South Africa and China have agreed to open negotiations for a free trade area, which the South African government hopes will regulate the flood of cheap Chinese apparel and textiles into the country.

The decision was announced in a joint communiqué at the end of the second Binational Commission, co-chaired by South African deputy president Jacob Zuma and Chinese vice-president Zeng Qinghong, held in Pretoria on Tuesday.

While the two countries had begun tentative negotiations towards creating a free trade area, these were stopped after the South African Customs Union (Sacu) decided it should be involved.

Now, with Sacu agreeing to the negotiations, South African officials said they would propose a free trade area that would give preference to local exports to China over Chinese exports to South Africa.

Though the officials claimed the Chinese government had given in principle support to an asymmetrical agreement favouring South Africa, Chinese officials did not confirm this.