South Africa has called for sober discussions around the role of trade in promoting sustainable development and inclusive growth.
Speaking at the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) 11th Ministerial Conference on Monday, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said people across the world are demanding higher levels of more inclusive economic growth and are questioning whether organisations like the WTO are geared to delivering on this demand.
Delivering South Africa’s country statement at the conference, Minister Davies said the Ministerial Conference (MC 11) is taking place at a time when the multilateral trading system is facing significant challenges.
“This we believe calls for a sober discussion on the role of trade in promoting sustainable development and inclusive growth. We must work together decisively to shape a multilateral environment that is conducive and supportive of industrialisation, and the adoption of new technologies in a way that supports structural transformation and economic diversification,” he told the conference held in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
He said it was important to recognise the necessity of policy space for developing countries, especially African countries, to pursue their development objectives and promote regional integration.
“South Africa, like many other developing countries, has participated in WTO negotiations on the basis of the undertaking that we all made in Doha to place the needs and interests of developing countries at the heart of the work program.”
“This focus, where trade serves development, remains at the core of our approach to the ongoing negotiations. Any agreed Ministerial Declaration at this Conference must make reference to the Doha mandate, even if it also recognises the apparent differences amongst us on approach,” said Minister Davies.
Minister Davies said South Africa had observed difficulties in negotiations on all issues.
“We have all observed the very real difficulties in the negotiations on almost all, if not all issues. This includes longstanding priority and mandated issues, including in domestic support, public stockholding, development and fisheries. While we are disappointed at this state of affairs, we are prepared to continue to work on these remaining Doha issues here and after Buenos Aires.
“In saying this, I must indicate in unambiguous terms that South Africa has grave misgivings and we will not accept any proposals that would intrude into our national democratic processes to make policy or regulation necessary to promote inclusivity and industrialization.”
South Africa has repeatedly stated that it recognises the paradigm shaping importance of e-commerce.
This, he said, is part of a major technological revolution underway that has the potential to bring benefits to many people around the world.
He told the conference that started on Sunday that there is a need to acknowledge that the process unfolding now is uneven within and between countries.
“In such a context with many unknowns, with enormous risks as well as opportunities, we believe this is the time for sharing information and enhancing cooperation including through several multilateral organisations that identify a path forward that addresses all issues, including infrastructure roll out and capacity building, to ensure the sustainable roll out of these technologies.”
At this stage negotiations for rule-making are not appropriate.
“There is a similar set of considerations on MSMEs [Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises] and investment facilitation. I must also indicate that we are wary to agree to the introduction of other, non- Doha Development Agenda, (DDA) issues onto the agenda as long as key DDA issues remain unresolved.”
Minister Davies said South Africa approaches its engagement in the WTO on the basis of an understanding that outcomes must support ? or at least not hinder – Africa’s overriding priority objectives for industrialisation and regional integration.
“Africa has defined an agenda to shift away from an unsustainable growth path based on our historic, colonially defined position as exporters of primary products and importers of higher value-added products. We need to add value to our raw materials, industrialise and diversify our economies in order to secure a more prosperous future for our people as well as to participate more effectively in the global economy.”
The conference, which will conclude on Wednesday, is the highest decision making body in the WTO and is attended by 164 countries, which are members of the WTO.
Minister Davies is attending the conference in South America with his Deputy Bulelani Magwanishe and Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Senzeni Zokwana.