03 December 2023

Opening remarks by the Chairperson of Council, Hon. Majozi Sithole Minister of Finance, Swaziland

16 September 2011

Honourable Ministers
Madam Executive Secretary,
Commission Members
Members of the media
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour and privilege for me to welcome you all to this 24th Meeting of the SACU Council of Ministers. On behalf of all of us, let me take this opportunity to thank the Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho for the warm hospitality and the excellent arrangements made for this meeting.

On 15 July 2011, the Kingdom of Swaziland took over the chairmanship of SACU from the Republic of South Africa. In assuming the Chairmanship of this Council, I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Honourable Pravin Gordhan, the Minister of Finance of South Africa for having successfully chaired the meetings of Council during this past year. During his term as Chair, he skillfully steered the Organization through many challenges, and we as the Kingdom of Swaziland are honoured to take over the baton at this crucial stage of the process of transforming the Custom Union into an even stronger regional Organisation. Swaziland therefore commits herself to continue with the important work started under the Chairmanship of South Africa to ensure that the Organization grows even stronger.

Honourable Ministers,
This meeting of Council takes place at a time of great global economic uncertainty. Not so long ago, in 2008, the global economy experienced a devastating economic and financial crisis, whose effects are still being felt by some SACU Member States. Recent developments at the international level have once again highlighted the fragility of the global economy and have raised some fears that we may be heading for another dip. One hopes that this will not be the case and that the encouraging performance of the emerging economies will be able to keep us ashore.

In Europe, fiscal problems persist and threaten the global economic recovery. As a result, the Euro area as a whole is experiencing difficulties. Even the tough fiscal and structural measures adopted by the affected countries have not convinced markets that a lasting solution is in place. Debt concerns also persist in the United States and any adverse fiscal shock in the United States will have serious spillover effects on the global economy. In Asia, China and India however, growth is encouranging, but high inflationary pressures remain a concern.

Although the International Monetary Fund expects reasonable global growth of about 4-4 percent through 2012, concerns remain that this recovery remains unbalanced and risks to the downside remain. High food prices and associated inflationary pressures, continued debt concerns and the effect of fiscal consolidation in the developed countries continue to create uncertainty. The implications of these challenges on our economies neccessitates that we work as a collective to mitigate the possible impact.

Honourable Ministers,
The importance of a collective approach was also emphasised at the recent SACU Regional Conference that was held at Emperors Palace in South Africa. As the Chairperson of Council I had the opportunity to participate in this important historical event. The Conference brought together a range of stakeholders from the private sector, academia, the media and regional and international organisations to consider the challenges of regional integration and the challenges facing SACU as we pursue our new Vision. The lively and robust debates during the conference provided valuable insights into some of the issues that we are presently grappling with on our agenda. I am certain that some of the ideas and contributions made by the participants will serve as useful input as we continue to address the challenges of deepening integration.

Whilst still on the subject of the Regional Conference, I would like to share some of the sentiments expressed by the participants during the debates. I must confess that, whilst I had intended to sit-in during the official part of the programme for the Conference, I found myself sitting throughout the discussions due to the quality of the discussions. An important point that came out was the need for greater involvement of the private sector on SACU matters. There was a proposal that SACU should create a Business Forum, that brings together the inputs of the private sector into the programmes that SACU is pursuing. An example was made that, in Asia, regional integration was led by the private sector and hence the strength of the ASEAN region in the area industrial development and linking the smaller economies into the stronger economies. I found this interesting and I hope that somewhere in our Agenda we will find time to discuss some of these ideas. In this respect, I look forward to receiving the report on the outcome of the regional conference.

Honourable Ministers,
Turning to the agenda for this meeting, I note that we have a number of important issues to deal with, premised on the priority agenda approved by Heads of State and Government. I am aware that the Commission has been deliberating on the priority areas that underpin the SACU work programme over the last few days. I look forward to receiving the reports of the progress achieved and urge all to continue to support implementation of this programme that seeks to strengthen our integration and cooperation to ensure equitable and sustainable economic growth.

It is my sincere hope that during the year, we will achieve significant progress and tangible results on the priority areas. This is paramount in order to position SACU as a building bloc for deeper regional integration.

I notice that during this meeting we shall also consider among others, the important issues of strengthening the capacity of the Secretariat, which is essential to support the implementation of our work programme. We will also be considering the revised Annex on Mutual Administrative Assistance that seeks to strengthen cooperation between our respective Customs Administrations in order to facilitate trade, protect our societies and protect revenues.

With these few remarks, I would like us to turn to our agenda for the day. In doing so, may I also wish us fruitful deliberations.

I thank you.