Sacu at 100 eyes transformation
By: BRIGITTE WEIDLICH
THE Southern African Customs Union (Sacu) will be transformed from a customs union into a body to deepen regional integration in southern Africa beyond the existing five member states and to “serve as building block of an ever closer community” among the peoples of Southern Africa.
The decision was taken yesterday by the heads of state and government of the five member countries: Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland and South Africa. A joint communiqué to declare that a new vision and mission had been defined for Sacu was signed by President Hifikepunye Pohamba and the visiting heads of state King Mswati III of Swaziland, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, Botswana President Ian Khama and Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili of Lesotho.
They held a closed-door meeting yesterday morning and then proceeded to the site where the new Sacu headquarters will be built, in order to sign the communiqué during a ceremony that also marked the start of the centenary celebrations of the world’s oldest customs union. Although the communiqué stopped short of declaring that Sacu might become the envisaged larger customs body for the 15-member state Southern African Development Community (SADC), this might well be so, a well-placed source told The Namibian.
In December last year, the Sacu Council of Ministers decided in Windhoek to work towards “a defined roadmap for moving towards and economic community and monetary union” and further decided to “position Sacu at the centre of the SADC economic integration agenda,” according to a statement released afterwards.
“This underscores the aim to make Sacu the nucleus for the envisaged SADC Customs Union,” the source added.
President Hifikepunye Pohamba said yesterday that all five Sacu states had underscored unity and vowed to hold a common position when it would come to trade negotiations with external trading partners. “Our negotiations with third parties over the years have brought to the fore the need to develop common positions. This is particularly true of the ongoing talks for an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union. This situation, if not arrested, has the potential to undo all the gains realised in our deepening economic integration, both in Sacu and SADC,” Pohamba stated.
According to South African President Jacob Zuma, the founding of Sacu in 1910 was based on colonialism by the then Union of South Africa. “Today, as we mark one hundred years of Sacu, we must look at how to strengthen the arrangement, how to eliminate all vestiges of colonial systems of domination and dependency, and how to operate within a changing geopolitical environment,” Zuma said.
The combined trade contribution of developing countries now stood at 37 per cent and was rising rapidly towards 50 per cent, he said. “We must therefore engage with this international reality to enhance our collective development objectives. “We feel strongly that Sacu’s external strategy could include serious exploration of South-South cooperation, since this has excellent prospects for advancing our economic development,” he said, hinting at Brazil and India, among others.
The vaguely drafted communiqué stated that the heads of state agreed that Sacu had to be transformed into “a vehicle for regional economic integration capable of protecting equitable development.” Tasks that have not yet been completed are the establishing of a Sacu Tariff Board, the Sacu [trade] tribunal, a common negotiating mechanism and strengthening the Secretariat. A common industrial and agricultural policy must still be drawn up and four of the five member states must still set up their own Sacu national offices.
Yesterday’s meeting was preceded by three days of talks by the Council of Ministers. Another meeting of the Sacu Heads of State will be held in July in South Africa