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SD in dilemma over 2008

Swazi Observer, Swaziland

SD in dilemma over 2008

By Bongile Mavuso

5 October 2006

The private sector has raised concern on which direction the country would take in 2008 when the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) assumes a customs union status.

This status has been viewed as a potential higher level of integration for member states.

However, Swaziland is also a member of the South African Customs Union (SACU) which places the country at a very compromising position as legally a country cannot be a member of two customs unions.

This was revealed during a national seminar on COMESA Programmes held last week, where a number of private sector companies attended.

These included Swaziland Beverages, CONCO Swaziland, Swaziland Sugar Association (SSA), CANGO, the Consumer Association of Swaziland as well as the Federation of the Swaziland Employers and Chamber of Commerce (FSE & CC). The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade represented government.

FSE & CC President Zakes Nkosi said viable options needed to be explored in the meantime so that market access currently enjoyed by industries can be maintained.

SSA’s Walter Matsebula expressed concern that the country needed to seriously consider its options in this regard as the COMESA market was critical for the ailing sugar industry.

He stated that the local industry was benefiting from the two year derogation from participating in the COMESA Free Trade Area (FTA).

“We are enjoying preferential markets currently under the derogation as we have plans in line to expand sugar production. With the establishment of the Maguga Downstream Project and the Lower Usuthu Irrigation Project (LUSIP) we are bound to have greater volumes of production. So government needs to explore and fully exploit available opportunities which is why as the private sector we need to flag the importance of the markets within the long term framework of the trade relations,” Matsebula said.

Express Cargo Director Mark Svenningsen, though welcoming COMESA’s Customs Union status, also expressed fear of what was going to happen to other preferential markets they were already enjoying.

However, COMESA’s deputy secretary general Nsindiso Ngwenya warned that the country needed to be pragmatic when dealing with issues.

“The issue here is not to choose but the most important thing is that as a country you should not be hostage of your an economic theory,” he said.

Ngwenya said Africa and COMESA should give priority to creating a single borderless market to stimulate sustainable development and banish poverty to the dustbin of history.

He however stated that the regional integration organisations in Eastern and Southern Africa are already working together to harmonise trade regimes, instruments and policies.

He said this had seen the establishment of a Tripartite Task Force between COMESA, EAC and SADC, with the hope of incorporating SACU in future.