TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

SACU - US Trade Negotiations Beyond AGOA on Track

Monday, 20 October 2003

Source: Business Day (Johannesburg)

THE Southern African Customs Union (Sacu) and the US are ready for "real trade negotiations" following a successful round of talks in Washington last week, SA's chief trade negotiator Xavier Carim said last night.

This means that it is still possible that the negotiations will be concluded on schedule at the end of next year.

Carim, who had just returned from Washington, said that the latest round had been a "very good one" and the stage was set for serious nitty-gritty negotiations when both sides meet again in December.

"We are prepared to look at technicalities and at making compromises on all sides," he said. "We are positioned for negotiation, and are moving into the next phase."

The South African government believes a free trade area with the US will lock in the existing benefits which Sacu states enjoy under the African Trade and Opportunity Act (Agoa) this is a unilateral concession by Washington, which can withdraw benefits at any time.

"The US has shown an understanding of Sacu's positions, in a number of areas, and has indicated that it is ready to move," said Carim.

"There is a coming together and an understanding of what we can do, and we are ready for negotiation."

Carim said that one of the biggest achievements to date in the negotiations had been the ability of Sacu to come to common positions, and to work together effectively. Sacu's members are SA, Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho.

"Sacu has come very far in a very short time we started working together on the negotiations six months ago, and we have very clear views and a common approach," said Carim.

"We have common negotiating positions on all traditional market issues that was nowhere six months ago.

"I think this is the most significant outcome this process has forced us to integrate our negotiating perspectives precisely."

Carim said that in the negotiations to date, the focus had been on a first set of more traditional trade issues, such as tariffs, customs, rules of origin and market access for agriculture and industrial goods as well as a discussion on services.

Sacu has also asked for antidumping and agricultural subsidies to be included, and Carim said that while the US has some difficulty with this "they understand these issues are very important to us."

The US will deliver its response to this latest request at the next trade round in Namibia in December.

Sacu is now to prepare a common position for those talks on the next phase of issues which include intellectual property, investment, government procurement, dispute settlement, and the institutions which will be needed to govern the planned US-Sacu free trade area agreement.

The US is also seeking discussions on labour law and the environment which Carim suggested are more issues for other Sacu states than for SA, which has highly advanced legislation on the environment and on labour.

He said it will be tough but realistic to hope the negotiations can conclude on target by the end of next year.

"It is very do-able by the end of 2004," he said.

He said that there had been no sign that the discussions had been affected by the fallout from last month's collapse of the World Trade Organisation's trade ministers' meeting in Cancun, Mexico.