January 24, 2003

SADC to speed up free trade area

Southern African Development Community's (SADC's) Executive Secretary, Dr. Prega Ramsamy, renewed his call for the organisation to speed up the implementation of free trade area and to accede to the customs union.

"We are now saying the time-frame should be revisited in light of what is happening in Africa and the world at large. The Americans are now talking about a free trade agreement with SACU (Southern African Customs Union) countries. This could marginalise SADC, because SACU is at an advanced level of development," he said. The SACU member states are Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland. The countries also belong to the 14-member state- SADC, which started implementing the free-trade area in September 2000.

By 2012 SADC is supposed to have brought the tariff level in all goods and service to zero. "We are going to have a review meeting in 2004 to look at the possibility of shortening the time frame of implementation of free trade area without jeopardising its fundamentals. We want to see how we can bring all tariffs to zero by 2008 instead of 2012. We should take opportunities, which are presenting themselves in this globalisation process. The region should dismantle the internal barriers which are there at the moment," he said.

Ramsamy said SADC countries stand to benefit from the American market that has a huge population and a high per capita income. "The region would benefit through employment creation, infrastructure development which will lead to high living standards. We cannot continue with this slow pace of development," he warned.

Currently SADC is trying to rejuvinate its restructuring process by introducing the Regional Indicative Plan aimed at guiding its strategic plans into the future. The 15-year-long term plan which will be reviewed at five year intervals is expected to be given the green-light by the SADC council of ministers which will be meeting Luanda, Angola in February. "The plan will guide us on where we want to be in the next 15 years and it will also spell-out what we should do to achieve the goals we have set ourselves. This will give us a deeper sense of integration as opposed to shallow integration," Ramsamy said. (Mmegi/The Reporter, Gaborone)

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