US, SACU trade talks start in Lesotho
4 May 2004
The five-nation Southern African Customs Union (SACU) and the United States on Tuesday began talks in the tiny kingdom of Lesotho to finalise a free trade agreement due to be drawn up by the end of this year.
Lesotho Trade Minister Mpho Malie said the fifth round of talks, due to end on Saturday, followed a 1999 decision between Washington and SACU to strengthen trade ties.
"These negotiations are very important and their timely completion by the end of 2004 is of essence. There may be a need to fast track the negotiations if we are behind time," he said.
"I urge SACU members to take maximum advantage of the sixth round of negotiations in Atlanta in June 2004 by attracting trade and investment to our region."
SACU groups Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland.
US chief negotiator, Assistant Trade Representative for Africa, Florizel Liser urged SACU "to assist us to get to the highest level of FTAs (free trade agreements) there are in the world, especially when we deal with some of the least developed countries. Trust us. We can together do it."
The talks will look at issues such as technical barriers to trade, non-agricultural as well as farm products, rules of origin, customs and textiles and apparel.
The United States exported $2.5-billion worth of goods and services to SACU in 2002, making the region its largest market in sub-Saharan Africa.