Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states have adopted a land-mark competition policy that is expected to shape regional investment and trade across the 14-member grouping, the organization said this week after a two-day meeting which was held in Gaborone this week.
The move is a squeal to a declaration made by ministers responsible for trade who urged the regional body in Lusaka, Zambia, recently to come up with a regional approach which is expected to see all the member states equally benefiting from investment development taking place within the region.
Under the new systemÔÇöparticularly Article 25 of the SADC Protocol on Trade ÔÇô member states shall play according to the rule book by implementing measures within the “Community” that prohibit unfair business practices and promote competition; and it is also entailed in the protocol that a framework of trade cooperation among member states based on equity, fair competition and mutual benefit will contribute to the creation of a viable development community in southern Africa.
High profile officials from at least fourteen countries converged at the Gaborone International Convention Centre (GICC), to determine the appropriate institutional framework for the administration and enforcement of competition and consumer laws in line with the Protocol.
Furthermore, realizing the fact that one of the challenges that exists stems from the recognition that competition and consumer protection laws are national but the relevant markets can extend beyond national boundaries, possible or appropriate competition and consumer law models that can be adopted by those member states in the process of developing such legislation were discussed by the Conference.
The move will put SADC on the same footing with other international trading blocks ÔÇô such as the European Union ÔÇô which have been critical of the way South Africa has been treating its junior neighbours.
This will stop South Africa from amassing major and key investments with little regard to the rest of the region. And will also work against monopolies such as some of the motor dealers in this country who have exclusive rights to sell certain models of cars.
The consumer protection is expected to deal with nagging problems caused by South African conglomerates, such as furnisher outlets, which operate under different names within the region but being owned by one parent company. That has the loophole of head office fixing the prices across the region.
The Committee of Commerce and Trade Ministers declared at their last meeting that “case specific cooperation on competition issues arising from the growth of cross border anti-competitive practices is an essential element of regional integration.”
According to George Lipimile, Senior Advisor at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Competition and Consumer Policies Branch, apart from dealing with competition matters in the region, the agreement will also address issues of technical assistance and capacity building in the area of the enforcement of competition laws and policy in the region.
It is also envisaged that member states will be able to share information in the enforcement of competition and policy, and share the best practices in the enforcement areas. Further provision is made in the Lusaka agreement for joint investigations among member states in cases involving anti-competition behaviour by companies operating in the market.
The training and exchange of skilled personnel among the competition authorities of member states of the community is another incentive that is encased in the recently adopted agreement.
Lipimile further highlighted, in an interview with the Sunday Standard on the sidelines of last week’s high level gathering, that one of the things that makes the introduction of competition and consumer laws within the SADC countries mandatory is the fact that the existing members among their league, who also belong to overlapping integration groupings such as The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), poses a challenge for case specific cooperation and calls for progress in SADC countries towards the convergence of competition and consumer laws.
The Regional Conference on Competition and Consumer Law and Policy, which was co-hosted by both the SADC Secretariat and the Ministry of Trade and Industry, derived about seventy participants from competition and consumer authorities of Member States, Government Departments responsible for the administration of competition and consumer policies, and other local stake holders such as Government Ministries, Parastatals, Sector Regulators Business Associations and Civic Society Organizations.
Representatives from the Secretariats of COMESA and the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) were part of the strategic partnership in the discourse about laying the foundations for regional integration.
The meeting also had, as part of the event, a session devoted primarily for consideration of practical competition and consumer cases handled by those SADC countries with operational authorities, which offered a “worthy learning experience.”
Countries, which are recorded as having adopted competition laws, include Zimbabwe, Malawi, Namibia, Mauritius and South Africa. Tanzania and Zambia form part of this list. However, only Malawi, S.A, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe have operational competition authorities.
According to SADC’s contemplated Integration Agenda, it is envisaged that the realization of the Free Trade Area (FTA) must be accomplished by the end of 2008, a Customs Union by 2010, whist a Common Market would be achieved by 2015 and a monetary Union should be active by 2018.
To facilitate the formalization of a system of cooperation between national regimes that can harness the collective efforts of relevant national authorities and add value to national enforcement efforts in the face of problems affecting more than one country, “the SADC Secretariat shall establish a standing Competition and Consumer Policy and Law Committee (“CCOPOLC”) to implement the system of cooperation”.
Guided by the United Nations set of Principles on Competition as a basis for consensus building in international cooperation in competition policy, while taking into account the aspect of development, the CCOPOLC will be tasked to develop a full programme of the implementation of the Ministers’ declaration and report progress to the Ministers responsible for Trade and Industry annually.
Moreover, within the ambit of this Secretariat will also fall the mobilization of human and financial resources for the implementation of the integration programme, from international cooperating partners including the EU, UNCTAD and Commonwealth Secretariat.