Al­ways look on the bright side of life…

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - Ni­cola Maw­son Ni­cola Maw­son is the online edi­tor of Busi­ness Re­port. Fol­low her on Twit­ter @Ni­co­laMaw­son or Busi­ness Re­port @bus­rep

THIS YEAR cer­tainly started with a bang. One day you’re sit­ting on the beach drink­ing piña co­ladas and the next you’re wear­ing a power suit – and are back at work. Every­one I’ve spo­ken to is hope­ful that 2017 is a darn sight bet­ter than 2016 or – for that mat­ter – 2015.

Things are look­ing up. Re­tail sales are bet­ter – even though some say it may not last – some pre­dic­tions are for bet­ter eco­nomic growth than last year. Some are for stag­nant growth.

Hey, we es­caped a down­grade to junk last year, we have ac­tual rain now – although we may have La Niña to con­tend with – and com­mod­ity prices are look­ing up. So, we have those in our favour.

What­ever one may say, we have a sound ju­di­ciary, sound laws, and govern­ment in­sti­tu­tions that will still stand up for con­sumers, even if it takes some time.

Yes, we’ve got a long way to go be­fore we are the world’s cho­sen in­vest­ment des­ti­na­tion. Yes, our govern­ment in­sti­tu­tions need some work be­fore they are fully trusted – when was the last time some­one spoke highly of log­ging a com­plaint about an es­tate agent and get­ting it re­solved?

On bal­ance though, SA Inc is a great place to do busi­ness, and to live.

(Although, I sus­pect, many peo­ple will wish to ar­gue that point with me, de­spite me be­ing – as my ex will tell you – ap­par­ently more a pes­simist than a re­al­ist.)

The mes­sage South Africa’s del­e­ga­tion is tak­ing to the 46th an­nual World Eco­nomic Fo­rum (#WEF2017 if you will) is yet again that we are open for busi­ness.

Team SA – un­der the aus­pices of union-leader-turned-busi­ness­man-turned-politi­cian Deputy Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa – is meet­ing with po­ten­tial for­eign in­vestors and sell­ing the SA story. And we have much to sell, and much need to sell us, be­cause we need for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment.

About 3 000 very im­por­tant govern­ment, labour, busi­ness and civil so­ci­ety peo­ple con­verged on a small town called Davos, in Switzer­land this week.

Woo­ing in­vestors

There, un­der the theme “Re­spon­sive and Re­spon­si­ble Lead­er­ship”, our del­e­ga­tion is pon­der­ing is­sues of cli­mate change, mil­len­ni­als, the 4th in­dus­trial revo­lu­tion, and woo­ing in­vestors. Be­hind the scenes, they are more than likely suc­ceed­ing. I hope so, be­cause the lime­light has been stolen by Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping.

Xi has used the plat­form at Davos to call his “coun­ter­part” US pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump out on sev­eral fronts. It doesn’t help that Trump is con­spic­u­ously ab­sent and prob­a­bly pre­par­ing for his in­au­gu­ra­tion to­day. Xi is de­fend­ing glob­al­i­sa­tion at a time when Trump is threat­en­ing, in more ways than one, to pull back the bor­ders. China is also open­ing the doors to more for­eign in­vestors in a bid to en­tice them in when Amer­ica’s bor­ders are clos­ing.

And, while he’s at #WEF2017, his coun­try is pre­par­ing to re­tal­i­ate if Trump car­ries out prom­ises to im­pose sanc­tions on Chi­nese goods. It has al­ready tough­ened its stance by im­pos­ing un­usu­ally high du­ties in an anti-dump­ing case against a US-made agri­cul­tural chem­i­cal. Ouch.

How­ever, we have to re­mem­ber that this comes in the wake of Trump threat­en­ing Ger­man car mak­ers with penal­ties if they im­port into the US, Ford dump­ing a $1.6 bil­lion (R21.62bn) planned plant in Mex­ico in favour of home, and as­sorted other in­frac­tions by com­pa­nies that are not home grown – as it were.

This re­minds me rather of Her­bert Hoover’s pre-de­pres­sion prom­ises of “a chicken in ev­ery pot and a car in ev­ery garage”. Although less pro­tec­tive, in­su­lar, na­tion­al­is­tic – and let’s hope not jin­go­is­tic – Trump is beat­ing about the same drum. (And no, I’m NOT that old, I just had a re­ally good high school his­tory teacher.)

It’s no won­der that China is tak­ing on the world’s sec­ond largest econ­omy in a bid to best it. Amer­ica for Amer­i­cans can only go so far. It’s not pos­si­ble to to­tally close one’s bor­ders and sur­vive (don’t re­mind me about the 1980s when we had a thriv­ing steel sec­tor). And that’s why China is mov­ing like it is.

I’m not ar­gu­ing that some form of trade pro­tec­tion­ism isn’t needed. Clearly, it is. How­ever, when­ever we think about our (eco­nomic) fu­ture, we need to have dis­cus­sions with our arms open, not crossed.

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