and highly scalable, will not provide us with much-needed quick wins on our path to job creation and economic growth. It is the “low-hanging fruit” of scaling up South Africa’s established SME businesses that we believe is at the core of how we can grow this economy further.

The state of established businesses in South Africa

Established businesses that already employ 10-20 people have a working product, willing buyers and a proven business model and with some modifications, increased guidance and adequate management, they have the potential to increase their number of employees significantly as they scale up. However, a 2016/2017 report by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) in partnership with the University of Cape Town found that the rate of established businesses in South Africa has declined by an incredible 26% since 2015.

Related: How South Africa’s Small Businesses Plan To Invest Their Money In 2018

In fact, South Africa had one of the lowest established business rates of all the economies that participated in the GEM 2016 study (ranked 61st out of 65 economies). This, the report says, “paints a bleak picture of the SMME sector’s potential to contribute meaningfully to job creation, economic growth and more equal income distribution.” While we should not neglect the starting of new businesses, scaling up established businesses will provide young people with much needed experience to ensure that when they eventually start their own businesses, they may have greater chances of success.

How to increase the proportion of established businesses that scale up    

Have a clear vision for your business

When we as business coaches work with established businesses that are scaling up, we make sure to start with the founder as their attitudes and desires determine how far the business will go. Scaling up an established business begins with a clear vision. Often, we find that the businesses owners don’t have a clear vision of where they want to take their business, and without a vision, it’s very difficult to scale.

Determine why your business exists

Linked to a clear vision, business owners need to have a strong purpose that answers the question of why they want to scale. Some business owners often see their business as a vehicle that provides them with an income, rather than the business serving a bigger purpose to impact an industry or the broader society. As a result, they often stop short of developing the full potential of their businesses.

Be willing to learn and seek help where needed

Business owners also need to have a willingness to learn. Being entrepreneurs, they often have a definitive view of the world and how it should work, which drives them to create something that they believe needs to exist (a new business venture). A risk to these strongly held views and high levels of confidence is that entrepreneurs potentially won’t open themselves up to new ideas, or to being challenged that some of their beliefs and views may, in fact, be holding their businesses back.

Business owners need to realise that they may not have all the skills to scale their business. I’ve found that entrepreneurs tend to be strong in customer service, innovation and sales, and are often weaker in people management and attention to detail – skills that become a lot more critical at the point of scaling the business.

Related: Levergy Founders Tell You How To Scale Quickly – And Intelligently

business-day-tv-sme-summitOther areas of importance in scaling up

There are other critical areas that businesses need to address in scaling up but dealing with the founder is most critical. Strategy is one, cash flow is another, as is the question of hiring/finding and developing key talent. I will be unpacking these and more at the upcoming Business Day TV SME Summit on 8 March; and with increasing efforts by government to address the unemployment crises through platforms like the Jobs Summit announced in the State of the Nation Address, we hope that more conversations are had around harnessing the job creation power of established businesses that manage to scale up quickly and sustainably.

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