With South Africa and France being “well recognised” as key players in the international paper industry, it is essential to engage in “fruitful exchanges”, including knowledge sharing and stakeholder solutions for the industry.
This is according to ambassador of France Elisabeth Barbier, who spoke at the French-South African Technical Symposium on Innovation and New Technologies in the Pulp and Paper Industry, held in Johannesburg last month. She added that, while the economic relationship between France and South Africa was satisfactory, the relationship could be improved.
France exported products worth €1.9-billion to South Africa, with the country being France’s biggest market among 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, last year.
Further, the number of French companies established in South Africa had increased steadily to about 350 , Barbier said. There were fewer than 30 South African companies in France and South Africa exported €0.9-billion in goods to France in the past year.
Barbier therefore stressed that France aimed to raise awareness, particularly in South Africa, that it had some of the best technologies in the world, in many fields, such as the pulp and paper industry.
With the French pulp and paper industry enjoying “an excellent reputation internationally . . . particularly in machinery”, Barbier believes that industry representatives could benefit reciprocally from the technical presentations made at the symposium.
Department of Trade and Industry resource-based industries director Tafadzwa Nyanzunda highlighted South Africa’s significantly competitive industry at the symposium, emphasising that the DTI had provided more than R1.5-billion in incentives for this industry from 2010 to 2015.
“The South African pulp and paper manufacturing sector is a robust, well-regulated and highly developed industry, which ranks among the top 20 pulp producers in the world,” according to the DTI’s Industrial Policy Action Plan 2016/17 to 2018/19.
Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry of Southern Africa (Tappsa) chairperson Ian Kerr added that the forestry paper contribution to South Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) was 0.5%. Additionally, the forestry paper contribution to the manufacturing GDP was 4.2%, according to Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa (Pamsa) 2015 data.
The value of the industry’s total production was pegged at R28-billion in 2015, of which R5-billion had contributed to a positive balance of trade, underlining “a significant impact” on the South African economy, Kerr said.
Further, more than 80% of South African plantations comply with the Forest Stewardship Council’s stringent environmental management standards and South Africa “has the distinction of having been awarded the highest level of international certification in the world”, Nyanzunda noted.
However, local industry challenges include a decline in printed publications, owing to increasing digitalisation, as well as fluctuations in some raw material supply.
“Nevertheless, we still see quite a number of opportunities in the sector,” Nyanzunda said, pointing out the potential in the cellulose industry, particularly in nanocellulose technology, which has attracted growing interest globally.
There has also been growing demand in packaging products, mainly owing to the growth of South African middle- and upper-middle classes.
Kerr added that the global demand for tissue, paperboard and speciality products was increasing, while companies producing printing and writing-grade paper were converting machines to produce packaging-grade and speciality products.