The Southern African Customs Union (SACU) is working on plans that aim at challenging the dominance of South Africa in regional trade policies over the last hundred years, it emerged on Friday.
Speaking at SACU’s hundred years of existence under the theme “A Common Agenda towards Regional Integration in Southern Africa” in Windhoek, Namibia, president Ian Khama revealed that SACU is currently working on regional industrial development policy that will ensure that the region shared benefits.
“This theme underscores the understanding that we stand to benefit more if we operated as a group than as individual countries,” he said, adding that there is a need for the region to increase intra trade.
“If we are to effectively deliver on our mandate as SACU, we need to increase trade amongst ourselves and with the rest of the world with a view to diversifying and industrialising our economies.
“For this reason, I am happy to note that work is being undertaken to develop a SACU wide Industrial Development Policy, which I hope will build synergies and ensure equitable industrialisation and trade amongst ourselves. My view is that this work must be accorded the urgency it deserves as it is long overdue,” he added.
The absence of a regional industrial development policy has contributed to imbalances in industrial development in the region, with South Africa using its dominance to curtail development in other regional countries.
Examples of such cases involve the closure of the semi knock-down of Hyundai vehicles in Gaborone in 1998 to protect the Durban-based motor industries. The absence of the policy came to the fore in the recently concluded Economic Partnership Agreement (EPAs), between Africa, Caribbean and Pacific countries and the European Union where South Africa wanted to use Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries to extract more concessions from EU.
The SADC countries were classified as Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Swaziland who were negotiating in the same block with South Africa.
South Africa, which is classified as more of a developing country rather than under developed, wanted to be given same market access to EU as other countries in its block but it was protective of in terms of investment and services that were directed towards the SADC region, claiming that would undermine competitiveness in South Africa.
“As SACU Member States, we face common challenges of poverty, HIV/AIDS and unemployment, among others. In this regard, we need to work together to mitigate the effects of these challenges so that we improve the living standards of our people.
“For this to happen, we should redirect the aspirations of SACU through the development of a new vision and mission. This exercise should entail setting up the institutional mechanisms of SACU such as National Bodies, Tariff Board and the Tribunal,” Khama said.
Some of the measures that are expected to come with the regional industrial development policy include the establishment of Competition Policies in the SACU members states, which among other things, will ensure that South Africa will not continue to abuse its dominance.
It will forestall the abusive nature of the cartels in price fixing and other collusions. Although that will in the initial stages present a challenge to the national bodies it will in the long term benefit the region.
Further, Khama implored the world’s oldest customs union, SACU, to extend its scope beyond industrial policy and include other areas such as investment and services.
He also called on the removal of tariffs and non tariff barriers as indicated in the SADC protocols aimed at a closely integrated region.
“Furthermore, when we negotiate as SACU with other countries and international bodies, we ought to assess the benefits that are likely to accrue from such arrangements as well as the scope of such relationships.
“ .. it should no longer be considered attractive to have to judge the success or otherwise of our Union on the basis of the size of the Revenue Shares from customs duties alone as there are other benefits to be explored. Hence-forth our citizens should rather be able to judge the success of SACU by the number of decent new job opportunities created as a result of deliberate pro-development regional policies and or by the number of business opportunities generated,” he said.