Ivanov Pushes Trade On South Africa Trip

In the latest sign of closer ties between Russia and South Africa, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov arrived in Pretoria on Monday for talks aimed at increasing bilateral trade and investment.

Ivanov, the third senior official to visit South Africa within the last 18 months, held high-level talks with South African President Thabo Mbeki on Monday, the South African Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Ronnie Mamoepa, said by phone from Pretoria.

Ivanov, who described the two countries as "destined to cooperate," also met with the country's deputy president, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and with various business groups, Mamoepa said.

Ivanov is being accompanied on the present trip by Natural Resources Minister Yury Trutnev and Transportation Minister Igor Levitin.

Yury Trutnev, who is also co-chairperson of the Russia-South African Intergovernmental Trade and Economic Committee, said last year that Russia "would invest as much as needed" in new nuclear power stations and joint uranium mining ventures in South Africa.

"The supply of energy is top on the agenda," Igor Maidanov, director of the Natural Resources Ministry's international cooperation department, said by phone from Pretoria.

"Russia is aware of South Africa's present energy problems. I believe that the delegation will discuss this issue in order to find ways to help."

South Africa has been hit with crippling power outages in recent months, and Russia has offered to build a second nuclear power plant if selected in a tender.

Russian companies are also actively involved in geological prospecting, including exploration of manganese ore in the Kalahari.

Billionaire Viktor Vekselberg's Renova group has partnered with South African Black Economic Empowerment group to form the United Manganese of Kalahari to co-operate on the prospecting, mining and processing of manganese ore in the Kalahari basin.

The group announced last month that the UMK has won a mining license for a $200 million manganese project with an annual production capacity of 1.5 million tons.

Renova owns 49 percent of United Manganese of Kalahari, and local South African groups control the remaining 51 percent, according to a statement posted on the Renova web site.

Maidanov said Monday that Ivanov would have discussions with South African officials regarding delays in license approvals for Yevraz holding, Russia's largest steelmaker.

Yevraz, partly owned by billionaire Roman Abramovich, has been expanding into Africa's markets. It recently closed deals to acquire Highveld Steel and Vanadium.

Last year, the South African Competition Commission conditionally approved the takeover of Highveld by Yevraz.

In September 2006, when President Vladimir Putin paid the only visit by a Russian head of state to South Africa, he signed an agreement establishing the Joint South Africa-Russia Business Council, co-chaired by Vekselberg.