Sadc member States, including Malawi, have been told to quicken the removal of non-trade barriers (NTBs) which experts argue frustrate regional integration within the trade block.
Zimbabweâ€™s Regional Integration and International Co-operation Minister Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga told The Standard Newspaper of that country last week that the biggest problem facing the regional bloc was persisting NTBs which member states such as Malawi use to protect local industries and limit import inflows.
The ministerâ€™s plea comes barely a few weeks after Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) member States committed themselves to a tariff phase down schedule to promote the inception of an operational free trade area during a Sadc summit in Maputo, Mozambique.
Locally, it also coincides with Malawiâ€™s pursuit to adjust its tariffs downwards to meet Sadc and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) regional community thresholds.
Minister of Industry and Trade John Bande said in an interview last week that Malawi is aware of the need to eliminate trade barriers and cited the establishment of a national working committee, comprising both the private and public sectors currently working on how best the country can get rid of barriers to trade.
Said Bande: â€œWe also have a focal point at our ministry as we have a desk on how we can remove non-tariff barriers to trade.â€
But Misihairabwi-Mushonga told the Zimbabwe paper that as Sadc continues to work on the establishment of a customs union, among others, there is need to put in place strategies and programmes on how best to facilitate trade between member countries.
â€œAll drugs [from Zimbabwe] cannot be exported to that country [South Africa] by road, but only by air freight. This is an example of the NTBs being used, we can only challenge this as government but it is quite a long process,â€ said the minister.
She also cited concerns from Zimbabwe pharmaceutical industry on trade restrictions imposed by South Africa which she said is contrary to the Sadc trade protocol.
NTBs are a form of restrictive trade where barriers to trade take a form other than a tariff and common examples include quotas, levies, embargoes and sanctions.
Other forms of NTBs include the imposition of quantitative import and export restrictions which are prevalent in Sadc and across Africa as a whole.
International trade analysts, however, caution that regional integration can be complicated by perceived or real gains or losses among the members that may lead to disputes and a sense of loss of national sovereignty.
They argue that for integration to be successful, it requires strong commitment by all parties in implementing the agreed arrangements, fair mechanisms to arbitrate disputes and equitable distribution of the gains and costs of integration.
Need for striking a balance in priorities
A government trade expert at Capital Hill said on Monday that despite Sadc member statesâ€™ commitments towards promoting the regional integration agenda, there were some key realities that needed to be noted in consideration of the NTBsâ€™ proliferation.
â€œWe need to strike a balance between these regional commitments and national priorities in terms of how to re-position individual member statesâ€™ own industries and the creation of employment opportunities to local people,â€ said the expert who declined to be named.
Under Sadc, Malawi is committed to reducing tariff on intra-Sadc trade progressively.
This follows a Sadc protocol implementation which was aimed at creating Sadc Free Trade Area (FTA) which was achieved in 2008 and it envisages the establishment of a customs union this year.Â