Congestion Besets Botswana’s Tlokweng Border Post

botswanaMap showing border posts between Botswana and South Africa, with No.7 being the Tolkweng and No.4 the Martins Drift posts.

The temporary closure of the Martin’s Drift border post due to recent floods in the Tswapong area has resulted in the congestion of cargo trucks at Tlokweng border post.

Approaching the border from the Botswana side, there is a queue of these trucks awaiting declaration. The situation is made worse by shortage of parking space for the trucks, which at times lead to some trucks blocking way for others, hence the delay.

In an interview, the principal customs officer, Ms Monkgogi Makwati said they started receiving a large number of trucks on transit on Saturday (22 March 2014).

She said most of the trucks were from Kazungula on their way to South Africa. Ms Makwati also said trucks from South Africa were a challenge as the customs office was faced with a lot of work as goods were cleared in large quantities from that side.

She noted that Tlokweng border had always been the busiest in the country, but the current situation had made it more busy than usual. She also said the delay at the border was due to the electronic clearance system used by South Africa compared to the manual one used by Botswana, thus when the system is down, services from that side halt.

Ms Makwati, however, noted that trucks carrying perishables and goods such as medicines, gas and petrol among others were given special clearance and they do not take long at the border.

The traffic jam has not only affected services at the border, but also facilities such as toilets have started to experience some blockage while others are running out of water due to high number of people who are frequenting them.

Some truck drivers expressed dissatisfaction on the South African service of clearing noting that they had been at the border for four days without bathing. Source: Daily News Botswana

How SA can save R18bn – by playing hard ball

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

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SACU revenue dependence raises concerns

Namibia-coat-of-armsA financial analyst has expressed concern about Namibia’s reliance on revenue from the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU), saying the government needs to diversify its source of revenue.

James Cumming, Head of Research at Simonis Storm Securities told a Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry post budget meeting that he is concerned about over reliance of budget revenue from the SACU pool, saying 35% to 40% of tax revenue is from the SACU.

He explained that government needs to diversify its revenue sources as future adjustments to the SACU revenue formula could lead to lower revenue from this agreement.

The Minister of Finance, Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, told the meeting that sources of revenue have been increasing and are expected to grow over the next three years. She said new sources of revenue have been identified with preliminary studies already underway in order to secure a consistent revenue stream in the future.

Leonard Kamwi, head of advocacy and research at the Chamber, said he was disappointed that previous budgets had failed to reconcile expenditure on education with the resulting output, which has been below par. He said it is not enough for the government to target sectors in their wholesome but rather target the prospective beneficiaries. “The budget should target specific necessary skill sets as opposed to the whole sector,” said Kamwi.

Kuugongelwa-Amadhila defended the proposed export tax on natural resources, indicating it was meant to minimise the disparities that arise from the exploitation of Namibia’s naturally endowed resources. Source: The Namibian

Landmark East and Southern African Customs forum focuses on modernisation

WCO ESA_Snapseed

Participants from all 24 members of the WCO’s Eastern and South African region attended the forum. [SARS]

Customs officials from 24 eastern and southern African countries met in Pretoria this week to share knowledge and experience with regard to the successful modernisation of Customs administrations.

Opening the three-day forum, Erich Kieck, the World Customs Organisation’s Director for Capacity Building hailed it as a record breaking event.

“This is the first forum where all 24 members of the Eastern and Southern African region (ESA) of the WCO were all in attendance,” he noted. Also attending were officials from the WCO, SACU, the African Development Bank, Finland, the East African Community and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).

Michael Keen in the 2003 publication “Changing Customs: Challenges and Strategies for the Reform of Customs Administrations” said – “the point of modernisation is to reduce impediments to trade – manifested in the costs of both administration incurred by government and compliance incurred by business – to the minimum consistent with the policy objectives that the customs administration is called on to implement, ensuring that the rules of the trade game are enforced with minimum further disruption”

The three-day event witnessed several case studies on Customs modernisation in the region, interspersed with robust discussion amongst members. The conference also received a keynote addressed by Mr. Xavier Carim, SA Representative to World Trade Organisation (WTO), which provided first hand insight to delegates on recent events at Bali and more specifically the WTO’s Agreement on Trade Facilitation.

The WCO’s Capacity Building Directorate will be publishing a compendium of case studies on Customs Modernisation in the ESA region during the course of 2014.

WCO ESA members – Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Swaziland, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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Source: SARS

Crossing the SACU bridge

600px-Flag_of_Swaziland.svgMartin Gobizandla Dlamini, the new Minister of Finance, is aware of the challenges of the country’s economy in case South Africa pulls out of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU).

However, the minister warned against pressing the panic button. He said there were no pellucid pointers that South Africa might pull out of the union.

Asked what measures were in place to sustain the country economically if South Africa pulled out or reviewed the revenue sharing formula to the negative, he said: “Let us cross the bridge when we get there. I am aware that South Africa calls for changes in the revenue sharing formula. This is a matter that has been on the table for quite some time.”

“I can’t comment now on how to survive with or without SACU receipts but I can mention that we are a sovereign state.” He did not expand on the sovereignty of Swaziland. Dlamini said SACU member states would meet in February 2014 for a strategic session.

These are South Africa, Namibia, Swaziland and Lesotho. “We were to meet in February in the first place, to discuss strategies on how to modernise SACU and make it relevant to our needs. It’s not like we are going there for shocks or breaking news about South Africa’s position on SACU,” said Dlamini, the former Governor of the Central Bank of Swaziland.

The country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) stands at E37 billion for 2012 while that of South Africa is E3.8 trillion as at 2012. In the absence of SACU, Swaziland is left with a few companies that add value to the economy in terms of taxes. They include among others Conco Swaziland which is understood to be contributing 40 per cent to the GDP, which translates to E14.9 billion and the sugar belt companies; Royal Swaziland Sugar Corporation (RSSC) which makes a turnover in excess of E1 billion and Illovo Group’s subsidiary Ubombo Sugar Limited (USL). Illovo Sugar has a 60 per cent shareholding at Ubombo Sugar while the remaining 40 per cent is held by Tibiyo Taka Ngwane, a royal entity held in trust for the Swazi nation. To Illovo Group’s profits, Ubombo Sugar contributed E272 million.

Bongani Mtshali, the acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Federation of Swaziland Employers and Chamber of Commerce (FSE&CC), said the country could be in a very bad economic situation if South Africa were to pull out of SACU. He said the economic problem could still persist even if the revenue derived from the union was decreased. Mtshali advised Swazis to expand the revenue base and work hand in hand with the Swaziland Revenue Authority (SRA) in its collection of domestic taxes.

The taxes include company tax, pay-as-you-earn, sales tax, casino tax and value added tax. He said people and companies should be encouraged to honour tax obligations. He also called for business innovation. “We will be able to produce and sell if we innovate,” he said. He said there was a need to have an innovation institution of some sort to produce talent, nurture and release it for productivity.

As it were, he said, it was suicidal to depend entirely on SACU revenue. It can be said that over 60 per cent of the country’s budget comes from the union. The SRA collects over E3 billion and this money cannot finance the national budget of E11.5 billion.

Ministries that can save Swaziland from an economic crisis are the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry; Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Natural Resources and Energy and the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development.

It can be said that Swaziland is an agricultural economy but the closure of the factory at SAPPI Usuthu and destruction of timber at Mondi by veld fires, spelled doom to the economic outlook of the country. It can also be said that the country’s mainstay product is now sugar.

Despite maize being the country’s staple food, government spent E123 million on maize imports from South Africa last year. This year, preliminary figures indicated that government could spend E95 million on maize imports.

The import price has decreased because the country recorded a higher maize harvest of 82 000 metric tonnes compared to 76 000 tonnes recorded the previous year.

Swaziland is still clutching at straws in terms of food security. The unemployment rate is also high as there had been no massive investments witnessed on the shores.

Jabulile Mashwama, Minister of Natural Resources and Energy, said there were plans to expand the mining sector and reopen closed ones like Dvokolwako Diamond Mine.

There are only two official mines currently operational; Maloma Colliery, which made an export revenue of E126 million in the 2011/2012 financial year and Salgaocar which extracts iron ore from dumps at Ngwenya Iron Ore Mine.

Mashwama, the minister, said she would give details on the programme to revive the mining sector at a later stage. She hinted that the nation could also bank its hopes on her ministry for job creation and revitalisation of the economy.

Gideon Dlamini, the Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry, has been given a task to industrialise the economy as one of the five-point plan by SACU. The industry minister was reported out of the country and was not reachable through his mobile phone. Source: Times of Swaziland

SACU – the Day of Reckoning has Arrived

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

 

Africa’s first regional Customs – Trade Forum

On the 8th of November 2013 in Maseru, Lesotho, the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) launched the first regional Customs – Trade Forum in Africa. The theme of the historical event was “Government and Business: partners for economic development through regional trade”. At the launch, the Minister of Finance and Chairperson of the SACU Council Leketekete V. Ketso and Minister of Trade and Industry, Cooperatives and Marketing, Sekhulumi P. Ntsoaole addressed the attendees as well as Director Capacity Building Erich Kieck from the WCO. Both ministers mentioned the funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency as a big contributor to undertake this event.

More than 30 representatives from the private sector in the SACU region attended the forum together with the five Heads of Customs and one delegate from each Member’s private sector presented their expectations on the continuous work within the Forum framework. The first working meeting of the Forum is tentatively scheduled to be held in April 2014. The event was acknowledged also by media and representatives from Lesotho Revenue Authority would discuss its importance in papers, radio and TV.

On the previous day, the 7th of November, the Steering Committee for the SACU – WCO Customs Development Program held its ninth meeting, providing guidance to the project. All project components, Interconnectivity, Risk Management/Enforcement, Legislation and Trade Partnerships were on the agenda. Source: World Customs Organisation

SACU prepares for launch of regional preferred trader scheme

handshakeThe Southern African Customs Union (SACU) consisting of Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland collaborates with the World Customs Organization (WCO) in a trade facilitation initiative funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). The initiative in which also the SACU Secretariat participates, aims among others at developing a regional Preferred Trader (PT) scheme.

From 30th of September to 4th of October a core team consisting of National Project Managers, audit experts, PT-experts and site managers met in Windhoek, Namibia, with WCO experts to further prepare for the launch of the PT-scheme by developing regional processes to be applied related to the benefits selected and designed for the SACU regional PT.

The selected pilot operators have been engaged, and in the near future also the relevant cross border regulatory agencies and Customs officials at the selected border posts will be sensitized on the regional PT-scheme.

During the intense working week, all participants actively contributed to the preparations for the launch of the PT-scheme, planned for the first half of 2014. Source: www.4-traders.com

Namibia – South Africa Remains Major Trading Partner

Namibia flagSouth Africa remained Namibia’s leading trading partner, particularly on the imports front during the second quarter of 2013.

South Africa accounted for 70,1% of Namibia’s imports, followed by the Euro zone, Switzerland, Botswana and China; accounting for 3,6%, 3,5%, 2,9% and 2,8% respectively.

The remaining 17,1% was sourced from other countries such as the United Kingdom, Tanzania, United States of America, Zambia and other countries around the world, according to the September issue of the Bank of Namibia Quarterly Bulletin.

With regard to exports, Botswana, emerged the leading destination for Namibia’s exports during the second quarter. Botswana absorbed 19,6% of Namibian exports, overly dominated by rough diamonds. In the past, this position was exchanged between South Africa and the UK.

This followed a 10 year sales agreement between Botswana and De Beers that was signed in September 2011. South Africa, the Euro Area, UK, Switzerland, Angola and the US also remained prominent destinations for Namibia’s exports during the second quarter.

Namibia exported 14,4% of products to South Africa, 13, 2% to the Euro Area, 8,4% to Switzerland, 7,7% to Angola and 5,6% to the US. Countries such as China, Singapore, United Kingdom, Zambia and others also absorbed a noticeable portion of the Namibian exported commodities during the quarter under review.

Net services receipts recorded a net outflow on a quarterly and yearly basis during the second quarter of 2013, largely on account of net payments in other private services. The net services registered a deficit of N$88 million, year on year, during the quarter under review from a surplus of N$39 million.

The quarterly deficit balance was mainly reflected in the higher net outflows of other private services sub-category, which surged by four percent, quarter on quarter, to N$515 million and by 22,8% year on year. The outward movements of net services was however offset by the increased net inflows of travel services category that rose slightly by 1,1% and 11,6% quarter on quarter and year on year, respectively to N$761 million. Source: New Era (Namibia)

SACU in danger of collapse

Rob Davies Frustrated with lack of progress (Business Day)

Rob Davies Frustrated with lack of progress (Business Day)

Trade & industry minister Rob Davies did not mince his words when he briefed parliament late last month on the Southern African Customs Union (Sacu), the world’s oldest. The union was formed in 1910 and comprises SA, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland.

Exasperated, Davies complained to MPs that SA’s partners were hardly moving in the direction of harmonising trade and industrial policies. He said if this did not happen soon, the viability of Sacu itself might be called into question.

Sacu was initially formed as a colonial-era instrument to control the flow of goods into and out of the then British colonies, an arrangement that was retained with a new agreement in 1969. In essence, SA collects customs and excise revenue on behalf of all four countries and distributes 98% of all this money to the three other members as a form of aid, retaining only 2% that should accrue to itself. It is a formula that has both worked and been fraught with difficulties over the past century.

The agreement was modified with a more distributive formula in 2002 which came into effect into 2004. Under the new agreement the most vulnerable countries, Swaziland and Lesotho, would get a larger share of the excise portion.

The Sacu distributions are also the instrument through which Swaziland was to get R2,4bn in assistance from SA in 2011. Under that agreement SA would have advanced the landlocked kingdom the money from its future Sacu distributions, but it came with fiscal and technical conditions from SA.

In January 2013, Swazi finance minister Majozi Sithole said the loan arrangement was “not working out”. He complained about additional conditions set by SA before the first tranche of R800m could be paid to Swaziland.

The kingdom’s financial woes arose mainly from reduced customs and excise collections in 2010 which reflected reduced trade to and from the region. With up to 60% of Swaziland’s national budget dependent on Sacu funds, the reduction from a total pool of R27bn to just over R17bn left Swaziland cash strapped.

Though he didn’t explicitly say so in his briefing to parliament, Davies’ frustration with the Sacu arrangement was palpable. He took particular issue with the Sacu payments merely serving as a guaranteed source of revenue for the treasuries of Sacu member states. “There are no cross-border development initiatives out of the revenue collected when there are opportunities for the members to invest in joint projects,” he told parliament.

Sacu has other problems. While the 2002 agreement calls for harmonised trade and industrial policies, it also makes provision for the countries to have different fiscal and other regimes. As a consequence Sacu members’ corporate and personal income tax rates are different. This means some members realise lower internal tax revenues than they otherwise could, increasing dependency on the Sacu distributions.

A sense of entitlement has also crept into the arrangement. In a case that generally escaped media attention, in 2009 the other members asked for an international tribunal to seek arbitration on what they believed to be “short” payments from SA. The tribunal convened in the supreme court of Namibia in Windhoek.

The matters in dispute were resolved with the signing of the latest agreement in 2009, but the fundamental complaint demonstrated both the entitlement and the vulnerability of the most dependent members.

At the time SA was expected to make four quarterly distributions which were based on an estimate of revenues collected. As often happened, there was an overestimation which resulted in a payment surplus of just over R2bn, which SA deducted from future payments. This precipitated a dispute which, given the vulnerability of Swaziland and Lesotho, was almost inevitable as their entire fiscal planning for that year had been premised on the inaccurate Sacu estimates.

SA’s counsel in the hearing, Michael Kuper, argued that the arrangement was so inefficient that it forced SA to sometimes look for alternative sources of funding just to fulfil the Sacu revenue-sharing formula.

Officials of the department of trade & industry and national treasury have for some time been unhappy about the disruptive nature of the formula, given the volatility of customs revenue. Davies alluded to this in parliament, using the wild fluctuations in revenue before, during and after the global financial crisis.

Now Davies wants the union to shape up or make a decision on its future. He told parliament that Sacu had to live up to the outcomes of its second summit, held in 2011, where member states undertook to work on cross-border industrial development, development of Sacu institutions, unified engagement in trade negotiations and a review of the revenue-sharing arrangements.

As if to emphasise its historical and present inertia, Davies said that not much work had advanced in this regard – such as the formation of national tariff bodies, a Sacu tariff board, common antitrust regulations and co-operation in agriculture.

“Some members have proposed that the Sacu tariff board be formed even if the states’ national tariff boards have not been formalised yet,” he said, in an indication that some of the members do not have the technical wherewithal to install the necessary institutions.

Lesotho and Swaziland in particular are hampered by structural economic difficulties, including low prospects for meaningful economic growth and reliance on external aid. A recent IMF report on Lesotho complimented the new government on its fiscal discipline and recommended further aid. It also noted new measures to improve supervision over the financial and other sectors.

As Africa’s last remaining absolute monarchy, known for its profligate spending on the comforts of its king, Swaziland remains a political hot potato which has increased pressure on the SA government to attach conditions to any assistance given. Though written in diplomatic language, the 2011 IMF report on Swaziland also listed a number of areas that needed strengthening.

It recommended the cutting of public-sector wages to ease fiscal pressures, a decision that brought the kingdom to the brink of instability, precipitating the appeal to SA for help. MPs raised the Swaziland loan issue with Davies, demonstrating the internal and regional political difficulties of the arrangement.

While SA remains determined to assert its voice over its junior partners in Sacu, it still has to tread carefully lest it be seen as a bully. Providing some cover have been the conditions set by the IMF before Swaziland can receive further assistance. Some of these common conditions include the protection of the peg between the Swazi ilangeni and the rand, the implementation of a fiscal adjustment roadmap and a prioritisation of social spending over the reported excesses of King Mswati III.

Early this month Australian newspapers reported the arrival of several of King Mswati’s queens and their aides in Australia on an apparent shopping trip. It is such extravagance that has put both SA and the kingdom in a difficult position – the former in its internal political environment and the latter through the loss of credibility with international development finance institutions.

It now appears that SA is choosing the route of common economic development over the aid-like structure of the Sacu payments. It remains to be seen whether the partners will be in a position to make good on Davies’ intentions or keep talking as the member states have been doing for over a decade. Source: Financial Mail

SACU’s Choice – ‘Common policy or irrelevance’

imagesCA31PQJGThe 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;

  1. Work programme on cross-border industrial development;
  2. Trade facilitation;
  3. Development of SACU institutions;
  4. Unified engagement in trade negotiations and
  5. 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.

WCO/SACU Regional IT Connectivity Conference 2013

Delegates attending the WCO/SACU IT Connectivity Conference - May 2013

Delegates attending the WCO/SACU IT Connectivity Conference – May 2013

Representatives of the SACU member states recently met in Johannesburg to progress developments concerning IT Connectivity and Customs-to-Customs data exchange in the region. The session served as a follow up to the session held last year in February 2012 in Pretoria. The conference was convened by the SACU secretariat under the sponsorship of the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), and was once again pleased to have SP Sahu, senior technical expert from the World Customs Organisation, to facilitate the work session over 3 days. Representatives of UNCTAD ASYCUDA were also in attendance to observe developments. UNCTAD currently supports three (soon to be four) of the five SACU Customs administrations. The session provided an opportunity for delegates to progress this work as well as develop a terms of reference for an independent assessment of the two connectivity pilot projects that are currently being pursued between Botswana-Namibia and South Africa-Swaziland, respectively.

IT Connectivity serves as a catalyst for various customs-to-customs cooperation initiatives seeking to bring about a seamless end-to-end flow of information between point of departure and destination. Some examples include export/transit data exchange, approved economic operator, commercial fraud, eATA and at least 5 other key areas of customs mutual exchange.  The concept is driven out of the newly establish WCO model known as Globally Networked Customs (GNC). GNC was formally adopted by the WCO Council in June 2012 where a capacity building approach based on protocols, standards and guidelines (PSG) using utility blocks was recognised to provide the most realistic means to achieve efficiency gains, and a more effective way to manage the negotiation of international agreements between customs administrations.

There exist several pilot projects across the globe wherein customs agreements are being piloted under the GNC approach. Development of a Utility Block and supporting data clusters for interconnectivity within SACU and the broader Southern Africa sub-region already commenced at last year’s session. The concept gained sufficient traction and was soon adopted by both SACU and SADC  member states as the means to implementing IT connectivity within the respective regions.

A review of the Utility Block and data clusters was conducted to ensure alignment of customs data requirements across the member states. The resulting product now provides a standard ‘data set’ which members agree as the minimum data required to facilitate data exchange and advance risk management needs. It covers export and transit declaration requirements. Two important criteria exist for successful data exchange and data matching. The first being the availability of appropriate legal provision for two countries to exchange data. The second requires the use of an agreed unique identifier. The identifier is important for Customs as well as the trade community.

Delegates were also presented with current and future developments occurring at the WCO, in particular the on-going work being done to formalise standards for the “My Information Package” concept as well as the WCO Data Model, currently at version 3.3. Another interesting on-going development involves a unique Trader ID.  

Member states involved in respective pilot programmes are now preparing themselves for an up-coming evaluation, later this year.

Enforcement, Risk Management and Preferred Trade come together in the SACU Region

Enforcement, Risk Management and Preferred Trade come together in the SACU Region

Enforcement, Risk Management and Preferred Trade come together in the SACU Region

A WCO workshop on the topics of Enforcement, Risk Management and Preferred Trader was conducted in April in Johannesburg, South Africa, with the involvement of the WCO Secretariat, UK Customs and the member countries of the Southern African Customs Union – SACU (Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland). Capacity Building in the mentioned areas in the SACU Region is part of the WCO Sub-Saharan Customs Capacity Building Programme financed by the Swedish Government through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, SIDA.

An assessment including lessons learned was conducted concerning Operation Auto, targeted at second hand motor vehicles. This first ever regional enforcement operation in the 102 years of history of SACU presented good results as around 250 vehicles were seized by the Customs administrations. The Regional Intelligence Liaison Office contributed actively in the assessment process, ensuring that also future enforcement operations will benefit from the experiences gained.

The development of further risk management capacity is ongoing at the regional level and discussions were held concerning the establishment of common risk profiles. A number of high risk products have been identified and the formulation of profiles to engage illegal trade in these areas is ongoing.

Regarding the Preferred Trader program, progress can also be reported as SACU Members are approaching implementation at operational level. This project component fits very well with the risk management component as the latter is the foundation of the Preferred Trader approach. The process of selecting high compliant, low risk economic operators for the upcoming pilot scheme is well underway while capacity in verification and post clearance audit is being enhanced. A launch of (a pilot of) the regional Preferred Trade program is tentatively envisaged for the second half of 2013. Source: WCO

Namibia – Weak Rand Plays Havoc With Trade Balance

south-african-rand-zar-bearishThe continued weakening of the Rand and an increase in the volume of imports has seen Namibia’s trade deficit widen to N$17 billion, the Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA) has said.

The country’s import bill jumped 24% in 2012 to N$59 billion widening the trade deficit to N$17 billion compared to N$11 billion in 2011. Despite a fall in the share of some of the major imports to the total import bill, the value of imports still increased to N$59 billion compared to N$48 billion in the previous year.

Major imports for 2012 included mineral fuels, mineral oils, vehicles, boilers and machinery. Fuel dominated the list of imports with a share of 13% up from 9% in the previous year. Vehicles were in second place with a share of 11% (compared to 12% in 2011) of total imports. Boilers, machinery and mechanical appliances occupied third place with 9% a slight decline from 10% in 2011.

The Statistics Agency said an 80% increase in the value of oil imports (at N$7.8 billion) can be explained by a 14% depreciation of the Namibia Dollar/Rand against the US$ in the period under review since the 2012 average price of oil in US dollars was almost the same as in 2011. In addition, an increase in the volume of imports especially ships, boats and floating structures that recorded the strongest increase of almost 2100%, also contributed to the widening deficits.

South Africa remains Namibia’s most important trading partner with combined trade between the two countries amounting to N$48.6 billion in 2012. However, the direction of trade between the two countries remain skewed with Namibia importing N$41.6 billion worth of goods from South Africa, while exporting goods worth only N$7 billion to South Africa.

Analysts say while a weaker local currency boosts earnings of companies that sell their goods overseas, it adds to import costs, making food and fuel more expensive. With a relatively low industrial base, and a saturation in the mining sector, Namibia’s exports only grew marginally to N$42 billion up from N$37 billion in 2011. This growth is too small to have a meaningful impact on the widening trade deficit.

In 2013, the construction of the multi-billion dollar Husab Project, the Grove Mall and Square, Strand Hotel, the container terminal at Walvis Bay, and the Neckartal Dam is likely to put further pressure on the import bill worsening Namibia’s trade deficit even further. An estimated 80% of capital goods for these projects will be imported. Source: The Economist (Namibia)

Botswana Tightens Car Exports to Namibia

2nd hand carsThe New Era (Windhoek) reports that Botswana has tightened the screws on the importation of second-hand vehicle older than five years, effectively removing the loophole exploited by Namibian motorists to import such vehicles.

Botswana’s customs, the Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS), is now enforcing the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) agreement that prohibits the registration of imported second-hand vehicles older than five years. Previously Namibian traders in imported second-hand cars would register vehicles in Botswana, from where they would enter Namibia as Botswana registered vehicles instead of imported vehicles.

The process had made it easy to register such cars in Namibia and in other SACU member states, which prohibit the registration of imported vehicles older than five years.

“BURS, in the spirit of good neighbourliness and adherence to the provision of the SACU agreement, wishes to assist Namibia in curtailing the irregularities prevalent in the movement of second-hand vehicles through the two countries,” reads a statement from the Namibian Ministry of Finance’s customs that relayed the decision by the Botswana customs authorities.

However, ingenious Namibian traders in second-hand vehicles told New Era yesterday that the decision by Botswana customs is simply a temporary deterrent as they are now considering using Swaziland’s leniency on the matter to circumvent the very same SACU provisions. Besides the SACU provisions, Angola – a non-SACU member – has also banned the importation of second-hand vehicles older than five years. Second-hand vehicle imports contributed at least N$150 million to the economy during 2012, with a record 20 000 vehicles recorded.

Some of the vehicles have also gone through to neighbouring countries. South Africa does not allow imported second-hand vehicles older than five years to drive on its road network. Importers of such cars are forced to load vehicles on trucks or use the port of Walvis Bay. To register the cars in Namibia, the traders would take the vehicles to Botswana where they would be registered for a short period of time and bring them back to Namibia as Botswana registered vehicles.

The process enables the cars to be registered on the Namibian vehicle registration system, which ordinarily would not allow the cars to be registered for local use within SACU states. Botswana customs says persons attempting to circumvent the SACU provisions would be subject to a fine of P40 000 (N$44 579.85) or three times the value of the vehicles or imprisonment of not more than ten years. Source: New Era

Simple solution – SACU countries should unilaterally invoke the prohibition on the importation and registration of second-hand motor vehicles at all external borders of the customs union. Is it not time for the member states to act for once like a custom union?