US-SA free trade deal still on track

Times Live | Mar 15, 2010

US-SA free trade deal still on track

By LIHLE Z MTSHALI

Negotiations for a free trade deal between the Southern African Customs Union and the US are not "dead and buried", a US Embassy official said yesterday.

Craig Allen, minister counsellor for commercial affairs at the US Embassy, spoke to Business Times following a meeting between a US trade mission to South Africa and the department of trade and industry on Friday.

Allen said negotiations were progressing at a slower pace "than one would like to see" because the US was working with the five countries — Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland — that make up Sacu.

"We had a very good meeting with Xavier Carim, the deputy director-general of international trade and economic development at the department of trade and industry," said Allen.

The Trade Investment and Development Corp Agreement between Sacu and the US was initially signed on July 16 2008. Since then the parties have been going back and forth trying to iron out the details of the agreement.

The meeting with the DTI was part of the first US trade mission of the Obama administration to sub-Saharan Africa, led by Suresh Kumar, US assistant secretary of commerce.

Speaking to journalists in Johannesburg last week, Kumar said: "At the department of commerce, we recognise fully that investment usually follows trade. We invest only after we have established strong trading relations. We therefore put much effort into expanding our bilateral and multilateral trading networks.

"That is why I am leading this trade mission from the US to bring together American exporters with buyers in South Africa to strengthen commercial engagement at all levels."

Allen said through Tidca, the US and the five Sacu economies "will co-operate on trade and investment; customs; industrial standards and standards for agricultural trade".

The standards for agricultural trade are essential because it will allow for approvals to export African foods into the US.

The next step in the negotiations is for Sacu, which South Africa is co-ordinating, to come back with a proposal on what they would like the agreement to accomplish.

"The needs of five economically diverse countries are very different and it will take time for all of them to reach an agreement. We are happy to give our colleagues the time to deliberate," Allen said.

"It would be silly to say South Africa and the US had resolved all the issued because the two on their own cannot make any resolutions. Titca is a multilateral agreement."

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source: Times Live