President Ramaphosa has two weeks to avert a R34-billion US trade catastrophe, writes Collen Dlamini, chairperson of the Copyright Coalition of South Africa (CCSA) in this statement.

Two weeks from today, the Office of the United States Trade Representative will hold public hearings in Washington DC on South Africa’s eligibility for the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) under the US Trade Act.

South Africa’s eligibility for the GSP programme has been called into question as a result of the passing of the Copyright Amendment Bill in Parliament last year. If South Africa loses its GSP eligibility, we will potentially lose up to R34 billion in export revenue.

The Copyright Coalition of South Africa is calling on President Ramaphosa to act now before it is too late. Instead of signing the Copyright Amendment Bill into law, he still has the option of sending the Bill back to Parliament for reconsideration.

We urge the President to do so before the public hearings on 30 January 2020. Our country cannot afford the diplomatic stress, loss of export revenue, and the thousands of jobs that these South African exports create.

Our current GSP designation allows South Africa preferential duty-free access to US markets for selected export products. Should the upcoming review find that the Copyright Amendment Bill does not adequately protect US intellectual property, South Africa will lose its GSP designation.

In 2018 alone, the value of South African goods exported to the US under the GSP program amount to as much as R34-billion by some estimates.

Under the GSP programme and the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), sub-Saharan African countries are granted duty-free access to the US market for more than 6 000 products. These include: meat, fruit, vegetables, precious metals, chemicals, iron and steel products, and a range of manufactured goods.

It is critical that President Ramaphosa take action now on the Copyright Amendment Bill to avert catastrophic economic loss. With the World Bank having already revised South Africa’s 2020 economic growth forecast downward from 1,5% to 0,9%, the country cannot afford this unnecessary risk.

The Copyright Amendment Bill has been on President Ramaphosa’s desk for 10 months, awaiting assent. The President has a constitutional obligation not to sign the Bill into law, and to send the Bill back to Parliament.

There are both substantive and procedural reasons why the Copyright Bill is unconstitutional:

The Copyright Amendment Bill is unconstitutional as it violates the right to property, arbitrarily depriving content creators (artists, writers, musicians etc) of their intellectual property rights.

As the result of inadequate public consultation, flawed parliamentary processes, and the failure to conduct a socio-economic impact assessment, the Bill is irretrievably procedurally deficient.

In light of these significant constitutional deficiencies, the reasons for the President’s indecision are difficult to fathom. The time to debate them has run out.

By referring the flawed Bill back to Parliament, the President can demonstrate a commitment to the Constitution, the rule of law, and the success of South Africa’s creative and cultural industries.

Moreover, by referring the Bill back to Parliament, the President will assure South Africa’s investors and trade partners of our commitment to abide by our international law obligations.

We as the Copyright Coalition of South Africa, representing a broad consensus within the creative and cultural sector, therefore reiterate our urgent call for President Ramaphosa to refer the Copyright Amendment Bill back to Parliament immediately. Any further delay by the President is courting disaster.