‘South Africa would have been loser if Doha talks succeeded’

August 5th, 2008 - 1:48 pm ICT by IANS  

By Fakir Hassen
Johannesburg, Aug 5 (IANS) South Africa should be heaving a sigh of relief that the Doha Round of global trade talks in Geneva last week were stalled after India and the US failed to agree on the Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM), analysts here said. “As the proposed agreement looked, South Africa would have had to make deep cuts to its import tariffs on manufactured goods, while not getting access to new markets for its agricultural products,” Brendan Vickers, senior researcher at the Institute for Global Discussion, told the African daily Beeld.

Brendan felt it was a good thing that the trade round, which has been dragging on for seven years, had been suspended for now.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) was also relieved at the stalling of the talks.

“Rather no agreement than a bad one,” said Tony Ehrenreich, secretary of Cosatu in the Western Cape province, where the greater part of South African fruit exports are farmed.

Further tariff reductions which could have emerged from the current round of talks would have put South Africa in a position where it would have had to apply lower import tariffs on agricultural products and other manufactured goods than developed countries.

Ehrenreich felt that such a situation would have been unjust and would have “demolished” South Africa’s industrial sector.

The principles used by India in the Doha round which would protect its 650 million subsistence farmers could also apply to South Africa, where the small-scale farming sector is still emerging from years of the industry being dominated by white farmers with huge agricultural holdings in the apartheid era.

Developing countries, according to Ehrenreich, needed an agreement which would level the playing field, with South Africa in particular requiring an agreement which would compensate for the damage done to its industrial sector by the Uruguay round which ended in 1994 and saw South Africa making tariff reductions which were similar to those of the rich nations.

South African Minister of Trade and Industries Mandisi Mpahlwa described the Uruguay result as “historically unjust”.

South African Business expressed the view that South Africa and other countries that were not satisfied with the way the Doha talks went should persevere.

“In the Uruguay round, about 100 countries participated and only half as many issues were discussed,” Catherine Grant, head of trade policy at Business Unity South Africa, told Beeld.

“Altogether 153 countries are taking part in the Doha round and it has only been on the go for seven years. Even if it takes 10 to 12 years, it can still be a success.”

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