Minister Ebrahim Patel Concludes Successful Visit to Japan

The Minister of Trade and Industry, Mr Ebrahim Patel, has arrived back in the country from Japan where he attended the G20 Joint Trade and Digital Economy Ministers and the G20 Trade Ministers Meeting on 8 and 9 June.

Minister Patel and Minister of Communications, Ms Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams jointly led a South African delegation to a joint meeting of the Trade and Digital Economy Ministers that discussed the interface between trade and the digital economy.

Minister Patel said that the discussion on the digital economy must be development-oriented, promote inclusivity, innovation and the emergence of new technologies.

The G20 Trade Ministers meeting discussed current international developments in trade; the promotion of trade and investment that contribute to sustainable and inclusive growth; the reform of the World Trade Organisation (WTO); and sound business environment that promotes market-driven investment decisions.

Minister Patel noted in his remarks to the other G20 Ministers that the meetings took place at a time that the multilateral trading system is facing unprecedented challenges. There are concerns that arise in part from the backlash against globalisation, and rising inequality, poverty and declining incomes for many of our citizens, with many people feeling left behind.

Heightened uncertainty from growing trade tensions and measures is also placing a drag on an already fragile global economy. This follows long-standing concerns by many developing countries about the imbalances created by the outcome of the Uruguay Round, said Patel.

He stated that the G20 countries cannot respond to the challenges by dismantling the rules-based system and replace it with unilateralism.

The use of the rules-based multilateral system, coupled with necessary reform of the WTO should ensure that the promise of increase trade does indeed and in reality benefit all countries and people. We need a greater commitment to development-oriented trade agreements, he added.

He noted that the multilateral trading system needs legitimacy based on the expectation that the benefits will be broadly distribute which in turns requires inclusive growth models, at both the national and global level.

No social or economic order is safe if it fails to ensure a fair distribution of its benefits in good times and the costs in bad times. We need a multilateral trading system that supports inclusive growth, and enables national authorities to pursue steps to deepen developmental outcomes. South Africa believes that reform of the WTO should fundamentally be about enhancing development and inclusivity, Minister Patel said in his remark.

He raised South Africa’s concerns that the WTO is facing an existential crisis as the Appellate Body is likely to be dysfunctional if the current impasse is not resolved

We must also resolve the impasse on the WTO Appellate Body. If we fail, a cornerstone of the rules-based trading system will be incapacitated by December this year � just six months from now. This will mark a fundamental change in the functioning of the trading system, make existing rules unenforceable multilaterally and render discussion about new rules and a WTO reform-agenda increasingly meaningless, Patel said.

Patel also added that South Africa proposed consideration of a full, revitalised and inclusive multilateral discussion on the digital economy. Reform must affirm the importance of the principle and practice of Special and Differential Treatment for developing countries.

The WTO should focus on reforms that encourage local technology diffusion for innovation and measures to support industrialisation, so that all may benefit from global trade.

Lastly, Minister Patel added that Africa is pursuing an agenda to integrate markets, promote industrialisation including through regional value chains and for this, we need a supportive international environment.

Source: Department of Trade and Industry