Business Day, South Africa
26 August 2004
Cosatu wants bilateral trade moratorium
By Jacques Keet
The Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) on Thursday called for a moratorium on all South Africa’s current bilateral trade agreements, and renewed its plea to the government to consistently pursue economic and trade policies that prioritise job retention and creation.
Briefing the media after Cosatu’s central executive committee (CEC) meeting, which was held in Cape Town for the first time, general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said critical steps included further interest rate cuts.
"Exchange controls must remain in place, reinforced by ’speed bumps’ to protect the economy from the disruptive effects of speculation on world financial markets," he said.
The CEC called for a moratorium on all current bilateral agreements until the likely impact on jobs, poverty and developmental needs had been analysed more consistently.
"It appears that our bilateral trade negotiations are not informed by a well-defined strategic vision to promote industrialisation and enhance employment. In this context, the proposed free trade agreement with China is a particular concern."
Cosatu was not "against China", or any other developing country, but South Africa’s own interests had to come first, especially in job retention and creation, so that the goal of halving unemployment by 2014 could be achieved.
South Africa should stop trying to be the "good guy" to everyone, especially its competitors, Vavi said.
Cosatu president Willie Madisha said a moratorium would allow "us to engage on improving the lot of our people". Too many imports led to job losses, especially in the clothing and textile industries.
Madisha added that labour laws in China, if they existed, exploited the working people, and the federation wanted workers there and elsewhere to benefit from the same progressive labour laws as in South Africa.
Vavi said Cosatu condemned the failure of clothing retailers to demonstrate real commitment to job creation and the Proudly South African campaign.
"This emerges from their refusal formally to agree to source the bulk of their products locally," he said.
Cosatu would also oppose the entrance into South Africa of United States rtail chain Walmart and similar chains, who made their profits off the exploitation of workers in both production and retail.
The CEC had also been addressed by Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana and Public Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin, and ANC MPs, and broad agreement emerged that creating jobs and slashing poverty had to be prioritised, he said.
Cosatu would soon launch a campaign against job losses in telecommunications utility Telkom, the Cape Town metro, and Durban Roodepoort Deep and Harmony mines, as well as the manufacturing sector in general.
The campaign would see Cosatu mobilising to confront the continuing job loss carnage.
"We will ensure that the commitments made at the growth and development summit and in the ANC (election) manifesto to halve unemployment and poverty by 2014 are carried out in line with existing agreements, and, if necessary, through new initiatives," Vavi said.