100 years and rebirth of SACU
by Desie Heita
23 April 2010
WINDHOEK – Southern African Customs Union (SACU) was this week transformed into a modern customs union, ready to shape regional integration for the entire southern Africa.
Heads of state of Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland signed a new vision and mission for the new SACU, with all countries agreeing to all-new future directions of the union.
It is a significant step at a time when the world’s oldest union appeared to be on the brink of dissolving, with unprecedented pressure of globalisation, free trade along with regional integration cracking the union’s seams.
The different approaches towards the finalisation of the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union shook SACU, while unequal level of economies and development policies continue to challenge the five countries. However, South African President, Jacob Zuma, says unity should be one of the “cardinal principles of our existence”, reminding members that all countries have a duty to this commitment.
“This will be absolutely important if the policy and legal coherence of SACU are to be sustained. Most urgently, if we cannot pursue the unfinished business of EPA negotiations as a united group, the future of SACU is undoubtedly in question,” says Zuma.
The new vision and mission reposition the union as an economic community wherein all members are equal and committed to development. These define the union as an institution in which all five countries work together to achieve industrialisation, expand intra trade and investments, and share common policies without indulging in competition among others.
President of Botswana, Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama, says the new SACU is a yard away from the old union that anchored on revenue sharing, to a union that is judged on the number of decent new jobs created and business opportunities generated.
“At its very best, SACU will have identified and equitably exploited complementarities in constituent member states to optimise the use of scarce resources, do away with unnecessary duplications as well as limit unhealthy competition to a level where it may be possible to operate mega strategic regional industries in select sectors,” says Khama.
King Mswati III of Swaziland, on the other hand, says the new SACU would have to tackle the challenge of unequal economies of member countries, by “managing the process with great care and continue working together as a family”.
One of the challenges of integration facing SACU is that member countries have uneven levels of development. Lesotho, for instance, is classified as a “least developed country”, unlike the other four countries.
Yet, says the Prime Minister of Lesotho Pakalitha Mosisili, while the countries cannot always agree on everything because of this, they must “always strive to accommodate each other in the spirit of sustainable development and harmony in the region”.
Namibian President, Hifikepunye Pohamba, who chaired the first-ever SACU heads of state summit, says the five heads of government have to “recognise the need to place equitable industrial development at the centre of regional economic integration and development agenda”. What is now left is for SACU to finalise the setting up of a tribunal, the tariff board and national bodies in each member country.