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South Africa is looking to free up more than $1 billion in weapons sales that have come to a standstill, by changing a document at the center of an export row, a senior arms control official told Reuters.
Buyers include Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. For months local defense firms have petitioned the government to alter a provision in the export document.
The provision mandates that foreign customers permit the South African government to check out their facilities to verify that weapons aren’t being given to third parties.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE purchase at least one-third of South Africa’s arms exports and have been fighting a controversial war in Yemen.
The two Persian Gulf countries however, didn’t agree to the inspections as they viewed them as a breach of their jurisdiction, industry officials said in November.
“I can confirm that the amendment of the end-user certificate was approved by the NCACC recently,” said Ezra Jele, head of the secretariat of South Africa’s National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC).
A draft letter from Jele to a defense industry organization obtained by Reuters and deemed as authentic by two industry sources said the NCACC wanted to get a new clause in place of one that permits for “on-site verification … performed by an inspector designated by the (defense) minister.” The new clause would say that “on-site verification of the controlled items may be performed, through diplomatic process.”
The alterations looked to address the concerns of importing nations that were against the original wording in the hope that exports could continue, defense sources said.
The amendment must be published in a government publication before it takes effect. The letter said that the defense minister for companies was seeking permission to utilize the new language in the short-term.
Neither Jele nor the head of the industry association to whom the letter was addressed would comment on the letter. South Africa has looked to change its defense industry by applying human rights considerations to the approval of exports.
South Africa has long included a provision in its end-user certificates mandating on-site inspections. However, arms control officials in 2017 put the provision on the front of the certificates. Nations like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman and Algeria would not sign them.
Exports to North Africa and the Persian Gulf are a vital revenue source for local defense companies, which said they would cut hundreds of jobs if the provision’s wording wasn’t altered to solve the export row issue.