Risks to Global Trade and Implications for South Africa's Economy and Policy

The past two decades have witnessed an unprecedented globalisation of trade in goods and services. This process has been driven, inter alia, by technology, ideology and the availability of relatively cheap energy. By extrapolating this trend, one may expect further integration of world markets and increasingly unhindered international trade. However, there is mounting evidence of signifi cant risks to global trade, at least in goods and possibly in certain services as well. Three main risk areas are identifi ed here: (1) fossil fuel depletion, in particular a possible peak in world oil production within the next fi ve to ten years; (2) climate change, and especially its effects on agricultural production, transport and fi nancial risk; and (3) instability in the world fi nancial system caused primarily by the US’s unsustainable twin defi cits. The paper explores some possible implications of these risks for the South African economy and its foreign trade in particular. It argues that South Africa’s trade policy should take due cognizance of these threats, and advocates adaptation and mitigation strategies designed to improve self-suffi ciency and to protect the poor in sensitive areas, especially food and energy security.