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Southern Africa: SADC FTA ’a reality next year’

The Namibian, Windhoek

SADC FTA ’A Reality Next Year’

Brigitte Weidlich

26 March 2007

As southern African countries swiftly move towards deeper regional economic integration, N$1,4 billion has been made available by the European Union to support regional economic integration of the sub-continent.

A biannual conference of ministers of the 14 member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) ended in Lesotho last week.

Namibia is a member of SADC and will be part of the Free Trade Area (FTA), which is to start in January 2008 - just 7 months from now.

By then tariffs on 85 per cent of all goods traded among SADC states will be scrapped.

This is preparation of an envisaged SADC customs union by 2010, a common market by 2015 and a monetary union in 2016.

The European Union support for infrastructure will be through national indicative programmes and infrastructure like roads and bridges to better link member states to each other.

According to Lesotho’s Finance and Economic Planning Minister Timothy Thahane, an audit of gazetted tariff reduction schedules by member states started last month and is expected to be completed by the end of April.

"Plans are advanced to undertake studies on models for the envisaged customs union and how to achieve compatibility of the national trade policies of individual SADC member states.

We are also finalising a roadmap for the 2010 customs union," Thahane said Thursday after the conference.

Open access in terms of air transport within the region was also discussed, including harmonisation of policies dealing with road usage permits and charges, third-party insurance and processing of goods through ports and airports.

The introduction of multi-country visitors’ visas in 2009, before the 2010 soccer World Cup in South Africa, and the creation of single-stop border posts between neighbouring countries was also discussed, but no details were disclosed.

Regional integration efforts have to date met with limited success, because the trading bloc has no way of ensuring that members implement the accords they sign.

Namibia, Angola, Malawi and Zambia have yet to sign a finance and investment agreement that sets out the framework for establishing a regional monetary union.

SADC must also decide how to deal with several members that belong to another African trading bloc establishing its own customs union.

Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Mauritius, Angola, Swaziland and the Democratic Republic of Congo belong to the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa).

SADC member states are South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Mauritius, Angola, Swaziland and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

SADC ministers further approved the budget of the SADC secretariat, which is based in Gaborone, Botswana, for the 2007-08 financial year.

Revenue of US$45,3 million (about N$317 million) mainly comes from members’ contributions.

* The SADC ministers of the countries that belong to the SADC Troika - Lesotho, Zambia and Botswana - also held a parallel meeting in Lesotho.

The troika are the countries holding the present, past and future chairmanship of SADC, which lasts 12 months.

At the same time, the troika of the SADC organ on Politics, Defence and Security also met, consisting of Tanzania (chair), Angola (vice-chair) and Namibia (outgoing chair).

Although the issue of Zimbabwe was discussed, the joint press release issued afterwards did not say much.

"Taking advantage of the SADC Council of Ministers Meeting in Maseru on 22 March the SADC Double Troika met to consider the economic, political and security situation in Southern Africa," according to the press statement.

The Double Troika recognised the initiative that the Chairperson of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, took to visit Zimbabwe for briefing and consultations on recent developments there.

"We reviewed the reports by local and international media and statements by various capitals regarding the situation in the SADC region.

In view of these, the SADC Double Troika underscored the importance of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security intensifying its consultations on the political and economic challenges confronting the region," the statement said.

* Additional reporting by Bloomberg