The US began negotiating a free trade agreement with the Southern African Customs Union — composed of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland — in June 2003. The talks first got stalled in mid-2004, largely because of the US’ extreme and inflexbile demands regarding intellectual property rights. Around July-September 2005, officials started trying to reignite the process by chopping the FTA negotiating items into "bite size pieces". By early 2006, the process was looking like it would still go nowhere and in April that year it was suspended.

From the start, the prospects of a US-SACU accord raised a lot of fears in the subregion, if past US free trade agreements are anything to go by. The demands put forward by the US — especially in terms of investment and intellectual property, including patents on drugs and seeds — would be quite radical for the SACU countries.

While the talks were stalled, the US administration reportedly began looking into the possibility of negotiating bilaterals FTAs with individual sub-Saharan African countries. Washington also proposed that the US and SACU adopt a Trade and Investment Cooperation agreement — more than a TIFA, but less than an FTA — as step towards a full-fledged FTA.

On 16 July 2008, the US Trade Representative and the SACU Trade Ministers signed a Trade and Investment Development Cooperation Agreement. The TIDCA is meant to be a stepping stone to a full FTA, so the process is still in motion.

last update: May 2012


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  • 16-Mar-2010 Times Live US-SA free trade deal still on track
    Negotiations for a free trade deal between the Southern African Customs Union and the US are not "dead and buried", a US Embassy official said yesterday.
  • 5-Jun-2009 Business Day US pulls the plug on Sacu deal
    There has long been talk that the US was preparing to walk away from talks on the proposed agreement, and the speculation finally ended last month when the US government announced that it would not revive negotiations.
  • 13-May-2009 US will not reopen Sacu trade deal talks
    The US government said yesterday it would not revive talks on a free trade agreement with southern African countries.
  • 2-Dec-2008 Tradeoff
    Global euphoria over the election of Barack Obama as US President George Bush’s successor has been tempered somewhat by the realisation that the Democrats have not historically been overly keen on free trade.
  • 6-Nov-2008 SA Customs Union may resume talks with the US
    A high-ranking government official has hinted that the Southern African Customs Union (Sacu) may resume free trade talks with the US following the election of Democratic candidate Barack Obama to America’s high office. Trade and Industry Director-General, Tshediso Matona, says Obama’s election can result in a mutually beneficial trade term with the US.
  • 17-Jul-2008 Xinhua US, African countries sign first trade agreement
    Trade ministers from the United States and the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) signed Wednesday their first Trade, Investment and Development Cooperation Agreement (TIDCA).
  • 22-Nov-2006 Mining Weekly Sacu-US to pursue scaled-back trade talks after FTA process ceases
    The South African Customs Unions (Sacu) has formally accepted an offer made by the US government to progress a so-called trade and investment cooperation agreement (Tica), following the breakdown of the more ambitious free-trade agreement (FTA) talks earlier in the year.
  • 16-Nov-2006 Business Report US all-or-nothing position derails free trade talks
    Negotiations towards a free trade agreement with the US have "all but come to a halt", according to Tshediso Matona, the director-general of South Africa’s department of trade and industry.
  • 3-Jun-2006 Reuters US-Southern Africa free trade pact seen unlikely
    The United States and Southern African nations are unlikely to clinch a free trade agreement but will continue talks at a lower level, South Africa’s trade minister said.
  • 15-May-2006 Islam Online US-SACU free trade talks hit snags
    The latest round of talks between the US and the five-member Southern African Customs Union (SACU) on a free trade agreement has failed to yield fruits, with many blaming the US for seeking to impose a one-size-fits-all formula.
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