TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

South Africa: In hard times, the country must come first

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Source: Financial Mail (South Africa)

Trade negotiations are inherently tricky and require a delicate balance of selfish nationalism and generous multilateralism. SA, however, almost as a matter of course, chooses the latter over the former.

Its position in the World Trade Organisation's stalled Doha talks are a case in point, as is its role in the impasse between the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the EU. SA trade negotiators will argue the point, but the reality is that, by siding with its less-developed neighbours in their battles against the world's major economies, SA leaves itself less able to capitalise on the fact that it is nearer the middle of the development spectrum than on the edge of it with Swaziland and Lesotho.

SA already has a good deal with the EU, hammered out in the early days of democracy. Combined with the US's Africa Growth & Opportunity Act (Agoa), this ensures that SA's manufacturers, miners and farmers already have access to the world's largest markets.

What we should be doing now is ensuring we make the most of this access by dealing with transport, logistics, skills and labour blockages.

Instead, we are squaring up to the EU and fighting other countries' fights in the talks about a SADC-EU economic partnership agreement to replace the Cotonou Agreement, which governs trade between Africa (apart from SA) and Europe. Acknowledging that SA is part of Africa is all well and good, but policy makers and negotiators need to stop allowing themselves to be dragged down by geography.

During this unprecedented economic slowdown, it is time to put national interests first. Those who want to come along for the ride can do so, but those who don't must stay behind.

What is the point of being a regional power if you don't derive any benefit from it?