The Assistant Minister in the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Duke Lefhoko, has urged manufacturers to widen their marketing scope beyond the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), given the impending new trade arrangements that Botswana is negotiating with other countries.
Lefhoko, who was faced by angry manufactures who complained of the extortionate import measures imposed by neighbouring countriesÔÇöespecially South Africa to protect its infant industries, admitted the duties were high.
Speaking at the occasion to mark the 10th annual general meeting of the Botswana Exporters and Manufactures Association (BEMA), Lefhoko revealed that the government was aware of the impediments the local manufacturers have to grapple with when doing business within SACU and, in particular, South Africa, arguing that “while we are concerned about control measures that affect our exports to other countries, Botswana also has her own import control regulations that are being challenged by other countries and the business community”.
At a recent meeting in Kasane, BEMA, on behalf of the manufacturers, engaged the government and raised the ante, charging that SACU was dominated by South Africa at the expense of other member countries, which include Namibia and Lesotho.
Not only was the intra-SACU trade barriers a hot potato, concerns on trade facilitation, discriminate fines, designed particularly for Botswana exporters, and delayed raw materials consigned to Botswana at the hands of South African authorities played dominance at the meeting.
But the assistant minister, however, allayed the fears of the audience whose presence was predominantly of the local manufacturers and investors.
“I want to assure the members present here that your concerns on trade facilitation and intra-SACU trade barriers are receiving attention within government and were raised at the SACU Council of Ministers Retreat held on the 29-30 of August 2008 in Kasane,” said Lefhoko. “The Member States discussed the concerns and took them seriously.”
Conscious of the fact that South Africa is “our major trading partner in both imports and exports”, Lefhoko further assured the participants that government will, together with other stakeholders, commit themselves to eliminate the non-tariff barriers experienced by the local manufacturers.
That notwithstanding, Lefhoko, who is also the Shoshong MP, challenged the private sector to step up market intelligence and research into the market and investment opportunities in the region and to facilitate linkages.
He called for BEMA to educate the manufacturers on the implications of the SADC Free Trade Area (FTA) and highlight to them challenges to be faced and prepare for the advantage of opportunities created.
Government, he maintained, is prepared to support BEMA in achieving this objective.
He asserted that with the advent of trade liberalization, characterized by reduction and ultimate elimination of tariffs and/or non-barriers, global competition has intensified and called on companies to position themselves strategically to face this global competition.
A maverick legislator that he is, Lefhoko took a swipe at the locals for inward focus, looking to government as the main consumer of their products and services.
“This is neither enough nor sustainable in the long run,” he said, adding that over the years, the government had engaged in negotiations at both bilateral and multilateral levels to open up markets for goods and services produced in Botswana- a statement countered by the manufacturers who argued that the government preferred outside materials over locals.
Having secured no tenders with government, a participant whose industry produces T-shirts told the audience he ultimately secured a tender with a South African company selling the same, only to learn that the government had secured a tender with one of the South African companies selling a similar make.
This move, together with ‘apartheid SACU’ restrictions, renders their business impotent, the participants complained.
A panelist at the annual BEMA general meeting, Dr Oupa Tsheko, a lecturer at the University of Botswana, noted that SACU was not benefiting Botswana.
“As we keep on signing agreements, we should also see to it that we benefit from these agreements,” Tsheko argued.
Noted Lefhoko, “As of now, Botswana goods have preferential access to US markets through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), and the EU market through the Interim Economic Partnership Agreement (IEPA), as well as to the SADC and SACU markets.
“Botswana companies should, therefore, take full advantage of these markets to manufacture and export the full range of products for which access has been secured.”