The Minister of Trade and Industry, Dr Rob Davies briefed the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Trade and Industry regarding the progress on the implementation of the five-point plan in Cape Town. This is a work programme which was approved by the 2nd Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) Summit convened by President Zuma in 2011 premised on the following pillars;
Work programme on cross-border industrial development;
Development of SACU institutions;
Unified engagement in trade negotiations and
The review of the revenue sharing arrangement.
The five-point plan emerged from realization by SACU Member States of a need to move SACU beyond an arrangement held together only by the common external tariffs and the revenue sharing arrangement to an integration project that promotes real economy development in the region.
Minister Davies noted that progress on the implementation of pillars of the five- point plan is uneven. SACU has registered good progress on trade facilitation and there is greater unity of purpose in negotiations with third parties (Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), SACU-India and Tripartite Free Trade Area).
However, there is limited progress on the review of the revenue sharing arrangement and hence lack of adequate financial support for the implementation of cross-border industrial and infrastructure development projects. The SACU revenue pool is raised by South Africa from customs and excise duties. Mr Davies told MPs that in 2013-14 the total disbursement from the revenue pool would be about R70bn of which the BLNS countries would receive about R48bn. There is also lack of progress on the development of SACU institutions as a result of divergences in policy perspectives and priorities of Member States.
Enabling provisions provide for the establishment of National Bodies and a SACU Tariff Board. The SACU Tariff Board will make recommendations to Council on tariffs and trade remedies. Davies added that, until these institutions are established, functions are delegated to the International Trade Administration Commission (ITAC) in SA.
The minister warned that the lack of agreed policies would hinder effective decision-making on regional integration and industrialisation, which had made little progress since the 2011 summit convened by President Jacob Zuma. South Africa believes SACU needs to move “firmly towards a deeper development and integration”.
Minister Davies said SACU risked becoming “increasingly irrelevant” as an institution if it did not develop beyond operating a common external tariff, and a “highly redistributive” revenue-sharing arrangement. The lack of progress in developing new SACU institutions was primarily due to policy and priority differences among members. “Against this background South Africa needs to reassess how best to advance development and integration in SACU.”
Among the disagreements on tariff setting between South Africa and its neighbours highlighted by Mr Davies, was that South Africa saw tariffs as a tool of industrial policy while they regarded them as a means of raising revenue. For example, the other Sacu members wanted to include the revenue “lost” on import tariff rebates offered by South Africa into the revenue pool.
The pool provides these countries with a major source of their national budget. Rebates were seen as revenue foregone for which additional compensation should be sought. South Africa, on the other hand, argues that the rebates (for example on automotive imports) are part of its total tariff package and serve to attract investment and boost imports and therefore, contribute to expanding the revenue pool, not diminishing it.
He emphasised the development of a common approach on trade and industrial policy as the prerequisite for establishing effective SACU institutions in future.
He highlighted that a discussion on appropriate decision-making procedures on sensitive trade and industry matters that takes into account SACU-wide impacts is required. Source: The Department of Trade & Industry, and BD Live.