As US president George W Bush prepares to arrive in South Africa on Wednesday, Trade and Industry Minister Alec Erwin is hoping that the local subsidiary of American multinational Ford might become the next automotive manufacturer to produce built-up vehicles for export.

As US president George W Bush prepares to arrive in South Africa on Wednesday, Trade and Industry Minister Alec Erwin is hoping that local subsidiary of American multinational Ford might become the next automotive manufacturer to produce built-up vehicles for export.

South Africa and its Southern African Customs Union (Sacu) partners are currently in negotiations on a free trade area agreement with the US.

Erwin suggested that a free trade area would lock in many of the benefits South Africa enjoyed under Washington's African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), and said that this already had led to "a major surge in SA exports, for example of automobiles".

After Agoa came into effect in 2000, BMW South Africa began to export 3-Series models to America, with DaimlerChrysler expected to follow with Mercedes-Benz C-Class vehicles, Erwin said.

"We hope that some time in the near future Ford will do the same," he added.

CARtoday.com reported earlier this year that Ford South Africa had been negotiating with its US parent for new contracts to build vehicles in SA for export, which could include Volvo cars or light trucks.

Erwin, who met Ford executives in Detroit during a recent investment promotion tour to the US, said the automotive sector ranked second only to platinum in South African exports to the US.

The Minister added that government would consult local business and sectoral interest groups to draw up both "offensive and defensive" lists of areas where exporters and producers saw an opportunity or felt threatened by a Sacu free trade area agreement with Washington.

Discussions between Presidents Bush and Thabo Mbeki are expected to include detailed discussions on a US veto over a World Trade Organisation deal to allow developing nations to produce and import generic drugs for treating serious diseases such as Aids, malaria and TB.

Original article from Car