Working Papers

What future Scenarios for the Southern African Customs Union?

What future Scenarios for the Southern African Customs Union?

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23 Sep 2015

Author(s): Gerhard Erasmus

The Southern African Customs Union (SACU) is in an impasse; and has been so for some time now. The Council of Ministers, which is SACU’s “supreme decision making authority”, is not meeting; no common policies are discussed; and no decisions on how to deepen integration among the Member States are taken.

This state of affairs casts a shadow over the future of the region and causes uncertainty. It has, for example, been stated in reports to Portfolio Committee meetings of the South African Parliament that the South African Government wants to re-negotiate the SACU revenue sharing formula, and wishes to alter aspects of the 2002 SACU Agreement which provide for a Tariff Board and an ad hoc Tribunal. How exactly this is envisaged to happen has not been clarified or shared.

We believe this state of affairs merits urgent attention. However, we are not aware of any official initiative to discuss the future of SACU and to address the present challenges. It has been said that SACU’s problems can only be discussed at Heads-of-State level; but exactly how and when this will happen remains unclear. The SACU structures do not provide for such a mechanism. It seems as if SACU is in an impasse about its impasse.

It is against this background that the present paper has been written and is disseminated for comments and responses. It discusses a number of possible scenarios for SACU’s future; which were debated at a recent tralac workshop attended by participants from the SACU Member States.

We believe that SACU’s future should be looked at in terms of the bigger regional picture. This Organization serves the interests of all the Member States and their inhabitants in what is a well-integrated and stable region. Even if certain changes could be justified, SACU’s future as the foundation of a stable region should be secure. The present murky picture undermines this certainty.


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