The 2008 Forum was held in partnership with the Western Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism and The Competitiveness Institute (TCI).
TCI's Conference was entitled: Clusters Meeting the Challenge of Globalisation
The full conference programme can be found at: http://www.sbs.co.za/tci2008
After a number of years of strong economic growth and relative macroeconomic stability, the South African economy now seems to be facing an especially uncertain outlook. The catalyst for the uncertain outlook may have been international developments, but domestic policy failures appear to have played no small part in guiding the South African economy to the brink of a substantial slowdown, with a significant risk of stagflation in the future.
Some commentators have argued that the positive international environment has allowed the domestic economy to grow rapidly but without many of the structural impediments to growth being addressed. In some senses, economic policy has been a victim of the economy's success, as difficult economic policy decisions and trade-offs could be postponed – in specific cases almost indefinitely.
However, some of the structural flaws are now becoming visible:
- Largely unchanged trading patterns, with strong capital good imports and resource-intensive exports.
- Balance of payments constraints, especially a dependence on portfolio capital inflows.
- Macroeconomic policy with a heavy focus on cyclical fiscal policy and blunt monetary policy instruments to deal with rising consumer spending and inflation.
- Uncompetitive and still highly concentrated manufacturing sectors with limited export and employment potential.
- Misalignment of factor markets such as the skills, technology, land and capital markets.
- Key failures in utility industries such as telecoms, water and energy.
With national elections set to take place in 2009 and a new Administration to take office thereafter, it is timely to open the debate on what South Africa's overarching economic policy may look like over the next decade. Predictably, wholesale changes are said to be unlikely but clearly a change in emphasis to the Left is being envisaged. Whether such a shift materialises, the extent of the shift and its likely impact, however, remain open questions. The opening salvo of what is likely to be a robust national debate has already been fired, with South Africa's National Treasury releasing the findings of the Harvard Panel.
The TIPS Forum 2008 therefore seeked to catalyse debate on what the policy focus, balance of emphasis and programmes of a new phase of economic policy could comprise. Key themes were:
- South Africa's overarching economic policy direction – successes and failures
- Macroeconomic policy
- Trade and industrial policy
- A National Anti-Poverty Strategy – form, content and objectives
- Agricultural policy and land reform
- Spatial planning for industrial policy
- The 'Second Economy' and policy responses (TIPS will also be hosting a dedicated 'Second Economy' Conference in September 2008)
- Infrastructure investment-led growth – implications thereof
- HIV/AIDS – implications for the labour market and impact on poverty levels
- Poverty and inequality
- Xenophobia – root causes, labour market impact, implications for regional economic relations and the effect on social fabric.
As has become the norm, the TIPS Forum 2008 provided the setting for policy and research communities to debate these key issues in an unfettered and robust manner.