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40th SADC Summit and the anticipated key trade issues on the agenda

By Rwatida Mafurutu
14 Aug 2020
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40th SADC Summit and the anticipated key trade issues on the agenda

The 2020 Southern African Development Community (SADC) 40th Summit of Heads of State and Government kicked off in earnest on the 10th of August 2020. The Summit is being coordinated virtually from Maputo, Mozambique, as the incoming chair. This maiden approach to the proceedings has been influenced by the ravaging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the bloc’s previous economic intra-trade related gains and efforts on regional economic integration, trade facilitation and business continuity. On Monday, the 17th of August 2020, the Draft Agenda for the SADC Council of Ministers (CoM) will be tabled before the full Summit for final deliberations and adoption. Following the SADC Press Release issued on the 3rd of August 2020[1], communicating the decision to have a reduced agenda for the Summit, all public and private stakeholders are now waiting to find out what the key trade issues are on this Summit’s reduced agenda during this COVID pandemic. This Blog outlines the anticipated key trade issues expected to be on the agenda.

A coordinated, comprehensive and harmonized response to the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to be one of the top trade-related agenda items at the Summit. The importance of this issue is better reflected by the efforts put in place by SADC so far in response to the outbreak of this novel virus. As the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on the 11th of March 2020[2], SADC CoM went on to adopt regional guidelines for harmonising and facilitating movement of critical goods and services across the region during COVID-19[3], on the 6th of April 2020. These guidelines were meant to offer a coordinated regional response by Member States to the health and socio-economic challenges brought about by the outbreak of this pandemic. Among the objectives of the guidelines was the need for Member States to balance, align, harmonise and coordinate COVID-19 response measures with respect to trade and transport facilitation. This objective was re-emphasised in the revised regional guidelines to ease cross border transport operations and standardize operating procedures which was approved by the SADC CoM during their extra-ordinary virtual meeting held on the 23rd of June 2020. Despite these policy pronouncements, long queues of cargo and delays at border posts are still the order of the day.

Despite the collective efforts to have a regional coordinated response to COVID-19, the situation on the ground indicates that these measures have been somewhat heterogeneously and variedly applied by the member states. In her opening speech delivered during a meeting held on the 28th of May 2020 by SADC CoM, the SADC Executive Secretary Dr. Stergomena Lawrence Tax acknowledged that implementation of these guidelines was characterized by challenges associated with unilateral implementation of policy measures by member states and non-compliance by others on the other hand[4]. More so, member states’ individual experiences to date plus preliminary analysis conducted by the SADC Secretariat on the impact of COVID-19 and its implications on the SADC region[5] all point to the imperative need for a well consolidated response to the pandemic.

It is expected that the Summit will come up with decisions for member states to cooperate and work together across all structures and levels to curtail the spread of the pandemic. The pandemic has direct and indirect effects on Southern Africa’s performance in trade and industry. A coordinated approach and response is more crucial now as total lockdowns and other stringent measures are slowly being lifted or eased. As part of broader strategies to mitigate the spread of the virus, Summit is further expected to deliberate on the need for strategies that encourage close cooperation between SADC and its tripartite partner regional economic communities which are the East African Community (EAC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), in the extended fight against the virus. Regional coordination of trade and border management through electronic means, sharing of existing infrastructural resources especially at border areas, as well as pooling of resources among member countries for enhanced and safe cross-border trade facilitation are all expected to feature prominently.

Borders are the connecting bridges to movement of goods and services within the bloc. In view of this, efficient and responsive border management systems are closely linked to containment of the spread of the virus. In the process, this will lessen the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 and its paralyzing implications on inter-regional trade. Enhanced trade facilitation within the bloc is critical to the movement of essential goods and services during this pandemic. Complemented by lowering of import tariffs, removal of unnecessary export formalities, and use of prior designated fast-track lanes for low risk goods, among other strategies, can effectively mitigate effects of the pandemic. The Summit is therefore expected to deliberate on the need for the bloc to develop a framework for logistics including connectivity, digitization and automation of border management for effective logistics, e–trading and enhanced trade facilitation.

Four full calendar months are remaining till the bloc’s current pdf Regional Strategic Indicative Development Plan (RISDP) – 2015 to 2020 (1.04 MB) , comes to an end. In view of this, CoM is expected to consider the SADC Post-2020 Agenda as another imperative and strategic trade-related item on the Summit agenda. Under the SADC Post-2020 Agenda, focus is essentially on possible approval of the new SADC Vision 2050 following preceding consultation and deliberations undertaken. With its contents brought into line with the African Union Agenda 2063, this vision will run for three decades, that is from 2020 to 2050. It will be the basis from which the new or revised RISDP, which is to run from 2020 to 2030, is to be crafted. Upon review by the SADC apex organisation, these two documents will complement one another in providing guidance and strategic impetus needed to steer the bloc’s planned actions and activities over this period.

As has been the norm always, the full Summit will definitely take stock of the progress made on the implementation of previous decisions of the SADC CoM. From the 39th SADC Summit held in August 2019, there are two trade-related issues that were adopted and will certainly feature on this year’s agenda. These are 1) Protocol on Industry which was approved under the implementation of the SADC Industrial Strategy, and 2) the slow growth in intra-SADC trade, largely characterized by trade in raw materials[6]. Through the operationalization of the previous Summit’s outcomes, the SADC Protocol on Industry will become a stand-alone and binding legal instrument that will give legal effect to the pdf SADC Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap (2.34 MB) and its related pdf Costed-Action Plan (1.51 MB) . Further to this, it will be there to ensure adequate coordination, monitoring and evaluation of implementation among member states. The SADC Industrialization Strategy and Roadmap, adopted in April 2015 in Harare, Zimbabwe, seeks to achieve major economic and technological transformation at national and regional levels to accelerate economic growth through industrial development. The development of an industrialization strategy and roadmap was a response to the realization that most SADC Member States continue to be among the poorest in the world despite abundant natural resources, as the majority of them export these in their raw or unprocessed form. Through the SADC Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap, the Summit is expected to endorse the scaled-up promotion of regional value chains especially in the specific sectors of pharmaceuticals, mining and agro-processing. It is for this reason that the Summit will expect Member States to fast-track signature and ratification of the SADC Protocol on Industry.

Finally, with no indications of a vaccine or cure in the short to medium term, COVID-19 is poised to continue constraining the bloc’s economic growth, hinder cross-border trade and regional trade facilitation, and retard economic productivity and business continuity as long as it will last. The Summit is therefore expected to deliberate on the need for Member States to start preparing now so that going into the future they will be better prepared to cope with similar challenges should global pandemics of COVID-19’s magnitude break out.


[1] See pdf Press Release: 40th SADC Ordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government to be held virtually (36 KB)

[2] See pdf SADC Regional Response To Covid-19 Bulletin No. 5 (3.48 MB)

[3] See pdf SADC Guidelines on Harmonisation and Facilitation of Cross Border Transport Operations across the Region During the COVID-19 Pandemic (390 KB)

[4] See PSC Report: Regional coordination against COVID-19: what role for the RECs? at https://issafrica.org/pscreport/psc-insights/regional-coordination-against-covid-19-what-role-for-the-recs

[5] See SADC Senior Officials meet ahead of 40th Ordinary Summit and Council of Ministers meeting at https://www.tralac.org/news/article/14843-sadc-senior-officials-meet-ahead-of-40th-ordinary-summit-and-council-of-ministers-meeting.html 

[6] See Communique of the 39th SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government, Julius Nyerere International Convention Centre Dar Es Salaam, United Republic of Tanzania, 17-18 August 2019 at https://www.tralac.org/news/article/14203-sadc-hosts-the-39th-ordinary-summit-of-the-heads-of-state-and-government-in-dar-es-salaam-tanzania.html

About the Author(s)

Rwatida Mafurutu

Rwatida Mafurutu

Rwatida Mafurutu is a career expert of more than twenty-seven years of technical experience in the management, administration and implementation of Customs & Excise and Internal Taxes. He has a keen research interest in regional and continental trade and policy issues in Africa. Rwatida is a holder of Master of Commerce Specializing in Management Practice in the Field of Trade Law and Policy (University of Cape Town), Master of Philosophy in Taxation (University of Pretoria) and a Master of Science in Fiscal Studies (National University of Science and Technology).

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