South Africa should be the main supply point for vehicles into the rest of Africa - but a lack of trade agreements could see it losing out to other countries -  including China.

The African market "should be our market", said Toyota South Africa boss Johan Van Zyl - but the opportunity could be missed, he warned delegates at the AIDC Conference in Port Elizabeth.

The problem is a lack of Free Trade Agreements with African nations, apart from nations in the southern part of the continent, which are members of the SADC southern African trading bloc.

Meanwhile other countries and trading groups are setting up zero-tariff FTAs - for example between the EU and North African nations. And the emerging African nations such as Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Kenya and Nigeria are looking further afield for trade partnerships too.

"These countries are negotiating FTAs with China," he said, calling on South African government officials "to negotiate FTAs with North and East Africa as soon as possible."

He believes there is a likelihood that manufacturing in countries such as Kenya and Nigeria could be revived, starting with low-volume CKD operations. But South Africa should be in a position to source the kits for such projects.

He urged manufacturers to build vehicles with appeal to the rest of Africa. Toyota already exports Hi-Lux pick-ups to many African nations, he added.  

Brand Pretorius, CEO of McCarthy Holdings, South Africa's biggest auto retailer, called on OEM parents "to equip South African operations with a positive vision of the future, so we can become the gateway to Africa, with stability."

Mark 'Coolbear' Bursa