With hardly a week to settle in, newly-appointed Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel will represent South Africa at two key international meetings of countries involved in determining the future direction of international trade.
The Minister will be off to the G20 Joint Trade and Digital Economy Ministers and the G20 Trade Ministers’ Meeting will be held on Saturday and Sunday in Tsukuba, Japan.
This visit signals the redoubling of efforts to grow South Africa’s economy by deepening its links with key international partners and actively participating in shaping the Multilateral Trading System, Patel said on Friday.
The trade ministers’ meeting will focus on the current international trade developments, the creation of enabling business environments to grow investments that contribute to sustainable and inclusive growth and developments in the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Patel said the G20 Trade Ministers’ meeting is taking place at a time when the multilateral trading system is facing unprecedented challenges.
He said South Africa supports an inclusive, development-centred and rules-based multilateral trading system with the WTO at its core.
“The trade ministers’ meeting has the potential for a constructive dialogue with our international partners to avoid a destructive trade war that could limit growth and creation of jobs in South Africa. A significant part of South Africa’s GDP performance is driven by trade.”
Patel said South Africa is concerned that the WTO is facing an existential crisis, as the Appellate Body is likely to be dysfunctional by December 2019 if the current impasse in the appointments of members of the WTO is not expeditiously resolved.
“A functional dispute settlement mechanism is a cornerstone of the multilateral trading system and essential to the functioning of the WTO. There is, therefore, a need for constructive discussions by all the members of the WTO as an immediate priority to resolve the impasse.”
The joint meeting of the Trade and Digital Economy Ministers on the other side will discuss the interface between trade and the digital economy.
Patel said the digital and other new technologies are transforming the world and economies and South Africa must not be left behind.
These technologies, he added, are reshaping traditional manufacturing and logistics systems.
“What we produce and how we produce it will all change as the new technologies enter production chains.
“Our immediate need is to create more jobs for young people. We must, therefore, focus our efforts as South Africans on upgrading productive capabilities, diversifying the economy, moving up the value chain and ensuring that we have a greater share of the benefits of international production and trade,” the Minister said.
He said this requires a focused discussion on the framework for the digital economy that can help with harnessing digital and other new technologies for SA’s industrial policy.
“There are opportunities to make established industries more responsive and competitive and to develop new industries.”