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Africa ‘must rationalise on trade blocs’

Business Day, South Africa

Africa ‘must rationalise on trade blocs’

By Chris van Gass, Cape Correspondent

5 July 2007

CAPE TOWN - SA and the rest of southern Africa needed to rationalise trade blocs to allow for stronger and larger regional economic communities, said Finance Minister Trevor Manuel yesterday.

Manuel, speaking at the 12th annual conference of the International Corporate Governance Network, said part of the problem facing certain countries in Africa was that they had very small markets, which meant they were restricted to the extraction or cultivation of primary commodities.

“This needs to be changed by changing ratios,” said Manuel.

In answer to a question about the European Union attempting to tighten its definition of economic partnership agreements (EPAs) - an issue that had been raised at the African Union summit in Accra, Ghana this week - Manuel said that defining the borders of the EPAs should be done by African countries.

“We should be defining what the borders of the EPAs are,” said the finance minister.

He said one needed only to look at the world’s largest economies to understand the importance of developing regional economic communities.

In SA and some southern African countries there was a need to simplify “our own arrangements”, he said.

For example, SA was a member of Southern African Customs Union (SACU) and of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), while Botswana was a member of the SADC, but not of the SACU.

There were other countries in southern Africa that were part of Commersa, a common market of east African countries.

“You can’t have that and we need to rationalise, but it must be an African decision,” said Manuel.

He said that countries in Africa needed to define what the timelines were and needed to drive towards enlarging those markets “because the present ratio s don’t work”.

Manuel told the conference that there needed to be a deepening of corporate governance and accountability.

“We have shared interests - as citizens, as responsible inhabitants of an abused planet earth, as partners in the challenge of creating a fairer world in which opportunity and assets are more broadly held,” he said.

These shared interests would not be addressed by corporations acting in their self-interest, nor could they be addressed by governments acting alone, or even by governments and public interest organisations acting in concern internationally.

“They also require a broader concept of corporate responsibility ,” said Manuel.