Your Excellency, Minister Gebran Bassil, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants,
Members of the Media,
We have just concluded our bilateral discussions which have been characterised by the usual friendliness and comradeship.
The Government of South Africa attaches great importance to the ties that have been built between our country and the Republic of Lebanon and we look forward to enhancing our relations further.
Your Excellency, once again, I convey my Government’s congratulations for the manner in which the Lebanese nation addressed the question of leadership, resulting in the current democratic dispensation. The election of President Michel Aoun and the installation of Prime Minister Hariri symbolise a historic transition. We hope that this new era will enable us to take our relations to a higher and fruitful level.
South Africa enjoys friendly diplomatic relations with Lebanon. An important element is a sizeable community of South Africans of Lebanese origin (estimated at 30 000), the first components of which dates back more than a century ago.
The Conference of the Lebanese Diaspora Energy (LDE), African Chapter, hosted by Minister Bassil yesterday in Sandton, presented an opportunity for us to meet with the objective of strengthening bilateral political and economic relations between South Africa and Lebanon.
The LDE Conference brought together some of the most prominent business leaders from Lebanon, who have witnessed the growing importance of Africa in advancing trade and investment with our continent, and here in South Africa. We hope that this conference will further strengthen the economic ties between our countries and by extension Lebanon’s relations with our Southern Africa regional partners, as well as the entire African continent.
This is in line with our foreign policy priorities that places the African continent at the centre of our international relations programme. As you are aware, I have just returned from a very successful African Union Summit that was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where we had the opportunity to discuss our continent’s political and economic realities.
South Africa and Lebanon share common positions on the Middle East Peace Process. We both support the two-state solution – we support the inalienable right of Palestinians to a sovereign homeland, and are strongly opposed to the continued settlement expansion being pursued by the government of Israel.
Our discussions today also focused on enhancing our understanding of the current developments in Lebanon and the region broadly, particularly insofar as it relates to the political, socio-economic and security challenges that confront Lebanon and the region currently.
We also used our discussions to identify and strengthen areas of potential co-operation between our countries, particularly in regards to the increased trade, tourism and investment relations, and possible joint action between South Africa and Lebanon.
It is in this regard, we agreed to facilitate the finalisation of the following Draft Agreements that are currently being processed:
1.MoU on Bilateral Consultation/Co-operation;
2.MoU on Economy & Trade Co-operation;
3.Finance Co-operation Agreement - Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Protection of Investment
4.Bilateral Air Services Agreement;
5.Tourism Co-operation Agreement;
6.Judicial Services Co-operation Agreement; and
7.Agreement on the Abolishment of Visas (Diplomatic, Special & Service Passports)
In conclusion allow me to indicate that we already have a growing Lebanese business community active in our economy in the communications sector, agriculture, cement production, property development and construction.
I am certain that we will continue to strengthen our ties and further explore new areas of cooperation.
Minister, I would now like to hand over to you to address the media.