Masisi: SACU must be ‘stellar pace-setter’

14 February 2020 | Economics

Augetto Graig - The president of Botswana, Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, spent the better part of the morning on his one-day state visit to Namibia yesterday at the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) headquarters in the capital.

He left for his meeting with president Hage Geingob at the statehouse at around midday.

The visiting head of state was briefed at length by the SACU executive team before he later addressed the entire workforce.

Masisi told the gathered SACU secretariat staff members of his deep desire to visit the offices of the oldest customs union in the world and how “we feel the impact of your work in every SACU member state”.

SACU was founded in 1910 and consists of Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa and Swaziland. The customs union pool benefits from customs and excise duties on trade in and among member states and shares this resource among member states based on a predetermined formula.

Big responsibility

Speaking of its rich history, Masisi said SACU has a heavy burden of deep responsibility to carry. “Pioneering has its challenges,” he said, “but we must be found to be a stellar pace-setter. All are watching and competing with you. I want you to be the best customs union secretariat in the world,” he told the officials.

According to him, “it is essential for SACU to work to its maximum potential”. He said “the world is not going to wait” and that competition will only increase.

“Everybody expects a dividend out of peace and relative cooperation in the region,” he said. Masisi advised sharpening collaboration with leading relevant institutions in the region, “to advance your work.”

The executive secretary of SACU, Paulina Elago, elaborated on the work programme adopted for the rejuvenation of the organisation, which is slowed awaiting finalisation of issues through bilateral discussions between heads of state.

The last Summit of SACU Heads of State was held in Botswana in June 2018. Since then, “the issues escalated to the summit are mainly related to architecture for tariff-setting and on the review of the revenue sharing agreement,” she said.

The work programme demands the secretariat also attend to a regional industrial development policy, review the revenue-sharing arrangement, facilitate trade, develop SACU institutions, ensure unified engagement at trade negotiations and strengthen the capacity of the secretariat. Achievements in carrying out the work plan Elago listed include the areas of trade negotiations, trade facilitation and revenue management.

Trade agreements

Specifically the secretariat has helped SACU members negotiate trade agreements with third parties as a bloc. Negotiations for the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was recently completed and SACU secretariat’s negotiation agenda also includes the Comesa-EAC-SADC Tripartite Free Trade Area, the SACU-India Free Trade Area and the SADC protocol on trade, as well as SACU-US relations, she said.

Facilitating trade SACU has been pushing for the SACU customs modernisation programme to be rolled out.

“The key objective of the programme is to enhance efficiency in order to facilitate cross border movement of goods while securing borders to curb the scourge of illicit trade, as well as to ensure seamless movement of legitimate trade,” she said.

The United Kingdom agreed last month to provide initial funding for this project amounting to £158 690 (almost N$22.3 million), she said.

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