South Africa’s local content policies: challenges and lessons to consider

South Africa’s local content policies: challenges and lessons to consider

South Africa’s Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP) identifies local content as a strategic industrial policy instrument to leverage the power of public procurement; reduce the country’s trade deficit; address market failures; foster infant industries; and increase the
government’s tax base (the dti, 2016). Although local content is a commonly used industrial policy lever, there is no formally agreed definition of what local or content means, and this makes implementing the policy difficult.

The main problem with local content policies in South Africa is they are not leading to the desired level of procurement from local manufacturers. This problem persists for several reasons. Local producers often fail to compete against foreign suppliers on both quality and price, unless they are given more time to increase, improve and modify their capacity and capabilities to suit specifications. However, procurement regulations allow no space for negotiations between procurers and suppliers, leading to non-compliance by many local suppliers or total exclusion from the process. Moreover, transaction costs of locally manufactured goods are usually higher than foreign-sourced goods. The relevant systems required to measure and monitor imports and compliance on local content and procurement are inadequate, compounding the difficulty of monitoring and evaluating the policy.

Key findings from the research suggest no overarching cost and quality data on local content exists. Therefore, programmes should be established to provide suppliers with timely information on specifications, price, and quality, so that local producers can comply, and have sufficient forewarning and upgrading support. Systems to monitor imports and compliance need to be put in place, including providing a clear regulatory and legislative framework that provides a simple and concise definition of local content.

This policy brief assesses the key challenges and lessons that determine the success and failure of local content policies in South Africa. In particular, it analyses the economic rationale for using local content policies. Furthermore, the brief highlights the reasons
local content policies are not effecting the desired level of local procurement and why the problem persists, and suggests possible solutions.

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