If the Southern African Development Community (SADC) needed to learn anything about how investment is attracted, it only had to be at the Pavillion Conference Room at Boipuso Hall at 1230hrs last Tuesday.
On paper SADC is an economic region working towards integration but in reality it is a quarrel of 14 countries which go it alone when they go out in the world to seek FDI. On the other hand, an East European confederation known as the Visegrad Group (or Visegrad Four) coordinates efforts to attract FDI. The Visegrad Group comprises of Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. Representatives from all four countries, who work in the diplomatic missions of their respective countries in South Africa, featured at the just-ended Global Expo organised by the Botswana International Trade Centre under the ambit of the Visegrad Group.
Speaking on behalf of the quartet at a workshop held on the sidelines of the Expo, Katarina Kralikova said that the Visegrad Group is the fastest growing economic region in the European Union and has enjoyed steady growth in the past decade. What she stressed the most was the combined strength of all four countries as an FDI pull factor. Following her presentation, representatives from each of the four countries (all trade attaches) took the floor to market their respective countries to an audience of entrepreneurs ÔÇô some plying that trade at an international level.
In an interview with Sunday Standard earlier this year, the Chief Executive Officer of the Botswana Confederation of Commerce, Industry and Manpower, Maria Machailo-Ellis, said that rather than go it alone, Botswana should market itself as a part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) when it goes out in the world to seek FDI.
To back up her own argument, Machailo-Ellis pointed to the example of the European Union which acts a bloc for purposes of attracting FDI. She acknowledged though that SADC has taken a step in the right direction by forming the Association of SADC Chambers of Commerce and Industry (ASCCI) which is headquartered in Botswana. ASCCI represents 18 national chambers of commerce and industry, confederations of industries, trade associations and employer organisations in all the SADC member states. Mandated to be the voice of the private sector, ASCCI aims to enhance the private sector’s role in the regional integration agenda and its driving principle is to ensure that there is a strong and unified voice to support private sector growth and the development of a free market economy system in the SADC region. However, Machailo-Ellis lamented that this body has not developed into a private sector force because of the low level of inter-regional trade.
Similar sentiments have been expressed by a University of Botswana researcher, Dr. Trywell Kalusopa, who told a Southern Africa Trade Union Coordination Council meeting at Oasis Motel in 2012 that SADC’s economic paradigm is flawed in that nations within this regional economic community compete against each other for FDI. He gave the example of Malawi which has lowered its labour and environmental standards in order to attract foreign investors to its shores.