’Inflexible US threatens southern Africa free-trade deal’
March 30, 2006
South Africa has urged the United States to be more flexible in negotiations towards a free-trade pact with southern Africa, warning that current talks may fail to secure a deal.
"If we are to make progress, it is essential that (the US) show much greater flexibility than they have up to now," Deputy Trade Minister Rob Davies told parliament yesterday.
Washington began formal talks with South Africa and four neighbours on a trade agreement in 2003 but little progress has been made.
Davies’ comments follow remarks by US Trade Representative Rob Portman last month that Washington would pursue the deal as long as the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) was willing to meet its high standards for such pacts.
SACU links South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland and Lesotho - countries that already have duty-free access to the US market for most of their exports under the African Growth and Opportunity Act.
Davies said negotiations had failed to make progress, partly due to inflexible US proposals on tariff reductions that took insufficient account of different levels of development.
"These have been combined with demands that would effectively require us to accede to US systems and positions on a host of so-called new generation issues, including competition policy, state procurement, intellectual property and so on," he said.
A meeting between the two sides had been scheduled for next month.