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Ford says committed to South Africa, plays down concern over strikes

By Tiisetso Motsoeneng

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co has a long-term commitment to South Africa, its regional head said, playing down any concerns about strikes that an engineering federation said had prompted the U.S. carmaker to consider pulling out of the country.

The Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa (SEIFSA) said the local head of Ford, Jeff Nemeth, told SEIFSA's chief executive that "he was under pressure from his head office to pull the company's operation out South Africa."

Nemeth told SEIFSA of concerns within Ford over strike action, SEIFSA spokeswoman Ollie Madlala said.

Nemeth spoke to SEIFSA shortly before more than 220,000 workers led by the NUMSA metalworkers union - South Africa's biggest - launched a strike for higher pay that has hit the supply of auto parts.

Asked to comment, the president of Ford's Middle East and Africa operations, Jim Benintende, said: "We have a long-term commitment to South Africa... and we're making news next week about future products."

Ford wanted to respect the strike negotiation process "so all we have to say is that we hope all sides come to amicable agreements as soon as possible," he said.

The strike, now in its second week, has already forced General Motors to halt production, and Ford and other automakers could follow suit if it continues.

The NUMSA strike follows a walkout by platinum miners that lasted five months and ended two weeks ago.

A four-week strike last year by more than 30,000 NUMSA members at major automakers cost the industry around $2 billion.

Ford sells around 6,000 vehicles a month in South Africa, making it the third-largest seller behind Toyota Motor Corp <7203.T> and Volkswagen AG .

It also exports vehicles from South Africa.

(Reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng; Editing by David Dolan and John Stonestreet)

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