Trade and industry minister Rob Davies in Cape Town. Picture: GCIS
Trade and industry minister Rob Davies in Cape Town. Picture: GCIS

When Rob Davies travels to Paris this week to attend a World Trade Organisation (WTO) gathering of trade ministers, it’s likely to be one of his last official engagements as minister of trade & industry.

Davies’s name is not on the list of MPs to be sworn into parliament this week.

In an interview with Business Day, he said: “I’m available if I’m needed. If I’m not needed, it’s also okay ... I’m definitely not going back to parliament that’s for sure. I’m not on the list.”

Davies has headed the department of trade & industry as minister since 2009 — a role in which he tried to develop “an overall unifying purpose ... around industrialisation” in the department.

“I think [with] the industrial policy action plans we can show we have made progress. We’ve had a purposeful intervention on our side, but also coupled [that] with consultation and discussion with the main role players,” he said, referring to the the automotive industry, clothing and textiles sectors.

“There has been progress but I think that it has been held back by incoherence within government. It has been badly affected by state capture and corruption

“Now we’re sitting with another set of externalities — reliable energy at affordable prices, the prices of other things like port charges [and] rail charges ... [These factors] are going to need urgent attention.”

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Master plan

In the automotive sector, the department’s master plan had brought about important changes “as a result of evidence-based and research-driven debates”, he said.

Similarly, the department has also worked on a master plan in the clothing and textiles sector. However,  he said it would  be up to the new administration to build on that foundation to develop similar plans for the iron and steel, and agro-processing sectors among others.

On the international trade front, Davies said the department has placed SA within important debates about regional integration and increasing the developmental voice in the WTO  multilateral trading system.

He said the latest trade spat between the US and China is not good for the country. A spate of tariffs and counter-tariffs announced by the world powers in recent days has shaken the global stock market and renewed fears about the effect on already weaker global growth forecasts.

“Any of this is not good news for us,” he said, recalling SA's “collateral damage” when it came to US hikes on steel and aluminium. Though the country weathered that particular storm, as exports of the metals constitute just 1% of US imports, he said a hike on tariffs in the automotive sector would have a more significant local effect.