The Department of Trade and Industry (dti) has decided to send 30 officials to China to copy the country’s mass production systems in the clothing and textile sector in an effort to level the playing field between the two countries, as cheap Chinese imports are threatening to bring the local industry to its knees.
Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry Elizabeth Thabethe told Business Report during the South African business expo in Shanghai this week that the Chinese government had signed an agreement to train dti officials on a technical level over a five-year period.
The agreement forms part of a joint strategic partnership between the two countries. It has been signed on the terms that the chosen officials will phase in the Chinese model in South Africa over that period, but the agreement is yet to be implemented.
Thabethe did not indicate when it would be implemented and when the training of the officials would begin.
“The 30 officials will know what is it that the Chinese do, in terms of their processes within the clothing and textile industry, how they operate. Surely in terms of labour it won’t be the same because in South Africa we’ve got the trade unions,” she said.
Given that China worked around the clock and had a cheap labour force, Thabethe acknowledged that the training alone would not level the playing field and that the government needed to strengthen its regulation of Chinese imports.
It is estimated that illegal clothing imports from China outnumber legal ones.
The Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union estimates that the industry has shrunk by 20 percent in the past three years because of cheap imports.
Thabethe said teams in the dti were “working with other departments that are dealing with our shores… quite a few cluster departments are working on this trying to make sure that people can work within our customs regime so that we can deal with this thing.”
Thabethe said policies such as the special economic zones were key in terms of making sure that South Africa looked out for its own.
Last month the SA Revenue Service announced that it was in the process of reviewing and modernising existing customs and tax regulations to protect the local industry’s competitiveness. In addition to penalties and the confiscation of illegally imported goods, Sars would now withdraw licensing for warehouses and clearing agents found to have conspired in illicit trade.
Sars pointed out that this was only part of the solution, and the local industry had to become more productive. – Londiwe Buthelezi