Durban harbour. Picture: MARIANNE SCHWANKHART
Durban harbour. Picture: MARIANNE SCHWANKHART

What is happening at the International Trade Administration Commission (Itac) these days?

Ever since the elevation of Ebrahim Patel to trade, industry & competition minister two years ago the commission, whose mandate is to promote fair trade to boost the country’s economic growth, has been found wanting. It’s investigations, decision-making and communication have been beset with errors, inconsistencies and perceived partiality.           

Patel is wedded to a policy of industrial localisation built on a foundation of “master plans” and import, and even export, tariffs.  Patel seems to believe he has the talent to direct and control the economy when his job should be limited to creating the environment for professionals and experts to create success built on stability and growth. That will bring SA the wealth it desperately needs.

So far the localisation results have hardly been a success story. Localisation can work in selected industries but only when they are efficient and competitive. Most of the local industries selected (on what criteria?) are hardly that, hence the tariff tool, which does little other than increase prices, lower quality and reduce jobs.

It’s important to note that Itac is part of the Patel arsenal. It boasts of independence and impartiality. Yet its recent conduct and rulings are at best controversial and at worst sloppy. Its decisions affect corporate profitability, consumers’ pockets and the country’s trade balance and GDP. They also affect our reputation and relationships with trading partners, which at the moment look fragile due to our unreliability, unpredictability and inconsistency.

International trade is a two-way street, and any potholes we dig and roadblocks we erect will come back to bite us. 

Anthony Perie


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