The Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC) issued a Trade Policy Statement on May 20 that reflects its policy objectives in international trade in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The policy objectives also address emerging opportunities that arise from the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
The South African government is pursuing a trade policy that builds industrial capacity, supports workers, women and communities, unlocks development across the continent, boosts manufacturing exports, opens markets for local products and supports a digital economy. national.
Other government trade policy objectives include improving environmental sustainability and strengthening South Africa’s role in global trade relations.
Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition ebrahim Patel notes in a statement released by the ministry that trade policy must be a source of new jobs and expansion of the industrial economy in South Africa, lamenting that it must support industrial development.
“Increasing exports can spur sustainable growth, generate decent, well-paying jobs and expand economic inclusion, including for women and youth,” he said.
Before Covid-19 hit local shores, exports of manufactured goods topped R500 billion for the first time in 2019, driven by growth in exports of vehicles, catalytic converters, mining equipment and cosmetics .
Coinciding with a pandemic-related recovery, the AfCFTA presents an opportunity for industrialization in South Africa, as well as the rest of the African continent.
The DTIC reports that African countries imported over R7 trillion worth of goods from outside the continent in 2019.
This as South Africa recorded a trade surplus of R270 billion in 2020, the fifth consecutive surplus and the highest on record. This was followed by a trade surplus of R96 billion in the first three months of this year, again the highest for the first quarter of any year on record.
Last year’s trade surplus was largely the result of increased exports of agricultural products and platinum group metals, and reduced imports of crude oil and machinery.
While the trade surplus has supported South Africa’s first current account surplus in nearly 20 years, more work is needed to boost the export of manufactured goods, which can support higher levels of creation jobs.
With 17% of the world’s population but only 3% of global manufacturing, Africa’s path to prosperity lies in increasing levels of industrial production and there is evidence that since 1990 the share of Manufacturing employment has increased in a number of African countries, but with modest growth in value added.
The Trade Policy Statement is committed to promoting industrial capacity.
Economic development requires the expansion and diversification of the industrial sector, which remains the main catalyst for productivity growth, rising wages, innovation and a key driver for the expansion of the service sector, says the DTIC.
The department adds that South Africa is a relatively small and open economy, accounting for 0.53% of world trade in goods and about 0.28% of world trade in services.
High levels of manufactured imports and a relatively high import propensity not only underscore the lack of diversification of domestic production, but also, if given proper attention and support, the potential national industrial expansion.
Patel further recognizes that government policy and actions on the trade front should increase employment and promote decent work opportunities. “For the first time, South Africa is taking the deliberate and necessary step to pursue a gender sensitive and gender responsive trade policy.”
Regarding climate change, the DTIC statement notes that South Africa is committed to environmental sustainability as part of the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals.
Achieving these goals will require major transformations in global production, consumption and distribution patterns. While there are considerable opportunities for a range of green industrialization initiatives, forging greater coherence, the statement says, calls for greater consistency between UN goals and World Organization rules. trade (WTO).
Unilateral trade measures, such as border adjustment taxes on the carbon content of imports, could undermine the coherence of multilateral climate policy-making, says DTIC.
To avoid such outcomes, the “outlines of these trade measures” – how they are calculated and how they would conform to WTO rules – must be part of the multilateral dialogue, he added.