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Southern_Africa_Panorama_MapSouth Africa is a member of the Southern African Customs Union (Sacu), which consists of Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland (BLNS), the oldest customs union in Africa but apart from this prestige, is Sacu worth the time?

In an article by Professor Roman Grynberg, he asked whether Sacu is a “dead man walking?” and I wish to follow-up on this. A recent article appearing on the World Bank’s website states that even if poor countries are neighbours, it is often more difficult for them to trade with each other than it is for them to trade with distant countries that are wealthy.

The Sacu agreement is principally about the issue of distributing customs revenue earned by the five members on their international trade with other countries. The distribution of this revenue is based on each country’s share of intra-Sacu imports and so favours the smaller members.

South Africa, for example, imports very little from within the region and so ends up paying the BLNS about R15bn to R18bn per year more than it would if Sacu did not exist.

If we are paying R15bn to R18bn per annum to be in a union with questionable benefits, why do we not exit the agreement?

For one, the SADC free trade agreement which was implemented in 2008, gives South Africa a “get out of jail free card” through providing South African exports similar but not identical market access to that available under Sacu.

We could thus “walk away from Sacu at any moment, save R15bn to R18bn and South African exports would still continue to flow across the Limpopo basin in more or less the same uninterrupted way.” (Grynberg, 2014).

Another reason, according to Grynberg, is that an “economic catastrophe” may result if South Africa exits. Swaziland and Lesotho are between 60% to 70% dependent on the Sacu for revenues, Botswana and Namibia are somewhat less dependent at 30% to 40%.

I feel though that this may be the very same reason that there will not be a major reform of the revenue-sharing formula. Would you want to cede even a third of your income?

So what should South Africa do? I think it is firstly important to note that of our SADC neighbours, South Africa earns the most from its exports to Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique – none of which is in the Sacu.

This is perhaps not surprising when considering the findings of the World Bank and realising that nearly all of South Africa’s top trading partners are in the northern hemisphere.

The BLNS countries, interestingly enough, fall in the bottom 5 of our SADC trade partners and so should we worry so much about an “economic catastrophe” in the BLNS when they don’t buy our goods in any case?

What it comes down to, I feel, is that South Africa needs to play hard ball. By this I mean South Africa needs to be committed to actually exiting the Sacu agreement because it is only when the BLNS realise that we are serious and that there is the real threat of them losing 30% to 70% of their revenue that they will agree to a new revenue-sharing formula. After all, something is better than nothing. Source: Fin24

Related ‘must read’ articles

South Africa has been courting major player Botswana’s support for changes to SACU.

South Africa has been courting major player Botswana’s support for changes to SACU. (Mail & Guardian)

The Mail & Guardian reveals that South Africa has requested an urgent meeting with members of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) for as early as ­February next year in what could be a make-or-break conference for the struggling union.

In July this year, a clearly frustrated Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies told Parliament that there had been little progress on a 2011 agreement intended to advance the region’s development integration, and it was stifling its real ­economic development.

South Africa’s payments to SACU currently amount to R48.3-billion annually – a substantial amount, considering the budget deficit is presently R146.9-billion, an estimated 4.5% of gross domestic product.

In the past, South Africa has had some room to reposition itself, but as Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has pointed out, the South African fiscus has come under a lot of pressure as a result of factors such as the global slowdown, reduction in demand from countries such as China for commodities, and reduced demand from trade partners such as the European Union.

South Africa, which according to research data, last year contributed 1.26% of its GDP, or about 98% of the pool of customs and excise duties that are shared between union countries including Swaziland, Botswana, Lesotho and Namibia, wants a percentage of this money to be set aside for regional and industrial development.

The four countries receive 55% of the proceeds, and are greatly dependent on this money, which makes up between 25% and 60% of their budget revenue. South Africa has very little direct benefit, except when it comes to exporting to these countries. It receives few imports.

Changing the revenue-sharing arrangement

Efforts to change the revenue-sharing arrangement so that money can be set aside for regional development would result in less money going into the coffers of these countries.

It would also mean that a portion of the revenue that South Africa’s SACU partners now receive with no strings attached would in future include restrictions on how it is spent.

A source close to the department said adjustments to the revenue-sharing arrangement and the promotion of regional and industrial development were issues on which the South African government was not willing to budge.

So seriously is South Africa viewing the lack of progress on the 2011 agreement, a document prepared for Cabinet discussion includes pulling out of SACU as one of its options, a source told the Mail & Guardian.

This could not be confirmed by the government, but two senior sources said South Africa was very aware of the dependence of its neighbours on income from the customs union, in particular Swaziland and Lesotho, and the impact its collapse could have on these economies.

Professor Jannie Rossouw of the University of South Africa’s department of economics believes a new revenue-sharing arrangement is essential for the long-term sustainability of SACU countries.

South Africa’s contribution

He also said that South Africa’s contribution as it presently stands should be recognised as development aid and treated as such by the international community.

Between 2002 and 2013, total transfers amounted to 0.92% of South Africa’s GDP, which exceeds the international benchmark of 0.7% set by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, he said in his research.

“It is noteworthy that South Africa transfers nearly all customs collections to SACU countries. Total collection since 2002 amounted to about R249-billion, while transfers to SACU were about R242-billion,” Rossouw said. The South African Revenue Service (SARS) recognises that inclusion of trade with Sacu would have a substantial impact on South Africa’s ­official trade balance.

South Africa’s total trade deficit for 2012 was R116.9-billion and, according to SARS, had trade with the union been included, it would have been much reduced to R34.6-billion.

South Africa has budgeted to increase its allocation to SACU from R42.3-billion in the 2012-2013 financial year to R43.3-billion this financial year and in the 2014/2015 financial year.

In 2002, the SACU agreement was modified to include higher allocations for the most vulnerable countries, Swaziland and Lesotho, and it established a council of ministers, which introduced a requirement for key issues to be decided jointly. In 2011, a summit was convened by President Jacob Zuma in which a five-point plan was established to advance regional integration.

Review of the revenue-sharing arrangement

This involved a review of the revenue-sharing arrangement; prioritising regional cross-border industrial development; making cross-border trade easier; developing SACU ­institutions such as the National Bodies (entrusted with receiving requests for tariff changes) and a SACU tariff board that would eventually take over the functions of South Africa’s International Trade Administration Commission (ITAC); and the development of a unified approach to trade negotiations with third parties.

Davies told Parliament that there had been little progress in the past three years on these five issues.

Xavier Carim, the director general of the international trade division of the department of trade and industry, said there had been positive developments regarding agreements on trade negotiations, such as those with the European Union and India on trade, and progress had been made on the development of SACU institutions, but progress was slow on the other issues.

Davies told Parliament it was difficult to develop common policy among countries that varied dramatically in economic size, ­population and levels of economic, legislative and institutional development.

He cited differences over approaches to tariff settings as an example.

“South Africa views tariffs as tools of industrial policy, while for other countries tariffs are viewed as a source of revenue,” Davies said.

A proposal that cause all the problem

“A key problem that led to differences was the proposal by one member for lower tariffs to import goods from global sources that were cheapest, which ultimately undermined the industry of another member. This was primarily an issue of countries who viewed themselves as consumers rather than producers.”

The South African government is trying diplomacy as its first option. A senior government source said issues around SACU made up a large part of talks last week between Botswana and South Africa on the establishment of co-operative agreements on trade, transport and border co-operation.

Catherine Grant of the South African Institute of International Affairs said Botswana had long been considered the leader of the four countries. It would make sense for South Africa to bring Botswana on board before the meeting.

Grant said the SACU agreement needed to be re-examined and modernised.

“There needs to be a review of the revenue-sharing formula that is less opaque and is easier to understand. The present system is complicated, making it hard to work out exactly how much countries are getting. It’s clear that Rob Davies feels hamstrung by SACU and has done for some time, because decisions cannot be made without the agreement of all five members, who have different needs and requirements.”

The trade balance is one of the elements that resulted in South Africa’s current account, which has recorded significant deficits in recent months, coming in as high as 6.5% of GDP in the second quarter of 2013.

Trade between South Africa and SACU has always been recorded, but for historical reasons it has been kept separate from official international trade statistics. Source: Mail & Guradian

 

Import exportThe Minister of Finance has approved that South Africa’s trade statistics will in future include data in respect of trade with Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland (BLNS countries).

BLNS country-trade statistics have previously not been included in the trade statistics. This arose historically because of the free flow of trade from a customs duty point of view within the Southern African Customs Union (SACU).

BLNS merchandise trade however, has a material impact on South Africa’s trade balance. South Africa exported R103.8bn to and imported R21.5bn from BLNS countries. In the last full year (2012) this resulted in a positive trade balance of R82.3bn for trade with BLNS countries.

South Africa’s total trade deficit for 2012 was R116.9bn. Had the BLNS trade data been included, the deficit would have been R34.6bn.

The view is therefore that direct trade within the BLNS countries should be included in the calculation of the monthly trade statistics to provide a more accurate reflection of South Africa’s trade.

Furthermore, SARS’s customs modernisation programme has resulted in its systems moving to new technologically enhanced platforms that enabled better electronic capturing of trade data that was previously done manually. The modernised system greatly improves the accuracy of trade data and allows the reporting and analysis of trade data to be done in real-time.

SARS worked very closely with the National Treasury (NT) and the South Africa Reserve Bank (SARB) in preparing the trade statistics that includes trade with the BLNS countries.

The SARB has welcomed the revision of the trade statistics “as valuable additions to building block data used to compile South Africa’s balance of payments.”

“While the Bank has always included estimates of the trade between South Africa and this group of countries in its compilation of South Africa’s overall imports and exports, the new building block data will be incorporated in the balance of payments, leading to improved measurement. Previously published statistics will also be revised. The revised balance of payments data for South Africa will be finalised in the next few weeks and published in the Bank’s Quarterly Bulletin, due to be released on 3 December 2013,” the SARB said in a statement.

Although SARS is confident as to the accuracy of the BLNS trade numbers, it is SARS’s intention to approach the United Nations to review the treatment of South Africa’s trade data that will now include BLNS trade numbers.

In addition to the inclusion of the BLNS trade figures, SARS is also contemplating certain other revisions to improve the reporting of trade statistics in the future. Some of these include the following:

  • publishing of imports on both a Free On Board (FOB) and a Cost Insurance Freight (CIF) basis to align it with UN principles,
  • compiling statistics on the date when the goods are actually released into or from South Africa’s economy, rather than using the date on which the goods entered the customs’ system for ultimate release from or into the SA economy, and
  • publishing gold exports as recorded on the SARS system reflecting the physical export movement of gold as opposed to the current practice of reporting the SARB gold export data on the IMF change of ownership basis.
  • These changes will however, only be finalised and implemented after consultation with international experts and other relevant stakeholders.

For more details visit sars.gov.za

 

SAD story – Part 1

February 16, 2012 — 4 Comments

Die-hard SAD fan! (Tammy Joubert)We all suffer a little nostalgia at one or other point in our lives. Those die-hard legacy officials – the kind who have more than 20 years service – will most definitely have suffered, recoiled, and even repelled mass change which has occurred in the last 10-15 years in South Africa.  In the mid-2000’s the advent and replacement of the tried and tested DA500/600 series customs declaration forms by the Single Administrative Document – better known as the SAD – was unpopular to most customs officers although it was possibly welcomed by SACU cross-border traders.

A political coup had been won by some BLNS states compelling South Africa to harmonise its declaration requirements with those of fellow members, especially those operating ASYCUDA. At the time, SARS saw this compromise necessary to bring about alignment with Namibia and Botswana to facilitate the implementation of a new customs clearance dispensation for the Trans Kalahari Corridor (TKC).

The SAD is almost universally accepted by virtue of its design according to the UN Layout Key. However, why the fuss. A form is a form. Allied industry in RSA were used to the three decade old DA500/600 declaration forms which were designed infinitely better and more logical than the SAD.

None-the-less, South Africans are adaptable and accommodating to change. Following on from my recent post “SACU now a liability” it is now the SAD’s turn to stare death in the face. As it turns out, through wave upon wave of technological advances, we no longer need the SAD. At least in its paper form. In SARS case it no longer needs the SAD – period. A newer derivative (strangely not too dissimilar to the DA500/600) has now gained favour. It is known as the Customs Declaration 1 (Form CD1). However, unlike the DA and SAD forms, the CD1 will most likely never be required in printed format owing to SARS Customs preference for digitized information. Needless to say, if nothing else, the CD1 will provide a graphic representation of the EDI CUSDEC data for the customs officer. Next time, I’ll discuss the rationale behind ‘customs harmonisation’ and its non-dependency on document format. I feel for the die-hard SAD fan!

Windhoek:  The century-old five-member Southern African Customs Union is a stumbling block to the region’s economic integration agenda and has become a liability whose continued existence is no longer sustainable, analysts say.  They add that SACU, which comprises Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland and South Africa (the major contributor to the revenue pool), can best serve the region if it is integrated into the Southern African Development Community.

The Southern Times understands that the dominant feeling in the South Africa and BLNS governments is that SACU’s structural weaknesses prohibit it from advancing long-term regional strategic interests.  South Africa doles out billions of rand to BLNS under a revenue sharing agreement.

However, authorities in South Africa realise that the wider SADC market offers greater economic and strategic interests than the SACU enclave. South Africa has also apparently realised that economically and politically, its interests are better advanced through SADC than SACU. 

These are some of the findings of a study by Dr Sehlare Makgetlaneng, the head of governance and democracy research at Pretoria-based think-tank, Africa Institute of South Africa (AISA).

The Southern Times is in possession of an advance copy of the 2011 study in which key decision-makers in member states voiced their opinions on the usefulness of SACU to regional integration, economic development within the BLNS and South Africa’s weakening interest in the customs union.

The AISA study raises pertinent questions on what BLNS would do if SACU were disbanded. The over-dependence on SACU revenue ‑ vis-à-vis BLNS’s failure to come up with viable alternative revenue sources, lack of manufacturing capacity and a captive market for South African products ‑ also raises pertinent questions on BLNS’s future economic strategies.

That SACU has failed to address strategic economic interests of BLNS is bluntly captured by Namibia’s deputy Trade and Industry Deputy Minister Tjekero Tweya.  He says, “Namibia has been insane for 21 years of independence without a production capacity to produce even a toothpick. The same reason why we import toothpicks from China is because we need them, so we need to work on our production capacity and improve ways of collecting revenue.”

AISA lauds Namibia for establishing strategic partnerships within SADC to advance its economic and political interests.

According to the study, South Africa’s view is that SACU does not serve the regional economic powerhouse’s interests and even without the arrangement, trade with BLNS will continue under the aegis of SADC. Pretoria regards Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, the DRC and Angola as more strategic to its economic goals.

“SACU may become a liability in the advancement of South Africa’s interests in the region and the continent particularly if South Africa is not able to effectively and structurally transform it to serve the popular interests of the region,” the AISA study says.

SACU’s mission is to “serve as an engine for regional integration and development, industrial and economic diversification and expansion of intra-regional trade and investment” among other things. For SACU, the issue is its transformation into SADC. South Africa’s contribution to Southern African regional integration is best and effective through SADC, not SACU. SACU is largely a revenue sharing and trade facilitation organisation. It is not the organisation through which to advance Southern African regional integration,” the research says.

AISA dismisses long-held suggestions that SACU could be used as a platform to establish a SADC customs union.  The customs union’s structural weaknesses make it an undesirable model for regional integration.  The research points out that if other SADC members want to join SACU, they have to address their tariff schedules and international obligations under the World Trade Organisation.

SACU’s present revenue-sharing formula also presents a challenge to admitting new members.

AISA says the formula is structured for a win-win situation among members but does not encourage a win-win solution to problems inherent in the contribution to the revenue pool and the way the pool is shared.

“It is a zero sum game in terms of the way it is shared. It is a definite pool. If one member gets more, another member gets less. If two SADC members who trade more with other SACU members are admitted, their membership will have a significant revenue change within SACU. The revenue sharing formula is determined on the basis of SACU intra-trade,” AISA’s Makgetlaneng says.

The revenue sharing formula is the obstacle to admitting other SADC members into the bloc.  South Africa contributes 98 percent to the revenue pool, which is then shared according to intra-SACU trade or imports.  The more South Africa trades with its partners in the region and beyond, the more the revenue pool grows.

“BLNS import more from South Africa and when the distribution formula is applied these countries get the average of 90 percent of customs revenue. In other words, South Africa compensates them for buying more from itself.”

His sentiments dovetail with previous suggestions from South Africa to establish a development fund in which revenue is ring-fenced and used to finance infrastructural projects that benefit SADC.  The study says that this view is strongly opposed by Botswana and Namibia, which claim entitlement to SACU revenue and have argued that as independent nations, they should spend it as they wish.

But AISA argues that since South Africa has a trade surplus with BLNS, it sets the tariffs within the customs bloc, clearly depriving the BLNS policy room to determine tariffs.

“This study has proved that SACU currently serves as a stumbling block to Southern African regional integration. Its revenue-sharing formula is the obstacle to the admission of other SADC countries as its members. The position that it is bound to absorb other SADC countries and even COMESA countries as its members is opposed by SACU officials, scholars and researchers interviewed by the author.

“They maintain that it is not possible for SACU to absorb other SADC countries as its members. Their position is that BLNS are structurally opposed to the admission of other countries as SACU members. As SACU revenue sharing is currently structured, they (BLNS) have no material interests to see other countries joining SACU as members,” Makgetlaneng says.

AISA maintains that SACU’s interests do not serve the region’s long-term socio-political, economic and security interests and implores South Africa to oversee integration of the union into SADC.

“The reality that SADC takes primacy in terms of importance in Southern Africa is such that SACU cannot be sustained in the long-term. Preparations should be made for it to no longer serve as a sub-group within SADC. It should be integrated into SADC. South Africa should prepare itself for SACU’s integration into SADC. It should strategically and tactically ensure that SACU is integrated into SADC. This will be the qualitative step forward towards the reduction and elimination of the weak links in SADC’s chain driving regional integration,” AISA’s chief researcher, Makgetlaneng, suggests. Original source: Southern Times