Inside US Trade, 10 May 2005
Trade talks between SACU and USA cancelled
Talks were scheduled to restart this week between deputy trade ministers of South Africa and the United States regarding a free trade agreement (FTA) between the US and the Southern African Customs Union (SACU). These have now been cancelled and no new date set.
The talks have had a rocky ride up to now. They stalled last year in July, when Josette Shiner, Deputy US Trade Representative, met South African Director General for Trade and Industry, Alistair Ruiters, in Paris. The two parties could not agree on what constituted a free trade agreement. The US wanted a comprehensive agreement covering
government procurement and
SACU negotiators, on the other hand, preferred to deal with market access before discussing the other issues. Robert Zoellick, the previous US Trade Representative, agreed with African trade ministers in December 2004, that a meeting would be set up early in 2005, to discuss a timetable and specific issues that would get the free trade area negotiations going between the US, South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Namibia and Swaziland (SACU member countries).
In April 2005, US-SACU FTA Coalition sent a letter to the new US Trade Representative Rob Portman, saying that the private sector supported an agreement and they felt the problems encountered could be overcome.
Shiner and South African Department of Trade and Industry Acting Director-General, Tshediso Matona, were then due to meet in Geneva on May 15. But that meeting was cancelled, allegedly because Portman needed Shiner elsewhere.
Another date could not be organized so a teleconference was scheduled for May 4. BuaNews, published by South Africa’s Government Communications and Information System agency, then printed an article in which Matona was alleged to have said that talks had stalled again because of US demands in investment, government procurement and competition. Matona said it had been agreed that only market access on goods and services would be on the agenda.
After the publication of the article, US Trade Representative staff setting up the teleconference asked the SACU ministers to commit themselves to a comprehensive agreement. SACU officials refused saying the conference call was merely to establish the next deputy ministers meeting, not to deal with substantive issues. The conference call was then cancelled and no new date for a meeting has been set.
Source: Inside US Trade