SUNDAY TIMES - SA's nuclear build contract still wide open, says France minister
Sunday Times Business By ASHA SPECKMAN, 2017-02-05 00:05:00.0

SA's nuclear build contract still wide open, says France minister

French finance minister Michel Sapin, left, is given a guided tour by test pilot Greg Jonsson. Sapin was visiting Airbus Helicopters at Grand Central Airport in Midrand on Friday. The purpose of his two-day visit was to strengthen economic relations between France and South Africa.

France's finance minister Michel Sapin believes the race between suppliers to win South Africa's nuclear build is still wide open and that France has a trick up its sleeve.

Sapin addressed the media in Pretoria on Friday after a meeting with Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan on the same day that he discussed issues related to the nuclear build.

Communicating through a translator, he said he had reminded Gordhan of the "quality and the know-how of French companies" which operate in the nuclear sector and has asked for "full transparency" on the process. The talks had also broached the questions of price, financing and affordability of the project. But Sapin declined to go into further detail.

Russia's Rosatom was rumoured to be a frontrunner in the bidding for the multibillion-rand nuclear contract. But last month it denied it had made an official bid.

French nuclear companies EDF Group and Areva intend to put in a joint bid but had not yet done so, Sapin said. "I still have a feeling the competition is open and we'll see how it unfolds. France is not afraid of competition ... We have trump cards up our sleeves," he said.

Sapin's was a working visit to deepen relationships and did not involve signing agreements. It forms part of a concerted drive by the French government to expand its partnerships in the wake of Brexit,which would have major trade implications.

"Brexit makes us ask questions about the durability and strength of the European Union. [This] gives us the duty to react strongly by turning to Africa," he said.

South Africa was a strategic partner given its importance from a leadership perspective, its membership of the G-20 bloc of nations and its economic size, said Sapin, whose next stopover is Kenya. The East African country and South Africa are key Anglophone territories. But, he said, "Africa is the priority and we want to work with the entire continent."

Sapin also met with Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu, particularly over South Africa's plans to grow the small-business sector.

France has initiated training programmes in the Western Cape with a focus on technology and innovation.

There are more than 360 French small businesses in South Africa - the bulk in Gauteng - and they employ more than 37,000 people directly, he said. But French foreign direct investment in South Africa remains small, at 1% of France's total foreign investment.

The investments span the energy, transport and logistics, car-making, consumer goods and financial services sectors.

There are only 20 South African corporations in France - including Steinhoff and Aspen - which together employ 15,000 French citizens.