EC exporters share how they weathered the COVID storm

21 October 2020 | Web Article Number: ME202020973

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EC exporters share how they weathered the COVID storm

COMMUNICATION, collaboration, agility, and long working hours are some of the reasons exporters in the Eastern Cape been able to continue operations despite the effects of COVID-19 on the local economy.

This emerged from a virtual panel discussion hosted by Exporters Eastern Cape recently and facilitated by Jane Stevenson, Vice-Chair of Exporters Eastern Cape and Managing Director of Magnetic Minds.

Jason Meyer, Production Manager: Packing and Planning at San Miguel said since citrus was a perishable good, timing became even more critical to provide products to specific markets during the lockdown period, which was characterised by huge logistical delays.

Despite the challenges, San Miguel had a record year in terms of total export volumes with well over 80,000 tons of citrus exported to the Northern hemisphere.

“Initially we had a big scare when the lockdown was announced. However, we were blessed with being able to operate under the restrictions, being part of the essential services, and markets being very strong in accepting citrus products with an increased demand for Vitamin C.

“We experienced many disruptions through the full value chain but all in all there were more positives than negatives,” said Meyer.

This included partnering with other role-players in the Eastern Cape citrus industry with the aim of supporting one another to ensure the success of the citrus production and exports from the province.

Captain Faisal Sultan, Senior Manager: Port Operations at the Port of Port Elizabeth said despite the knock-on effects of the logistical challenges, one of the successes during this time was becoming more connected with the citrus export role-players through a dedicated WhatsApp group.

“This worked very well from a communications perspective. Some of the challenges we experienced were balancing the well-being of our staff with providing 24-hour service to our customers, as well as ensuring the safety of the crew on the incoming vessels to the port.

“The Port of Port Elizabeth was the first to implement COVID-19 health declarations, and other SOPs (standard operating procedures),” said Sultan.

Tony Pienaar, Departmental Executive for Supply Chain Management and Quality at Isuzu Motors South Africa said staff well-being was a priority. “As the risk levels decreased and we went back to full production, the production staff were supported by Isuzu’s medical facility and issued with PPE. It remains important for us to keep the company culture intact, as we find different ways of doing things.”

Despite the huge downturn in the automotive industry because of COVID-19, Isuzu registered its highest market share percentage for August in the past 14 years. The Isuzu D-Max bakkie market share topped 17.3% and was ranked as the second-best seller in South Africa for May, June and August.

“As we restart the industry, we are seeing normality coming back, markets recovering to a certain extent as they get out of various levels of lockdown. It is important to adapt to these conditions and change,” said Pienaar.

Lauren Goddard, National Sales Manager at Expeditors International said an estimated drop in trade of between 13-22% for the third and fourth quarters had been predicted.

“Keep in mind that the largest drop we experienced was in the recession of 2008 with a 5% drop in trade. We have seen a major impact on companies, especially those that were financially at risk already. However, healthcare trade has increased, especially with vaccines expected to be transported,” said Goddard.

She advised exporters to plan for increased rates and to invest in cloud-based technology and cybersecurity.

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