Supporting Regional Integration in East and Southern Africa – Review of Select Issues
There has been renewed interest in regional integration in Africa in the last few years. Political ambitions to progress along the linear path of regional integration from free trade areas (FTA) to customs unions, and even to achieve monetary union, have led to the reiteration of commitments to tight deadlines especially to move from FTAs to establish customs unions, despite the fact that implementation of FTAs has met with many challenges.
The Treaties establishing regional economic communities in the East and Southern African region are all very clear on the developmental objectives of regional integration. Yet, it appears that the mere move from an FTA to a customs union is viewed, at least by politicians in the region, as significant progress in regional integration.
The Economic Partnership Agreement (EPAs) negotiations with the European Union have highlighted particular challenges associated with regional integration in East and Southern Africa. The EPA configurations cut across existing regional economic communities (REC) in a region that is characterized by unparalleled overlapping membership. Mozambique is the only country in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) for example that belongs to only one REC.
Given that one of the key objectives of the EPAs is to promote regional integration, the interface between the EPA negotiations process and the regional integration agenda is important to review.
Several countries in the region have begun to assess their trade policy options in a regional context and to weigh up the choices that they will have to make when the RECs to which they belong establish customs unions. For some at least membership of more than one REC is motivated very clearly by economic and broader political and security considerations. Membership choices will have to be considered very carefully, taking into account, amongst other things, also regional trade agreements such as the EPAs.
At the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Summit held in Lesotho in August 2006, a decision was taken to convene an Extraordinary Summit to discuss the SADC regional integration agenda. Although concerns were raised regarding the ambitious SADC targets to achieve a customs union and further integration objectives, political ambitions remained very high to move towards achieving a customs union, monetary union and common market. Early in 2009 SADC agreed however to postpone the 2010 target for establishing a customs union. While the establishment of a customs union is not off the agenda, its postponement provides an opportunity to focus on the implementation of the Free Trade Area and to assess the rationale for, and the implications of moving ahead to establish a customs union.
The Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) launched a partial customs union 2009, with some member states clearly not ready to take the step to join the customs union yet. The East Africa Community (EAC), taking into account the asymmetry with in the group, opted to establish a customs union first, before liberalizing trade amongst the member states to establish an FTA.
All these developments have to be viewed in a broader African context.
The African Union (AU) articulates a pan-African regional integration plan to establish the African Economic Community (AEC) as envisaged in the Abuja Treaty. Developments in East and Southern Africa epitomize some of the challenges that this broader integration agenda will have to negotiate.
This collection of papers reviews select issues on the regional integration agenda in East and Southern Africa. We start with the bigger picture, reviewing the African Paradigm of Regional Integration, as well as the broader AU integration agenda. We also reflect on the impact of the global economic crisis on Africa. This is followed by a review of progress on regional integration in SADC. We then consider country specific issues; including the trade policy choices of several countries, the role of new generation trade issues such as services on the regional integration agenda, and assess the status of protectionism, trade remedies and safeguards in regional trade agreements, both intra- and extra-regional to which countries in this region belong. Finally we present a review of the developments in the SADC EPA negotiations, specifically focusing on concerns raised within the SADC group.
© 2010 Trade Law Centre and The Royal Danish Embassy
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