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DA puts Ebrahim Patel under pressure to fully open up e-commerce

Trade & industry minister Minister Ebrahim Patel. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Trade & industry minister Minister Ebrahim Patel. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

Trade & industry minister Ebrahim Patel is under pressure to explain to parliament the rationale behind restricting e-commerce at a time when many countries are embracing online platforms as part of measures to restrict movement of people to curb the spread of the coronavirus. 

Last week, Patel, who has clashed with various groups opposed to some of the lockdown regulations, said the government could not allow unfettered e-commerce as this would be unfair on other traders such as spaza shops. Under the level 4 lockdown regulations, Patel said e-commerce will be expanded incrementally. At present he has allowed the sale of essential food items, winter clothing, bedding, hot foods, stationery and cellphones.

However, logistics and e-commerce businesses are pushing for the government to fully open up home deliveries, saying such a move would actually aid the fight against the pandemic. Retailers have said lifting restrictions on products that can be sold online would encourage customers to stay at home while saving retail workers’ jobs.

Takealot CEO Kim Reid said in April that online shopping is in line with the government’s health objectives to keep people at home and should be permitted.

On Monday, DA MP Dean Macpherson said he had written to portfolio committee chair for trade & industry Duma Nkosi to invite Patel to justify the e-commerce restrictions.

“To date, no logical rationale has been provided to South Africans and businesses by the minister,” Macpherson said. Instead, the MPs  were told by the minister during a parliamentary committee meeting on Friday of “directions” permitting  the incremental expansion of e-commerce. He said the incremental expansion had to take into account the need to limit the extent of movement on the road, contact between people, law enforcement challenges and the effect on other businesses.

Macpherson said it is critical Patel takes SA into his confidence and details what these “directions” are and when they will be issued.

“The continued rejection of unfettered e-commerce is simply unsustainable and without reason. Further to this, SA is a real outlier when compared to other countries that are relying on e-commerce to get goods to consumers in a safe way to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission,” he said.

“It is time that we start walking the talk when it comes to the fourth industrial revolution and embrace e-commerce. Parliament has made much of this new revolution and now is a perfect opportunity to use its oversight powers to compel the minister to justify his views and demand a way forward,” Macpherson said.

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