South Africa sets up National Committee for new African trade agreement action plans
South African Minister for Trade and Industry, Ebrahim Patel set up a National Committee, comprising business, labour and government, to develop action plans around the new African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).
This was done at a strategic session held between the Ministry and social partners at NEDLAC (the National Economic, Development and Labour Council, South Africa’s statutory social dialogue forum).
The engagement was chaired by Minister Patel, and was the first session held with the new Ministry at NEDLAC following the start of the Sixth Administration, and the combination of the dti and Economic Development Department into the new Department of Trade, Industry and Competition.
The day-long session gave rise to a number of tripartite working groups to speed-up actions to grow the number of jobs in the South African economy.
Both Business and Labour sent high level delegations to the engagement, including leaders from BUSA, CEOs of large companies and sector business organisations; as well as trade union leaders from COSATU, FEDUSA and NACTU.
Representatives of the Public Private Growth Initiative were also present in the meeting. The state was represented by Deputy Ministers of Trade and Industry, Fikile Majola and Nomalungelo Gina, senior officials from the new Department and a number of regulators, including SARS and ITAC. Minister Patel opened the all-day engagement by reflecting on the state of the economy.
“The South African economy produced R5 trillion worth of goods and services in the last year. We need to boost the size of that output and bring more people into the economy. There are currently 16,3 million people in employment in South Africa. We need to create more jobs, and better jobs for the 10 million South Africans who are willing and able to work but are unable to find employment. Neither despair nor blame constitute effective solutions. We have an opportunity to build on our real strengths as a nation, to turn the relatively modest job creation into a significantly larger effort, with workable and actionable solutions to unblock growth, investment and job creation in the economy,” he said.
The engagement focused on a number of key developments in the local and global economy, including the new Industrial Strategy outlined by President Cyril Ramaphosa during the State of the Nation Address in June, and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which has been ratified now by 27 African countries, including South Africa.
The AfCFTA is intended to be implemented from July 2020, and has been recognised by all constituents as a game-changer for African economies, with the opportunity for new markets for South African goods, balanced by the risk that certain industries may come under threat from imports from across the continent.
The NEDALC parties agreed that a National Committee with sector-level task teams should identify which products South Africa could export to other African countries and what steps needed to be taken to realise such exports. The teams should also point to products that are vulnerable and develop measures to strengthen such sectors.
Government officials also provided updated presentations on South Africa’s export and investment promotion services, plans to improve the ease of doing business, development of special economic zones, changes to the Competition Act, empowerment and black industrialists programmes, and the trade dimensions of the digital economy.
The engagement has now resulted in a number of working groups and committees, with constituents drawn from Government, Business and Labour. These include a Ministerial Export Promotion Panel that will be constituted shortly, a Special Economic Zone reference team and a Working Committee on trade policy and the digital economy. Working groups are expected to meet during August and September.
Minister Patel commended social partners on their approach to the engagement, which he noted as solutions-driven.
“Partnership requires that every constituency brings concrete commitments by members to the table and also identifies what it seeks to achieve for its members. We need bold commitments from business and labour. Government will need to be more effective in creating the foundations for growth, transformation and development. This is an opportunity to do things differently. What we have seen in this dialogue begins to reset the tone for a collaborative approach to unlock inclusive growth and job creation in our country,” said Patel.