The Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition, Mr Ebrahim Patel participated in the 10th BRICS Trade Ministers Meeting earlier today. The Trade Ministers Meeting focused on responses to the coronavirus pandemic, the strategy for the BRICS Economic Partnership, the Multilateral Trading System and other key areas of cooperation.
Minister Patel briefed the meeting on the South African government’s response to covid-19, outlining national interventions and actions, and highlighted key lessons that government is drawing from the coronavirus crisis and how that is shaping thinking about the future. He stated that government is considering further economic measures, including significant infrastructure investment and developing greater levels of dynamism and competitiveness in domestic industry.
Minister Patel highlighted two key observations from South Africa’s experience in dealing with the pandemic.
“The first observation is that solidarity and working together is critical in fighting a pandemic. And, as the pandemic is still with us, we need to now further strengthen the solidarity between ourselves: for example in securing critical goods from each other where no local manufacturing capability currently exists; in promoting investment in each other’s economies so that economic recovery fast-tracked, and in ensuring that any future vaccine is available to developing countries at affordable prices,” said Minister Patel.
The second observation he shared with his BRICS counterparts is that the benefits of highly integrated supply-chains come with enormous vulnerabilities when they are disrupted.
“African countries are learning the hard lesson that if we are simply exporters of raw materials and importers of medication, medical equipment and other critical goods, then our ability to ensure protection of citizens in moments like these, is compromised,” Minister Patel stated.
He added that building resilient and diversified supply-chains must include building domestic manufacturing capabilities as part of building new, inclusive supply-chains.
“An inclusive supply-chain means that manufacturing capacity is diversified across countries and South Africa, and indeed the African continent, is ready to expand production for both existing product lines and new product opportunities,” he said.
“This does not entail disengaging from global trade, investment and cooperation – they remain important sources of growth and development and we will certainly need to intensify international cooperation. However, we do not think it wise or the right time to consider new binding global or plurilateral rules in haste at a time of such crisis. We need to retain flexibility to respond with all available policy tools to address the crisis and effect economic recovery,” stated Minister Patel.
In the G20 and at the World Trade Organisation, South Africa has called for a discussion on the relationship between TRIPS (the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) and covid-19, arguing that affordable access to technology to produce critical medical supplies remains important. The South African government has argued that the provisions of the TRIPs Agreement on patents and compulsory licensing should not be barriers to sharing the technology (without royalty) to produce the medical equipment needed to address the crisis.
BRICS countries are an important trading block partner for South Africa, with exports to BRICS countries from South Africa totalling nearly R500 billion in 2019.
In the 10 years since its inception, BRICS cooperation has expanded to many areas, including economy, trade, finance, business, agriculture, education, health, science and technology, culture, think tanks, and friendship cities.
Sidwell Medupe-Departmental Spokesperson
Tel: (012) 394 1650
Mobile: 079 492 1774
Issued by: The Department of Trade and Industry
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