Sacu summit to look at rifts

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Pretoria - The two-day Southern African Customs Union summit, scheduled for mid July, will take a look at challenges facing the Sacu, says International Relations DG Ayanda Ntsaluba.

Updating the media on current international issues, Ntsaluba said on the summit's agenda would be the issue of enlargening Sacu, the continent's oldest free trade zone.

The enlargement, he said, would in a way "consolidate the free trade agreements within the region."

However, any expansion to the union would mean that its members would need to resolve the reported rifts and standoff between them.

This after Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland last year breached the protocol of the customs union by signing an interim trade agreement with the European Union (EU), a decision that contravened the rules of origin of the union.

These countries went ahead against the protests of both SA and Namibia by signing a separate free trade deal with the EU earlier this month.

Ntsaluba said although South Africa, which would also take over the chairmanship of the union, disagreed with the decision - it respected their solvency.

He said there were some critical issues in the interim agreements which undermined regional integration, the coherence of SACU and the economic development agenda.

However, he said they "will not be blaming anyone...we might not agree with their decision but we respect their solvency. We have looked at the dynamics and we shall point to them the dangers."

According to Ntsaluba, the summit will not undo the damage already done by the signing of the interim trade agreement, but will learn and look at a way forward for the union.

"A new approach to regional integration should focus on building Sacu, principally, on the basis of common understanding and objectives with respect to a development-oriented regional integration," Ntsaluba said.

Also on the agenda will be the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negations, and revenue sharing.

The five-nation Sacu, formed during the era of British colonialism, is regarded as a necessary instrument to facilitate trade, regional economic integration and social cohesion within the region.