Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Message for 2011 from Trudi Hartzenberg


Message for 2011 from Trudi Hartzenberg

This year will be a busy one on the trade front for countries in east and southern Africa.

There is, at this stage, little evidence of appetite among key players for concluding the negotiations in the Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations. This does not mean however that we should not be keeping an eye on developments in Geneva. On the contrary, we need to be monitoring very carefully, for example, what is happening on the dispute settlement front; specifically the extent to which this process is engaged in rule-making. This development has important implications for the future of the World Trade Organisation, and particularly for African countries which are not actively engaged in the dispute settlement process.

For countries in east and southern Africa it is likely to be a very busy year as regards regional trade matters. The twenty-six member states of the East Africa Community (EAC), the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) agreed in October 2008 to conclude a Tripartite Free trade Agreement. Much technical preparatory work has been done, but negotiations have not yet begun. A Summit of Heads of State and Government will be held early in the year to chart the way forward for these negotiations. At this stage there is not much discussion at member state level; what is clear already though is that there are likely to be some very challenging issues on the agenda. These include for example sugar trade, rules of origin, new generation issues such as services, investment and competition policy, and of course legal and institutional issues.

SADC is still keeping the establishment of a customs union on its agenda, the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) made a tentative start on discussions related to a review of the revenue sharing agreement as well as the implementation of the 2002 Agreement (which has not made significant progress in key areas such as the establishment of the SACU Tariff Board or the SACU Tribunal), the EAC launched a common market in 2010, but this is still very much work in progress. There is much to be done on the African regional integration agenda. The Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations are also plodding along without much progress and dissipating enthusiasm on all sides. What will 2011 bring on this score for African countries?

It will also be important to monitor developments in South Africa, an important player in the region. South Africa’s regional strategy will have significant implications for regional integration; at this stage it is not clear what the country’s African priorities are. What is its commitment to SACU, to SADC and/or the Tripartite Free trade Area? As the regional hegemon, what kind of leadership can, and is South Africa willing to provide? South Africa has articulated a strong preference for South-South partnerships, but remains shy of embracing a comprehensive partnership agenda with other developing countries. In the context of the SACU-India negotiations, South Africa’s ambition remains weak. While India would like an agreement that includes extensive trade-in-goods liberalization as well as trade in services liberalization, South Africa supports on limited trade liberalization to conclude a preferential trade agreement. What will be the benefits of such a limited-scope agreement, not only for South Africa but also for the other SACU member states?

South Africa has recently been accepted as a member of the BRIC group of countries. Today’s Hotseat comment reviews what this means for South Africa, the African region as well as developing countries more generally. An interesting question in the context of the BRIC configuration relates to broader global leadership and more generally governance issues. What role can these larger developing countries play in key global governance institutions, and do they want to play a role in rules-based dispensations of governance? These are important questions to ask in the context of the relationship between Africa and other developing countries such as China and India.

In December 2011 South Africa (Durban) will host the Conference of the Parties – COP 17 – of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. South Africa, as host, has a golden opportunity to provide leadership at this forum. It remains to be seen however, how it prepares to show leadership in an area of global and regional development importance.

We look forward to working with you this year to build trade law and policy capacity in East and Southern Africa.



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