Windhoek – There is progress and achievement in a number of regional integration projects in the Southern African region, which are often not known or acknowledged despite existing challenges, says Klaus Schade, Executive Director of Economic Association of Namibia (EAN).
He said that in the area of trade most SADC member states have reduced tariffs on 85 percent of their goods, so that it is less costly to trade among themselves.
In the area of tourism, tourists can enter transfrontier national parks with one visa as they move across borders, such as along the Orange River in South Africa in the south, the Kavango/Zambezi conservation area in northern Namibia and many other large areas in Angola, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. “These are indications of regional cooperation and integration,” he added.
In the area of finance and investment, Schade, who was speaking at the ‘Regional Integration – Opportunities for Namibia’ conference on Wednesday in Windhoek, said the region has seen the SADC integrated regional electronics settlement systems in effect, making real time settlement of electronic transfers possible between SADC member states, leading to the phase out of cross-border checks.
He further stressed the need to harmonise existing economic groupings, especially the three economic blocks, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), East African Community (EAC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
“This is very much necessary because almost all of SADC member countries except Mozambiqwe are part of at least two regional groupings and that is not conducive for deeper regional integration,” he said, adding that the initiative to combine those three blocks is therefore important.
Namibia was one of the first signatories to the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) agreement, while South Africa signed the TFTA agreement most recently.
“I understand Botswana is going to sign very soon as well,” he noted. The TFTA was Africa’s first mega regional integration initiative – an attempt to integrate 26 countries from Cape to Cairo.
Schade further stressed the desire to see the whole African continent integrated, saying, “regional integration is not only trading in goods but also in services.”
“Regional integration has a lot of different aspects, which also include the issue of safety and security among SADC member states, including other areas, such as protocol on trade, protocol on trade in services, protocol on finance and investment, and protocol on HIV and AIDS,” he pointed out.
Furthermore, Schade disclosed that the final agreement for the African free trade area or continental free trade area (CFTA) was to be signed this year in December 2017.
Here at home (Namibia) Schade said that the recently launched National Development Plan (NDP5) also speaks to regional integration.
“If we talk of regional value chains, we need to harmonise our rules and regulations to ensure seamless flow of goods and services from other parts of the world,” he added, saying that we need to work closer to harmonising our standards, our goods and regulations, so that it is easier to trade in the region.
Speaking at the conference, Trudi Hartzenberg of the Trade Law Centre at Stellenbosch University, said that regional integration has been one of the pillars of our strategies for decades for most African countries.
“We don’t lack ambition, we don’t lack interest in regional integration, but it is useful from time to time to stop, to take stock, to assess whether in fact our regional integration endeavours, our initiatives, the agreements that we are negotiating reflect the fundamental challenges, opportunities and whether indeed they are addressing the fundamental developments concerns,” she said.
Hartzenberg cautioned that we must recognise that the African continent is fragmented, where some of the countries are extremely small, land-locked and do not have much in terms of natural resources as opposed to others.
She also tackled the issues of youthfulness on the Continent, where the majority of the population is young. For instance, Namibia’s median age is 21, which holds enormous promise for the future, she said.
On his part, Namibia’s Finance Minister Calle Schlettwein said that as a small open economy, Namibia’s best hopes lie in regional integration, value chains and trade liberalization.
“The case for regional integration arises from an expanded market access for goods and services, increased value shares, productive efficiencies and welfare gains over time. It however assumes an improved productive capacity for finished goods or intermediaries, as well as high quality services being available for export,” he said.
He stressed the need for Namibia to reposition its national agenda in order to advance its regional integration goals as national growth poles for regional integration exist and Namibia.
Schlettwein emphasised the importance of the world`s oldest custom union, the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) as an important vehicle, beyond which SADC and the Grand Tripartite Free Trade Area between Comesa, EAC and SADC are the intra-African continent wide opportunities.
“SACU is key to industrialization and regional integration. However, structural policy and institutional constraints need to be tackled to facilitate this advancement,” he noted.