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Doha lull ‘gives SA time to finalise policy’

Business Day, South Africa

Doha lull ‘gives SA time to finalise policy’

Mathabo le Roux, Trade and Industry Correspondent

3 August 2006

The stalled Doha negotiations would give SA a valuable opportunity to strengthen technical consultation and tighten relations in the Southern African Customs Union (Sacu) before the trade talks were resumed, SA’s chief trade negotiator, Xavier Carim, said yesterday.

Past experience had shown that the talks would resume at some point. Carim was speaking at a trade strategy workshop hosted by the South African Institute of International Affairs yesterday.

“We always play catch-up. We tended in the past to focus on agricultural and industrial issues. This gives us time to look at intellectual property issues, services and other issues,” he said.

The situation would also give SA’s negotiators the opportunity to consult within Sacu.

He said SA was set to meet a number of other countries next month to determine their position in the future.

The lull in trade talks would also give SA the chance to finalise its industrial policy, seen by government as vital to the growth of the economy, and might ease SA’s negotiating position.

“We’ve struggled in the past and sort of negotiated in a vacuum, but with our industrial policy taking shape there is a chance to define our industrial trade position more clearly,” Carim said.

There were concerns in the past about SA making industrial tariff concessions before the policy was finalised and thus compromising its future domestic position.

Some delegates at yesterday’s workshop, however, criticised SA’s protectionist stance and said that the current tariff regime did not bear the mark of a comprehensive trade strategy.

They said it merely reflected the interests of certain groups.

Lawrence Edwards, of the School of Economics at the University of Cape Town, said that, in the absence of a coherent trade reform strategy, government’s industrial policy could turn out to be an increased industrial protection strategy .

But Carim defended policy strategies. He said that government had realised that accelerated growth was less likely without state intervention.

The aim was for government and players to “discuss the issues that prohibit growth”.