Trade and Industry (dti) Minister Ebrahim Patel has expressed concern at growing trade tensions in the global economy.
"Heightened uncertainty from growing trade tensions and measures is also placing a drag on an already fragile global economy. This follows long-standing concerns by many developing countries about the imbalances created by the outcome of the Uruguay Round," said Patel on Monday.
The Minister's comments follows the G20 Joint Trade and Digital Economy Ministers and the G20 Trade Ministers Meeting he attended over the weekend in Tsukuba, Japan.
The G20 Trade Ministers meeting discussed current international developments in trade; the promotion of trade and investment that contribute to sustainable and inclusive growth; the reform of the World Trade Organisation (WTO); and sound business environment that promotes market-driven investment decisions.
Patel said the meetings took place at a time that the multilateral trading system is facing unprecedented challenges, adding that there is greater need for development-orientated trade agreements.
He stated that the G20 countries cannot respond to the challenges by dismantling the rules-based system and replace it with unilateralism.
"The use of the rules-based multilateral system, coupled with necessary reform of the WTO should ensure that the promise of increased trade does indeed and in reality benefit all countries and people. We need a greater commitment to development-oriented trade agreements," he added.
There are concerns that arise in part from the backlash against globalisation, and rising inequality, poverty and declining incomes for many of our citizens, with many people feeling left behind.
Appellate Body concerns
He raised South Africa's concerns that the WTO is facing an existential crisis as the Appellate Body is likely to be dysfunctional if the current impasse is not resolved.
"We must also resolve the impasse on the WTO Appellate Body. If we fail, a cornerstone of the rules-based trading system will be incapacitated by December this year just six months from now. This will mark a fundamental change in the functioning of the trading system, make existing rules unenforceable multilaterally and render discussion about new rules and a WTO reform-agenda increasingly meaningless," Patel said.
The Appellate Body is a standing body of seven persons that hears appeals from reports issued by panels in disputes brought by WTO Members.
The Body can uphold, modify or reverse the legal findings and conclusions of a panel, among others.
Minister Patel and Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams jointly led a South African delegation to a joint meeting of the Trade and Digital Economy Ministers that discussed the interface between trade and the digital economy.
Patel also added that South Africa proposed consideration of a full, revitalised and inclusive multilateral discussion on the digital economy.
He said reform must affirm the importance of the principle and practice of Special and Differential Treatment for developing countries.