Botswana’s President, Mokgweetsi Masisi yesterday encouraged the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) Secretariat to consider sharpening collaboration with leading institutions relevant to its work. This, said Masisi, would suffice as a strategy by SACU to differentiate itself from its peers. Masisi made the remarks during a courtesy visit to the SACU headquarters in Windhoek yesterday shortly before he met President Hage Geingob at State House.
While at the SACU headquarters, where he toured the facility, appreciated business operations and interacted with staff members, Masisi said SACU has contributed invaluably to the region, particularly with regard to economic partnership agreements (EPAs) and noted he was specifically impressed with work done around customs mobilisation. Masisi also assured SACU of Botswana’s continued support and invited constant and meaningful dialogue between the union and his office.
Masisi’s visit marks only the third time since the Secretariat was established in 2004 that it accommodated a visiting Head of State. This follows visits by Eswatini’s King Mswati IIII and former President of Botswana, Seretse Khama Ian Khama, who visited the Secretariat in May 2017 and February 2018, respectively in their capacity as the SACU Chair.
Meanwhile, during yesterday’s welcoming remarks, SACU’s Executive Secretary, Paulina Elago, stated that the SACU Secretariat staff will continue to work with commitment and dedication to ensure that the SACU Work Programme is successfully implemented.
Elago explained that since the last Summit of the SACU Heads in Botswana in June 2018, the Summit has not been able to convene pending the conclusion of bilateral consultations amongst the different SACU governments on issues that have been escalated to the Summit for guidance and progress in the implementation of the Work of the Ministerial Task Teams.
“The issues escalated to the Summit are mainly related to architecture for tariff-setting and on the Review of the Revenue Sharing Arrangement. Consequently, there had been limited progress made in the implementation of the Ministerial Work Programme due to divergent views by the Member States in these areas. We trust that the Heads of State or Government will have an opportunity to reflect on these issues and conclude their bilateral consultations to provide the much-needed direction on the way forward,” said Elago.
She added that notwithstanding the disagreements in the areas of the Ministerial Work Programme, there have been some achievements in the implementation of the Work Programme. These include ongoing work on the feasibility of establishing a financing mechanism for infrastructural projects in the region; identification of value regional value chains; and development of comprehensive Programme for the Trade Facilitation, amongst others.
Said Elago: “We have also made considerable progress in the implementation of SACU priorities related to Trade Negotiations, Trade Facilitation, and Revenue Management”. She explained that in the area of Trade Negotiations, SACU Member States continued to pursue unified engagement and negotiations of trade agreements with third parties as a bloc.
“The ongoing SACU Trade Negotiating Agenda includes the negotiations for the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which has been concluded recently; the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA), SACU-India Preferential Trade Agreement, and the review of the SACU-EFTA Free Trade Area and the SADC Protocol on Trade, as well as matters around the SACU-US relations,” Elago noted.
The operational phase of the AfCFTA was launched by the Extraordinary African Union Summit in July 2019 in Niger and to date, 52 countries have signed the agreement, 22 countries have obtained parliamentary approval while 20 countries have ratified the AfCFTA. In SACU, Eswatini, Namibia and South Africa have so far ratified the agreement.
In addition, SACU, Mozambique and the United Kingdom Engagement was concluded in October 2019 with the signing of an agreement with the UK aimed at replicating the EU-SADC EPA into a new agreement post Brexit. This, said Elago, was to ensure continuity of the trading relationship once the UK left the EU on 31 January 2020.
Meanwhile, under the Trade Facilitation Programme, the SACU Secretariat continued to provide leadership, coordinate and to facilitate the implementation of the SACU Customs Modernisation Programme. “This Programme seeks to strengthen collaboration and to enhance administrative efficiencies amongst Customs Administrations in the SACU Member States. The key objective of the Programme is to enhance efficiency in order to facilitate cross border movement of goods while securing borders to curb the scourge of illicit trade, as well as to ensure seamless movement of legitimate trade,” said Elago.