Too soon to tell coronavirus impact on trade, says commissioner

International Trade Administration Commissioner Meluleki Nzimande told Fin24 that the trade administration body would follow the lead of government and Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel when when responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking to reporters during a post-Cabinet briefing on Thursday, Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu said a special Cabinet meeting would be held on Sunday to discuss each Cabinet portfolio's response to coronavirus, which would inform government's overall intervention.

Coronavirus has rocked markets globally. Shaken by the virus, among other factors, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange posted its worst day since 1997 on Thursday, with the rand breaching the R16.50/$ mark. Reports indicate that even though countries are not stopping the trade of goods, the pandemic may have a chilling effect on shipping.

However, Nzimande told Fin24 that the question of taking precautions with imports and the countries that they come from was a policy issue to be discussed with the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC).

"The role of ITAC is to provide technical advice to the DTIC on trade policy related matters, administer tariffs and defensive measures guided by domestic and international law. The department that has to lead government in terms of the country’s trade policy position is the DTIC," Nzimande said.

Nzimande said it was too soon to tell the degree of impact, if any at all, that the coronavirus pandemic would have on trade volumes, especially when it came to South African exports to other markets.

"ITAC conducts trade monitoring on a long-term basis and since the coronavirus is a recent occurrence, there is currently no trade analysis yet with regards its impact on trade. The impact will however be taken into account in the future when the trade monitoring exercise is undertaken," Nzimande said.

Nzimande told Fin24 that ITAC had not received any communication from other countries of precautions on South African exports.

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