In a speech at the opening session of the 12th Ministerial Conference of the WTO, South Africa’s Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition Ebrahim Patel called for reform of the WTO to better suit the needs of a changing world.

He noted the new challenges since the formation of the WTO twenty-eight years ago, pointing to climate change, vast and growing inequality within and between countries, the vulnerability experienced in health and supply-chain disruptions as a result of integrated systems and more pronounced geo-political tensions.

“The WTO will need to reinvent itself for the new age; be more flexible and promote stronger development outcomes. We need a rules-based system to promote global prosperity, to do so inclusively; and to not rely on the law of the jungle where power alone defines who eats and who gets eaten. And for this reason, the rules need to enable greater trade between nations that result indeed in balanced and developmental outcomes,” Minister Patel said.

He called on the WTO within its mandate to address food insecurity, pandemic preparedness and slow growth. Food prices have risen sharply due to supply-chain disruptions caused by the impact of Covid-19 and aggravated by the war in Ukraine. The WTO Conference will discuss food security as one of its key themes.

“The challenges faced by many developing countries include weak levels of industrialisation, new pressures created by climate change and the implications of digitisation of economies and trade,” he said.

“Almost 30 years after the conclusion of the Uruguay Round of trade reforms, Africa today has over 17% of the world’s population and yet accounts for just 3% of global trade and GDP; and less than 1% of global steel and automobile output. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) offers a new path for Africa to industrialize and escape the continent’s historical position in the global division of labour, largely as a producer and exporter of raw materials and natural resources,” he said.

South Africa also called for a number of reforms in the WTO system, with a review and rebalancing of WTO rules to enable African countries to industrialise; a functioning and effective dispute resolution system; and retaining the principle that developing countries have more flexibilities that developed economies.

Minister Patel called for an agreement to address the challenge of over-fishing, particularly illegal and unreported fishing and effective measures to address the Covid-19 pandemic.

Bongani Lukhele – Director: Media Relations
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