US pledges $8.7m to boost trade in SADC
Pretoria - US trade representative Robert Zoellick has announced grants totalling $8.7 million to help boost southern Africa's capacity for international trade, the US embassy in Pretoria said over the weekend.
Zoellick met with ministers and diplomats of the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC).
President George W Bush's envoy informed SADC ministers of three US initiatives under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), signed into law by his predecessor Bill Clinton in May 2000.
These included a $3 million package for SADC member states over three years to support their regional integration plans and link them to Agoa.
"Next was a 2.7 million package over two years E on customs reform and trade facilitation," Zoellick was quoted as saying.
Three million dollars over two years will help local food producers to meet US and European Union health standards.
Zoellick said: "[If people grow crops] but can't figure out a way to meet the different standards, they won't be able to sell them."
Accompanied by officials of the US Agency for International Development, he added that the agency would grant scholarships to one trade official from each SADC country to take part in an information course on the World Trade Organisation in Geneva.
The US capacity-building efforts target individual countries as well as regional groupings, he said, detailing policy on agriculture, anti-dumping, environment competition policy, health, intellectual property and human resources.
Zoellick, who is on the second leg of the first African tour by a top trade official from Washington, has been to Kenya and was due to leave for Botswana tomorrow to assess HIV/Aids research and treatment.
Saturday's meeting brought together representatives from Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia, US public affairs officer Judy Moon said on Sunday.
Malawi's minister of commerce and industry Peter Kaleso hailed US co-operation on social and political development as vital as trade.
"This is critically important, more so when we talk of issues of peace and stability in the region, which are themselves prerequisites to a conducive climate for trade and investment," Kaleso said.
Kaleso said the SADC remained concerned over the future of Agoa after its first phase and the special concessions it accorded to least developed countries.
He asked Washington to review the "four-year window" opened by Agoa - until 2004 - to build capacity in domains such as textiles and clothing.