Botswana is expected to break new ground by becoming the first SACU member to establish a national body responsible for various trade issues including tariffs.
Under a 2002 agreement, the five SACU members have an April 2011 deadline to establish such a body. The Botswana Ministry of Trade and Industry says the national body will be responsible for investigating and evaluating applications with regard to alleged dumping or subsidised exports into the country. It will institute safeguard measures, amend customs duties/tariffs and make recommendations to the SACU Tariff Board.
The national body will determine eligibility for infant industry protection and regulate imports and exports of restricted goods.
Yesterday, a press release from the ministry stated that the Department of International Trade will hold consultative workshops with stakeholders to inform them and have their input in the process of establishing the national body.
Stakeholder workshops will be held in Francistown, Kasane and Maun between today and Friday, another indicator of the urgency government is applying to the establishment of the body. Botswana has developed a draft bill to establish the body with the stakeholder meetings expected to provide input towards the proposed legislation.
Last month, Assistant Finance and Development Planning Minister, Charles Tibone, told a SACU meeting in Gaborone that Botswana viewed the national body's establishment as a matter of urgency. "Member states are required to establish national bodies to deal with tariff investigations and make recommendations which shall be sent to the Tariff Board.
"During the 18th SACU Council meeting in Maseru, Lesotho in April 2009, it was agreed that the national bodies should be operational by April 2011.
The slow establishment of the national bodies has regularly featured as a challenge on the agendas of various meetings of SACU council of ministers and working groups over the years. At the height of intra-SACU divisions last year, the slow progress being made by member states to establish these national bodies, was seen as a reflection of the growing disinterest by some members in the union.
In addition, the slow progress towards formation of national bodies mirrored the delays in establishing the Tariff Board at SACU level, which is envisioned in the 2002 agreement. The Tariff Board, to which the national bodies will report, was to have been established by March last year, but is still on the union's things-to-do list.
The increased urgency within SACU to establish the national bodies and the Tariff Board is part of the union's "second wind" stemming from regrouping efforts earlier this year in Namibia and recently in South Africa.
The union's activities, including the implementation of the 2002 agreement and its various stipulations, largely took a back seat last year, with member states divided over negotiations with the European Union and tackling the global recession. Celebrating the union's centenary this year, member states buried the hatchet and focussed on regional cohesion and implementation of the 2002 agreement, which includes establishment of national bodies and the Tariff Board, among others.