Sacu-US trade talks to resume

Sunday Times, South Africa

Sacu-US trade talks to resume

Friday July 08, 2005

By Carli Lourens

The year-long deadlock in free-trade negotiations between the Southern African Customs Union (Sacu) and the US appears to have been broken with talks set to resume in September.

The two regions are aiming to complete negotiations by September next year, according to an unnamed US official linked to the process.

This follows the latest effort to restart negotiations in Geneva at the weekend after at least two earlier attempts failed to achieve the immediate resumption of talks.

Sacu and US representatives said that they had agreed on a mechanism to resume talks, after negotiators clashed on a range of issues last year.

But local trade analyst Peter Draper of the South African Institute for International Affairs said he was sceptical that negotiations would be concluded by September next year.

"And I am not particularly optimistic that they will conclude at all, at least not based on current framework," said Draper.

Completion of the talks, which started in June 2003, was originally scheduled for December last year. Draper said there were vast differences between Sacu and the US on a number of issues.

The US official said negotiations would resume in bite-size fashion, with nonagricultural market access issues first on the schedule for the proposed September session.

SA’s acting trade and industry director-general, Tshediso Matona, who led the Geneva talks on behalf of SA, said the two parties had also agreed to "bank" agreements already reached, instead of reopening these to negotiation.

Draper said that banking agreements already made was an interesting approach, "but everything is connected to everything else, so that will be difficult".

It is understood that the five Sacu countries - SA, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland - have to align their policies on a number of "new-generation" issues such as government procurement and intellectual property to effectively negotiate deals with the US on these issues.

The US earlier blamed the talks stalling partly on capacity constraints within Sacu.

The US side was led at the Geneva meeting by deputy trade representative Josette Shiner.

Business Day

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source: Sunday Times