On 25 October 2019, the Office of the United States Trade Representative put South Africa on notice that our eligibility for the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) would come under review due to the unwillingness of President Cyril Ramaphosa to send back to Parliament the fatally flawed Copyright Amendment Bill.
On 12 June 2019, I wrote to the president requesting that he send the bill back to the Portfolio Committee on Trade and Industry for amendments and further consideration because the bottom line is, it is a bad bill and has no place on our statute books.
We warned then, should the president sign the bill in its current form, it will lead to a jobs bloodbath and will cost the economy approximately R12-billion in exports to the US following threats to institute a review on our GSP accessibility.
To date, he has ignored our letter and failed to respond. Hardly the actions of someone who keeps exploring MP’s to “work together”.
The bill has now sat on the president’s desk for more than six months, creating uncertainty in the creative industry, with the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) successfully lobbying the US government to reconsider South Africa’s preferential trade access, thereby threatening billions of rand in exports as well as jobs.
The US government has now begun the review process because of the bill’s failure to:
- Provide “adequate and effective protection” of US copyrighted works and sound recordings; and
- Provide “equitable and reasonable access” to the South African market for US producers and distributors of creative materials.
Should this review be granted by the US, it would have devastating consequences for our battered economy with 16% of total exports at risk of being wiped out.
At a time when unemployment is on the rise to record levels, with a staggering 10 million South Africans already unemployed, and an economy that is struggling to get out of a “flat growth trap”, the country cannot afford to lose access to an important market such as the US.
The DA maintains there are five main problems with the bill that need to be rectified by the portfolio committee:
- The introduction of “fair use” which gives individuals the right to use copyrighted work “fairly”; in essence, to circumvent copyright protections and republish them without consent;
- The bill will undermine our commitment to international treaties such as the Berne Convention and the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of International Property Rights;
- No socio-economic assessment study (SEAS) was conducted by the dti into the economic and trade-related impact that the bill may have, as is required by the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation for all new bills;
- Local content producers and education contributors will be severely prejudiced due to their works not being protected in South Africa and aboard. This could have devastating consequences for schools and universities; and,
- Insufficient public consultation on the final version of the bill which contains clauses that were changed without input from stakeholders.
At the heart of the inaction by the president is political pressure within the ANC and by his alliance partners to push ahead with the bill under the false narrative that it is good for the creative industry.
So, while the president weighs up his options, he has now pushed the US to protect its interests at our expense.
It is now time that President Ramaphosa shows some backbone and stands up to internal and external lobby groups in the interests of growing the economy and creating jobs.
The president has a responsibility to protect our preferential trade access by doing the right thing and sending the Copyright Amendment Bill back to the committee for reconsideration without further hesitation. Anything short of this will be to bend the knee to the enemies of growth that reside on the government benches of Parliament.
The clock is ticking and we are quickly running out of time before a decision by the US is made. It will be a miracle for us to maintain our trade access through the GSP and the first step begins with sending the bill back to Parliament. Does the president have what it takes? Time will certainly tell. MC
Dean Macpherson MP is the DA Shadow Minister for Trade & Industry