Hoping to capitalize on Baltimore's connections to South Africa, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is trying to establish a "round table" group of government and business officials to encourage and coordinate trade with South Africa.
"Baltimore and the state are well-positioned to do business in South Africa," Mr. Schmoke told a conference yesterday at the World Trade Center on business opportunities in the African country. "I see a tremendously rich country with great opportunities," he said.
Mr. Schmoke, who was the luncheon speaker at the event, said he envisioned the round table as a group of business, academic and government officials who would meet to exchange ideas and strategies on expanding business links with South Africa.
With the lifting of apartheid and the election of Nelson Mandela as president of South Africa, investors are cautiously looking at stakes in Africa's strongest economy.
Even though the country faces problems of poverty and an unemployment rate of 45 percent, South Africa's modern financial and physical infrastructure and Mr. Mandela's policy of supporting free enterprise make it attractive to businesses, conference participants said.
The proposed round table group, which would meet every three months, would emphasize health care services, drawing on the expertise at Johns Hopkins Hospital and the University of Maryland Medical Center.
"There is a big [health care] need in South Africa," Mr. Schmoke said. "We have the expertise to take care of the public health needs."
It also helps that Baltimore doctors such as neurosurgeon Ben Carson and cardiologist Levi Watkins, both of Hopkins, have close ties to Mr. Mandela and other South African officials, according to Lee Tawney, director of international programs for the mayor.
Mr. Schmoke, who hopes the group will be in place by September, has already asked for help from Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, the Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development and Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People -- which has a long-standing relationship with the African National Congress, South Africa's dominant political party.
Mr. Schmoke was part of the U.S. delegation to Mr. Mandela's inauguration in May and attended a two-day White House conference on Africa in June.
Yesterday's conference, called "Returning to the New South Africa," was attended by about 90 government officials and business people.