Mega-Regional Trade Agreements: Strategic Implications for South Africa
For many years the Doha Round of negotiations of the World Trade Organization (WTO) had been in the doldrums, with little apparent prospect of success in its primary aim. In the wake of the ninth WTO ministerial conference in Bali in December 2013 there is renewed optimism that the WTO can deliver, and that something can still be made of the Round.
The time is thus right for WTO member states to reappraise their positions in the Round in the context of their overarching domestic and regional trade strategies. Central to any appraisal is the new geopolitical reality represented by the free trade agreements (FTAs) being negotiated by the major industrial powers. Led by the US, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are wide in scope, deep in ambition, and laden with implications for both non-states parties and the global trading system. Partly the products of the WTO impasse, these potential agreements have sucked negotiating energy out of the WTO, reducing the focus on bringing the Doha Round to a conclusion. They are also the product of China’s geopolitical rise, to the point where it is close to asserting its leadership in the global trading system. The US and its European Union counterparts are also driven by their own geopolitical imperatives of locking in access to key markets and regions, a thrust that has direct implications for outsider states. Not surprisingly, China and other major developing economies are responding with initiatives of their own, such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiations in Asia and the Pacific. Hence there is renewed impetus in FTA negotiations across the world. The paper explores these issues and lays out the policy options for South Africa in light of these developments.