Johannesburg: Business leaders in Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland want political leaders in the five countries to consult them more on the affairs of Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU), more so if the political leadership is serious about regional integration. Business leaders say presently, their voice is drowned out by the political voice. For instance, the present discussions around SACU overly emphasise the revenue sharing formula while giving little impetus to trade issues that would enable the world’s oldest customs union to evolve into an organisation that is able to cope with globalisation.
These were some of the views expressed at a SACU regional conference in South Africa by participants from civil societies, businesses, and governments of the five SACU member states.
Businesspeople should be heard on issues affecting competition and services because at the end of the day, it is the private sector that would engage in trade and investment in the push for regional integration, and not governments. As things stand, the five member countries do not even share information on big investments, to see how such an investment in one country would impact on the others.
While there is development of infrastructure to facilitate cross border trade, very little is done to facilitate cheaper access to such infrastructure. 'Perhaps, we need a SACU business forum, because at present there is continuous absence of a business voice,' said participants.
They do, however, have one condition for such a business forum: South African businesses should neither dominate such a forum nor should the multinational corporations hijack the forum for their own agenda.
'It must be representative of the region,' suggested Catherine Grant, from the South African Institute of International Affairs, one of the panellists during the conference.
The chairman of the SACU Council of Ministers and Swaziland’s Minister of Finance, Majozi Sithole, said the suggestion to have a closer consultation with the private sector is valid and he would take it up with the council.
'Perhaps, next time the council meets, we should all ask the minister(s) what is the mandate from the private sector in their country. If there is none, members should go back to consult with their private sector,' he quipped.
Trudi Hartzenberg, of Tralac, agreed with the participants that there is too much focus on revenue sharing than on trade issues - the non-tariff barriers 'that would move the discussion from issues about border issues towards domestic regulations reforms, because it is these issues that move us to the nexus of competitiveness. We are singularly unambitious to use this vehicle for what it could have achieved,' said Hartzenberg.
There is a lot of institution gap or deficit and manufacturing competitiveness is not possible without competitive services in the entire region.
Industrialisation is in favour of South Africa.
'The question that should be asked is, what kind of industrial policy do we articulate given the asymmetric and polarisation characteristics of SACU? Policy framework should allow efficient access to those infrastructures, with competitive pricing, otherwise there is no point for such cross border infrastructures, be they on transport or energy,' said Hartzenberg.