In recent days there's been mutterings amongst several business commentators concerning the state of the South African manufacturing sector and its inability to compete in the local economy in the face of 'so-called' cheap imports, he said.
For once I heard some common sense instead of the usual WTO/economist waffle which normally just confuses people instead of shedding light on the inherent problems.
What the Business Times article suggests is that our prevailing job plight is self-induced and should not be blamed entirely on rogue elements alone.
In the article, business consultant Moeletsi Mbeki opines: "(government) is too ideologically orientated, it operates from ideology rather than from practical expertise. This motivates our relationship with China. The Chinese can do no wrong."
One of the worst mistakes they made, he believes, was to sign an agreement that gave the Chinese market economy status which it did not and does not deserve.
The talk was that SA agreed to do this as compensation for imposing a three-year quota on Chinese textile imports. The effect on SA's manufacturing sector has been devastating. "As a consequence of that agreement it is virtually impossible for us to get countervailing duties into China through ITAC [the International Trade Administration Commission which used to fall under the Department of Trade and Industry but is now under Ebrahim Patel's Department of Economic Development]," says Stewart Jennings, chairman of the Manufacturing Circle. "We've battled to get dumping duties or safeguards against China. Most of the applications that have gone to ITAC have been kicked into touch."
First, China starts with a currency that is 30% undervalued. It manipulates it, so any goods it exports to SA are 30% cheaper than they should be.
On top of that there are all sorts of incentives for Chinese exporters. And then, as Jennings says, attempts by local manufacturers to defend themselves by applying for countervailing duties more often than not go nowhere.
Iraj Abedian of Pan African Investment and Research says the short answer to the question is yes, we are being screwed. "Not because the Chinese have been smart but because we've been snoozing and naïve."
Under-valuation and misdeclaration have and always will pose a challenge to any country, said Poverello.
"The blame has been placed on Customs not doing its job. Yet the problem appears to lie at the feet of policy makers who have made foolish decisions for which the country as a whole now pays the price."