SA to reopen US free trade talks

BuaNews

SA to reopen US free trade talks

Richard Mantu

6 May 2005

The South African government is to revive talks with the US on trade policies between Washington and the Southern African Customs Union (Sacu). Sacu is made up of Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland and South Africa.

Acting director general of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Tshediso Matona announced on Wednesday that he would be speaking to his US counterpart to restart negotiations for Sacu countries to have greater access to US markets.

"In fact, I’ll be taking the call from the US this afternoon, in another attempt at getting negotiations restarted", Matona said.

Negotiations on the free trade agreement (FTA) began in June 2003, but stalled in September 2004 on issues such as investment, competition legislation and policies, government procurement and subsidies to US farmers.

At the time, Iqbal Sharma of the DTI said the US had so far failed to translate into practice its stated commitment to recognising the different levels of development between the US and Sacu.

Matona was speaking after government’s economic cluster media briefing at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Public Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin is chair of the cluster.

"We hit some difficulties that had to do with level of ambition of the US, especially in respect to matters of broader economic policy like investment, competition, regimes and government procurement; a few of those now-called ’new generation’ trade policies", Matona said.

These issues, he said, were also dropped from World Trade Organisation negotiations in 2004.

According to the government’s programme of action, talks with the US will be narrowed to negotiating for goods and services.

The deadline for resolving the impasse on the Sacu-US FTA is the second quarter of 2005. Matona said the difficulty with opening up trade in services with the US was on the "methodology on how we do that".

If successful, the FTA will be the first between the US and a sub-Saharan country, and the first time Sacu countries have jointly negotiated such an agreement.

The FTA would mean expanded market access for local brands into the US, and have a significant impact on South African exporters. The US market is valued at more than US$9-trillion.

Matona said the government was also planning to look at a free trade agreement with India and a framework discussion with China.

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source: BUA News