A chorus of US officials is signaling that Washington wants to turn a controversial programme giving poor African nations partial access to US markets into a full-fledged free trade agreement that would open Africa’s economy to US corporations.
Washington has invited African trade and finance ministers for talks on the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) - the US partial free trade regime for imports from Africa.
Why is there a sudden shift to regionalism as opposed to the much over-blown globalisation represented by multilateralism? Can Africa begin to understand that there is a dynamic and concerted effort at balkanising the continent into segmented disciplines?
Trade experts say the United States is demanding far deeper market access than South Africa is willing to give, particularly in the area of services that are covered by regulatory protection rather than tariffs.
Negotiations for a free trade agreement between the US and the Southern African Customs Union (Sacu) stalled last year in an atmosphere of impasse rather than acrimony. But on the explicit instruction of President Thabo Mbeki, the talks are now on again and new, ambitious targets have been set for their completion, as well as a new plan for getting past the problems that plagued the last effort.
Bi- and multilateral trade relations between external actors and individual African states or regional blocs are becoming ever more decisive. The trade policies of both the USA and the EU are anything but helpful.
Free trade talks between the five members of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) and the largest economy in the world have reached a dead end.
Throughout history, international trade has generated considerable controversy. While conceding that some trade was imperative, Aristotle observed that trade was disruptive of community life. Until the 19th Century, most European powers viewed trade as a form of undeclared warfare. Their objective was - and still remains - the maximization of benefits accruing to themselves and minimization of those accruing to rival nations. The weapons of choice in this warfare were import barriers.