30 March 2023

Opening remarks by the Chairperson of Council, Hon. Timothy T. Thahane, Minister of Finance and Development Planning

Lesotho, 31 October 2008

Windhoek, Namibia
Honourable Ministers
Madam Executive Secretary,
Commission Members
Senior Officials
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour and privilege for me to welcome you all to this 16th Meeting of the SACU Council of Ministers. In the same vein, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Government of the Republic Namibia for the warm hospitality and the excellent arrangements made for this meeting.

As this is the first formal Meeting since Lesotho assumed chairmanship of this Council of Ministers, I would like to pay special tribute to the outgoing Chairperson, Honourable Baledzi Gaolathe, the Minister of Finance of the Republic of Botswana for having successfully guided the meetings of Council during this past year. It is my intention to build on the excellent foundation laid by the Minister. As you may be aware, Minister Gaolathe is indisposed, I would therefore, like to take this opportunity, on behalf of Council, to wish him a speedy recovery so that he can join his ranks at the next meeting.

Honourable Ministers

This meeting is taking place against the backdrop of unprecedented turbulence on the world financial markets. This phenomenon has spread uncertainty and apprehension among market participants across the globe. As this continues, the fears of a global recession are becoming real by the day. To date, huge financial assistance has been pumped towards the financial sector in most of the developed world and emerging markets to try and stabilise the situation. This has been coupled with interest rate cuts, which seemingly have failed to stop the market onslaught.

In our region, whilst the impact has not been as drastic as has been experienced in the developed world - thanks to the prudent financial and credit policies that have been put in place by our financial sector - we have seen a phenomenal depreciation of the Rand, a significant downturn in the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and huge fluctuations in commodity prices.

The biggest fear in all this is the lack of clarity on the magnitude of this crisis and whether it has run its full course. Currently it has affected the subprime market and it is not clear whether it will spread to other sectors. For us in the developing world, we hope that this will not significantly affect demand for our export commodities and exacerbate the levels of poverty. I therefore implore Honourable Ministers to keep an eye on these developments and stand ready to exchange ideas on how to limit the effects of this crisis.

Honourable Ministers,

You will recall that, at the beginning of September 2008, we met in Kasane, Botswana in a Retreat mode to reflect on how we have fared in the implementation of our pact, since the entry into force of the 2002 SACU Agreement. We also took the opportunity to reflect on the challenges we face as a Customs Union and came up with an action programme for addressing these.

During the Retreat, Member States re-confirmed their commitment to the Objectives of SACU; and the need to consolidate SACU. There was recognition that SACU has been successful despite the challenges it has faced over the years. This should in turn give us hope that despite the emerging challenges, we should be able to stand together as a unit and overcome those challenges. After all, we are bound by a common history and live in the same geographic space and therefore we should take interest in the success of each other.

During the Retreat, we restated our commitment to some key principles that underpin our Union. We identified the need to focus on strengthening trade facilitation and addressing the constraints that affect the free movement of good in our Union. We recommitted to the development of common policies as a basis for balanced economic development of our region. We isolated tariff policy and agreed that the tariff should be used as an instrument for industrial development.

Honourable Ministers

Taking into account this renewed energy to fast track the consolidation of SACU, I would like to outline Lesotho`s priorities during her term of office, as is the tradition during the first meeting. Our focus will be on the achievement of the following key objectives:

  1. Finalisation of the SACU Wide Strategy - a major priority would be the finalisation of this strategy, which will provide a framework for our internal operations as well as engagement with external stakeholders. Since the studies on regional integration have been completed and Council has provided strategic direction for SACU, the focus should turn toward using these documents to design a Strategy, which should be completed before end of my term.
  2. Strengthening the SACU trade facilitation programme- As you may be aware, facilitating the free movement of goods within the Customs Union is a critical feature of a Customs Union. During my tenure, focus will be on creating an environment that will facilitate achievement of this objective. Amongst the critical deliverables is the establishment of a one-stop-border in SACU and improving consultations among Member States.
  3. Establishment of Institutions – This will entail establishment of the Tariff Board, Tribunal and National Bodies. This objective critically rests on the support and commitment of Member States in ensuring that national processes are undertaken to achieve this. 
  4. Management of the Common Revenue Pool - As you are aware, this issue has been with us for a while. We need to conclude this matter and take it off our agenda. We have undertaken various studies to facilitate decision making and we now need to confirm our decision on a permanent arrangement for the management of the pool for implementation with effect from 1 April 2009.  Related to this is the need to finalise the issues on the payment of Adjustments.
  5. Trade Relations - An important objective for SACU is enhancing integration into the global economy through trade. In this regard, we will focus on completing ongoing trade negotiations and the establishment of a common negotiating mechanism. A priority among these will be the finalisation of the SADC-EPA negotiations, which threaten the integrity of our organisation. As you may be aware, this is a matter that the recent Retreat put a lot of emphasis on. We took a decision to re-group and develop a common SACU position. It is my hope that this meeting will finally endorse a common position.
  6. Consolidation of SACU – This will not be complete without the consolidation of the capacity of the Secretariat to ensure that it can deliver.   The Secretariat can only serve the Member States and the Organisation when sufficiently equipped with institutional and technical capacity. In this regard there are outstanding needs, including the finalisation of all operational policies and procedures to make the SACU Secretariat function effectively.

Honourable Ministers

I know I have outlined an ambitious agenda, however, I am sure that with your support we shall be able to deliver. I derive comfort from the fact that all of the issues that I have mentioned represent the aspirations of our Heads of State as stated in the 2002 SACU Agreement. Our duty as a collective is to ensure that this dream becomes a reality.

With these few remarks, I would like us to turn to our agenda for the day and wish us fruitful deliberations.

I thank you.