Harare: The Sadc regional integration process would be negotiated to its final end despite the upsurge in non-tariff barriers imposed by member states, a cabinet minister has said. Non-tariff barriers (NTBs) are trade restrictions and they take a different form from import and export duties. These include quotas, levies and embargoes. Regional Integration and International Co-operation minister Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga told Standardbusiness that the biggest problem facing the regional bloc was that of non-tariff barriers (NTBs) which member states were consistently using to protect their local industries and limit import inflows.
"We (at Sadc level) are working on the customs union and free trade area, in consideration of the strategies and programmes in place on how best to facilitate trade between member countries. These issues are being frankly discussed and concerns have to be dealt with sector by sector," she said.
Misihairabwi-Mushonga said cabinet was seized with concerns from the local pharmaceutical industry on the imposition by South Africa of trade restrictions, contrary to the Sadc trade protocol.
"All drugs cannot be exported to that country by road but only by air freight. This is an example of the NTBs being used, we can only challenge this as government but it is quite a long process," she said.
Before the recent Sadc summit in Mozambique, member states had committed themselves to a tariff phase down schedule to promote the inception of an operational free trade area.
Ministers at a Sadc meeting in Windhoek, Namibia last year expressed grave concern on the effects of NTBs on intra-regional trade. Examples of NTBs discussed included the protection of member states' dairy sectors through banning imports from neighbouring countries, imposition of minimum tonnage requirements for the export of fresh strawberries from Zambia to Zimbabwe, and vitamin-A fortification requirements for sugar imports into Zambia among others.NTBs violate provisions in the Sadc Trade Protocol.
The imposition of new NTBs, quantitative import and export restrictions as well as export duties on intra-Sadc trade are prohibited by the protocol and "should only be applied in exceptional circumstances".
Economist David Mupamhadzi said that despite member states' commitments towards promoting the regional integration agenda, there were some key realities that needed to be noted in consideration of the NTBs' proliferation.
"There is need to strike a balance between regional commitments and national priorities in terms of how to re-position individual member states' own industries and creation of employment opportunities for local people," he said.
Mupamhadzi said the influx of imports into any economy would deny the concerned country the opportunity to develop its own industries.
What does the SADC protocol say?
The protocol states that members shall, in relation to intra-Sadc trade, adopt policies and implement measures to eliminate all existing forms of NTBs and refrain from imposing any new barriers.