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Suspend trade talks with China, says Cosatu

Mail & Guardian, South Africa

Suspend trade talks with China, says Cosatu

Cape Town, South Africa

17 September 2004

South Africa’s trade negotiations with China should be suspended until their effect on the local economy had been studied, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) said on Friday.

"[Cosatu] pointed out that in particular the bilaterals with China would be harmful to our industries," said Cosatu president Zwelinzima Vavi, addressing the Southern African Textile and Clothing Workers’ Union in Cape Town.

"We have never had a positive trade balance with China, and the deficit soared to R9,9-billion in 2003. This happened side by side with the job-loss blood bath in the manufacturing sector and in the economy in general," said Vavi in a speech prepared for delivery.

Vavi said clothes imported from Chine grew from 50% of all clothes imported in 2001 to 75% in the first three months of 2004.

Vavi wanted to know why the government rejected calls for a moratorium, asking how realistic it is to pursue a policy that deepens the unemployment crisis.

He said the government needs a "major mind shift" if it wants to achieve the ruling party’s promises of halving unemployment and poverty by 2014.

Vavi said the current public-works programmes are not a long-term solution to unemployment, with an industrial policy needed to form part of a strategy to restructure the local economy in order to create jobs and ensure growth.

"Without restructuring the economy, the dream of building a better life for all will increasingly be discredited as nothing but an empty slogan to maximise voters’ support during the election period — nothing more."

Vavi said one of Cosatu’s biggest concerns is the government’s "consistent inaction" in the face of a deepening unemployment crisis.

Vavi also mentioned a Cosatu recruitment drive aimed at increasing membership to four million by 2009, and re-energising the federation’s jobs and poverty campaign.

Referring to the Travelgate scandal at Parliament, he said the values of the South African liberation movement were solidarity, selflessness and putting the people first.

"Unless Parliament and the African National Congress act proactively to deal with these matters, good and ethical MPs and other political leaders will be tainted with the same brush," he said.

Vavi said both former president Nelson Mandela and President Thabo Mbeki have pointed to the need to overcome "crass materialism" and instead to serve the people first.

"Sometime you wonder how a provincial or national government leader or MP can in a short period of time manage to buy farms worth millions, although their official salaries can never be adequate to finance such an opulent lifestyle."

Vavi warned that corruption will soon become endemic unless it is actively opposed.

He called on all communists and trade unionists within and outside the government who have substantial business interests to consider resigning their positions, saying "no one can serve the lion and the sheep at the same time".

Vavi also said Cosatu and its affiliates need to move fast to ensure its leaders do not benefit unfairly from investment companies owned by trade unions.

Such companies should do more to support development rather than just enrich investment managers. — Sapa