Experts called in to fix customs union split

Business Day | 2010/10/06

Experts called in to fix customs union split

LOYISO LANGENI

THE Southern African Customs Union (Sacu) has instructed a team of technical experts to draft terms of reference acceptable to all five member states, in order to resolve the contentious issue of an economic partnership agreement with the European Union (EU), President Jacob Zuma said yesterday.

He was speaking at a press conference at Pretoria’s Union Buildings at which he hosted Botswana’s President Ian Khama, who is in SA for a two-day official visit.

Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland broke ranks last year with SA and Namibia, also a Sacu member, by signing an interim economic partnership agreement with the EU.

Their decision violated one of the founding principles of Sacu: that no member is allowed to negotiate a free trade agreement with another bloc without the agreement of all Sacu members.

SA’s trade officials argued that the decision would open up the customs union as a dumping ground for cheap EU goods, with disastrous consequences for the manufacturing industry in the region.

Mr Zuma said he was not taken aback by the decision of the three countries to go ahead without consulting SA and Namibia on the agreement. “I don’t think there was room to be disappointed (on the decision of the three countries to sign the agreement),” Mr Zuma said.

Mr Khama said the decision to sign the economic partnership agreement was influenced by the benefits that Botswana was likely to accrue from the agreement. “There’s an expectation by the EU that these partnership agreements should be signed by the end of this year.”

The two leaders reiterated their call for the EU and the US to lift sanctions against some leaders of the government in Zimbabwe.

Botswana had advocated sanctions against Zimbabwe but has changed its stance after a government of national unity was put in place in Harare. “We strongly feel the sanctions are a hindrance … as the political and economic situation is improving,” Mr Khama said.

The two countries have decided to set up a binational commission to further strengthen their relations. It will meet annually and be chaired by their respective presidents.

langenil@bdfm.co.za

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source: Business Day