JOHANNESBURG: The Executive Secretary of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) Paulina Elago says that Namibia to take some essential steps to exploit and maximise the benefits of regional integration.
Specifically, the country needs to develop a clear strategy and ensure policy coherence and mainstreaming of regional integration across all sectors of the economy.
Elago made the remarks during a public dialogue titled “SACU and Namibia, the future,” held recently at a Windhoek hotel.
SACU, the world’s oldest customs union, is a conglomerate made up of members Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland.
The Agricultural Trade Forum organised the dialogue in conjunction with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES).
Elago stated that a strategy on regional integration would articulate and ensure policy coherence between national policies and regional initiatives.
The country would further have accelerate efforts towards economic diversification to broaden its industrial base to take advantage of the growing SACU market as well as the market opportunities the conclusion of new trade agreements had created.
“Namibia needs to ensure full implementation of ongoing programmes especially trade facilitation and regional customs modernisation programmes,” she said.
Elago expressed appreciation to the Agriculture Trade Forum (ATF) and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung(FES) for inviting her to take part in the public dialogue.
She added that Namibia needed a clear articulation of its interests and positions to inform the discussion that would now ensue under the approved work programme.
“Through such efforts, these could propel the country to be able to optimise economic benefits arising from its membership of SACU and other trade arrangements concluded with third parties. In turn, this should stimulate growth and strengthen the country’s ability to withstand global economic shocks.”
She said that the dialogue came at an opportune time as SACU entered yet another phase in its history.
SACU could now reposition and transform itself to not only to remain relevant, but also to become responsive to the development needs of its member states in the face of regional and global developments.
On behalf of FES, Heiner Naumann, Resident Representative of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung(FES) said that the “America first” slogan could be the beginning of a new area of protectionism and that some interpreted the just ended G20 meeting in Germany as an approval of trade barriers.
“I believe that the current discussion about SACU has been in connection with what I called a shift of paradigm in international economic integration,” he said.
He added that last Thursday’s dialogue was the 38th public dialogue organised by FES and ATF.
The pillar of their partnership was the strong conviction, that political decision-making had to be based on consultations between the most relevant stakeholders in a society.
This holds true for decisions and strategies for the agricultural sector as well as for all government decisions.
Finance minister Calle Schlettwein as a keynote speaker highlighted that whatever aspect dominated at regional level, the bottom line remained that the country’s national interest must come first.
He said that while SACU, as the oldest customs union in the world, was created for the benefit of all its members, integration and free trade could only be beneficial if the local economy benefitted.
For example, he said, the ‘America first’ policy had always been there, although people had only started saying it openly now.
“Namibia also has to frame our policies in the national interest,” he noted.
The minister added that if Namibia did not tackle its own problems such as poverty and unemployment, no one else would care.
“We must use free trade benefits to improve the lives of our citizens without harming the interests of our neighbours,” which was the tricky part he said.
Anton Faul of the ATF said there was a big international company that wanted to invest in Namibia because of the good macro-economic environment, political stability and so on.
However, the company would rather operate from South Africa because of that country’s bigger domestic market.
“We can all sell our country to investors. But we also need to come together as a region and agree on some things for the benefit of all states,” he noted.
Namibia Trade Forum CEO Ndiitah Nghipondoka-Robiati asked why the African Union(AU) did not regard SACU as a regional building block when it had such a big role to play.
Elago responded that the Abuja Treaty named five regional building blocks on the continent and that SADC represented the southern region.
During the discussion, SMEs Compete’s Danny Meyer asked why SACU, as a “regional building block” could not allow other neighbours such as Mozambique and Zimbabwe to join.
Elago responded that the union had a provision for incorporating new members, but those countries never applied to become members.