COSATU welcomes work done by the South African Government at the World Trade Organisation to defend South Africa’s trade and export interests

01 March 2024

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) welcomes work done by Government to defend South Africa’s trade and export interests at the current World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations in Abu Dhabi – known as the 13th Ministerial Conference (or MC13) – at which current and future rules for global trade are being discussed and debated.  

For many years, workers and developing countries have seen rules of trade created that benefit the neo-colonial interests of rich countries and the developed world. We have also witnessed the attempts of developing countries to seek a more developmental and balanced trade agenda being undermined and disrespected by the developed world.

Examples of such intransigence by the industrialised world include the agreement reached many years ago that this phase of the WTO negotiations would deal with developmental matters, this outcome has been fiercely resisted by the developed world. They fight tool and nail against adopting meaningful tools that would help poorer countries – like refusing waivers on intellectual property of technology which can be transferred to developing countries which would allow economies to grow; or refusing to establish or capitalise developmental funds that can be used by developing countries to build their digital skills and infrastructure; or refusing developing countries the space to have more protection for their vulnerable industries through better flexibilities around tariff or other trade modalities; or refusing to stop subsidies on industries in wealthy countries that undermine the industries of poorer countries who cannot compete and therefore cannot grow.     

At the current WTO negotiations, there has been attempts to further undermine the developmental agenda.  One of these attempts is happening through a group of countries trying to side-step the consensus rule and practice of the WTO by creating a unmandated side-agreement  (a so-called plurilateral) on Investment Facilitation and then trying to push for its adoption. 

If South Africa were to agree to this Investment Facilitation agreement, we would be consenting to a process that is legally flawed, which undermines the foundational concept of consensus as the tool to develop rules at the WTO, which weakens the position of developing countries to seek meaningful developmental changes to the global rules of trade, and which opens the door to a dystopian future of trade policy creation by any means.  

We also hold concerns about the actual content of the Investment Facilitation agreement. In a cynical move, its sponsors have framed it as a developmental tool. They are now trying to smear South Africa as preventing the flow of much needed investment to developing countries. We are not surprised that the industrialised north would try to appropriate the concept of development for their purposes: having not delivered on real developmental tools, this agreement is now paraded as developmental heaven. But it is a ruse. The agreement threatens to undermine the sovereignty of developing countries and strengthen the hand of foreign investors to beat of the drums to which governments must dance. There is no evidence this agreement will lead to increased investment in developing countries. Nor is there any reason investment would necessarily be developmental under this agreement, in the sense that it would be in the best interests of developing countries and their citizens.  

Instead this Investment Facilitation agreement is simply icing on a stone. Developing countries which bind themselves to this agreement will sink under its weight. The South African government and our trade negotiators must be congratulated for withstanding the current pressures and for standing up for a better WTO with real developmental interests at its heart.  

Issued by COSATU

For further information please contact:
Matthew Parks
Acting National Spokesperson & Parliamentary Coordinator
Cell: 082 785 0687