Workshop on Southern Africa’s Regional Trade Agenda, 9 February 2010
tralac hosted a half-day workshop to discuss specifically regional trade developments for Southern Africa. This workshop was prepared specifically for the diplomatic community and is scheduled to coincide with the Opening of the South African Parliament.
All countries in our region are engaging a very demanding trade agenda at the multilateral, regional and bilateral levels. The range of substantive issues on the agenda is becoming more complex as behind the border issues such as services, investment and competition policy become important issues especially on the regional trade agenda. Implementation issues continue to pose significant challenges especially as far as these regional trade agreements are concerned. Of course without effective implementation the potential benefits of the agreements cannot be realized.
The recent Ministerial Conference held in Geneva exemplified the challenges that the multilateral trading system is facing. Although this Conference was not part of the Doha Round of negotiations, it provided an opportunity to assess commitment to the multilateral system as well as to reflect on more systemic challenges that the multilateral system is facing. The accommodation of developing countries within the system continues to highlight the importance of the linkages between trade and development, and the tricky business of negotiating rules that accommodate diversity in terms of size, levels of development and many other important characteristics of especially developing and least developed countries. Many statements of political commitment to the multilateral system of international trade governance, and specifically to the Doha Round were made in Geneva, but it remains to be seen if these will translate into a successful conclusion to the Doha Round in the foreseeable future.
On the regional front, there is no lack of activity, both as regards intra-regional, and extra-regional trade negotiations. On the extra-regional front, the negotiations with the European Union to conclude Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) continue amidst regional discontent especially in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) group. Debate on the future of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) continues after an Extra-Ordinary Meeting held in Swaziland in September 2009. At this meeting member states agreed to look into a review of the SACU Agreement, with particular focus most probably on the revenue sharing agreement. They also agreed to consider issues such as services which are not specifically included in the 2002 SACU Agreement. Meanwhile South Africa is expected to release a Trade Policy document, articulating its position on trade policy issues; including the multilateral trading system, South-South partnerships and its strategy for regional integration.
A strategic tariff review process is also to be spelt out, with a clear statement of the interface between trade and industrial policy and the process of tariff review and amendment. This will have important implications for the region, especially for SACU. At a broader regional level, the decision in October 2008 by the member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the East African Community (EAC) and the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) saw at regional secretariat level, the beginning of technical work to prepare for the negotiation of a Tripartite Free Trade Area. Of course this will have to be negotiated by member states; at this stage it is not clear that discussions about this initiative have reached member state level.