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By Anna Majavu | Dec 21, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

TRADE and Industry Minister Rob Davies is in the hot seat to create jobs. While the Minister of Economic Development - former clothing union leader - Ebrahim Patel is also assigned to create employment, Davies oversees the industrial and manufacturing sectors and is responsible for millions of jobs.

And if the right industrial policy is put in place, many millions more jobs could be created.

Davies has been in training for the job for nine years, having been the previous administration's deputy trade and industry minister. Before that, he was chairperson of the trade and industry portfolio committee. But he said 2010 is the year to watch.

"We have a better team in place than we had," Davies said.

"We have had action plans in the past, but we chose the easy way to do things. Our aim now is to raise the game so that we have a stronger impact on stimulating industrial development," he said.

Part of the new three-year Industrial Policy Action, which will be taken through Cabinet in 2010, will focus on creating green industries.

Davies said the green industries plan will include setting up local plants to manufacture things such as solar water heaters - in a bid to create jobs and take steps to give the public some relief from high electricity prices.

There is no word yet on how these will be rolled out, but the new administration's recognition that South Africa needs to cash in on our abundant sunlight is a step in the right direction.

Davies said in 2010, he will also introduce changes to procurement rules so that these favour local procurement - another key ingredient of job creation.

In the industrial and manufacturing sectors, many components of cars are imported to local assembly plants. This reduces the number of jobs available locally and pushes up the prices of the end product.

Davies, a communist and SACP central committee member, has said that he is opposed to pumping government money into failing companies during the recession.

"When you bail out a company, you provide a packet of money to allow someone to continue doing what they did before. We are not going to provide support measures to companies only to find they use the money to pay bonuses to CEOs, and all the workers get fired," Davies said.

Cosatu recently raised concerns that "the manufacturing sector, which should be an engine of growth and job creation, shed 150000 jobs, equivalent to eight percent of total jobs for the industry," in the third quarter of this year.

Davies will have to deal with that and with another thorny issue - massive government subsidies to private multinational car manufacturers. The controversial trade and industry project - the Motor Industry Development Programme, has seen corporations getting government subsidies of R100billion in the past 13 years.

The programme gives auto manufacturers who export vehicles or components the right to import the same on a duty-free basis for sale in South Africa.

With the prices of new cars being among the highest in the world and the number of workers employed in auto plants dropping, these subsidies do not seem to have benefited anyone except corporation owners.

Woody Aroun, parliamentary officer of the National Metalworkers Union of South Africa says his union believes the MIDP should only continue as a "worker-orientated" programme.

"This means it must promote locally-made components, underpinned by job creation," says Aroun.

Cosatu came out fighting last week against the City of Cape Town's decision to order buses for the city's Integrated Rapid Transport System from Swedish company, Volvo.

Davies said he agrees with Cosatu that "far too much is procured from abroad".

"We will be looking at imported vehicles and procurement from abroad in the new industrial policy. We will be changing procurement rules to favour local procurement," he said.

Davies is also in charge of the Competition Commission, of the Lotto and of the international and local trade agreements.

He has vowed to increase his oversight over the Lotto, which in the past has failed to pay its earnings out to the charities that rely on it for survival.

Davies is also the key government lobbyist internationally for a fair deal for South Africa and for other developing countries.

He told the recent General Conference of the United Nations Industrial Development in Vienna, Austria, that the developed world need to work with developing countries "on coordinated programmes aimed at strengthening capacity of both the developed and developing countries to continue to develop industrial capacity and create decent jobs".

Let's hope he can live up to all the expectations of his post.


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