23 November 2004

South Africa: SA Near to Clinching Another Trade Deal

Johannesburg — SA IS on track to sign its third freetrade agreement next month in a move that will give local exporters increased access to four new markets in Europe.

This will advance SA's position in the global race to form free trade agreements .

The deal will bring to a close about 18 months of negotiations between the Southern African Customs Union (Sacu) and the European Free Trade Association (Efta).

The four countries that make up Efta Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are not part of the European Union, with which SA already has a free trade agreement.

The Efta deal was expected to harmonise SA's trade relations with all of western Europe.

SA's chief trade negotiator, Xavier Carim, said at the weekend that he was optimistic that the deal would be signed next month, although some technical and legal details may have to be concluded at a later stage.

Carim said trade ministers of the countries involved may be able to sign off the agreement in May.

Sacu had also hoped to conclude a free-trade deal with the US next month , but differences of opinion on several matters have hampered progress to the extent that the December deadline would not be met, said Carim earlier.

The deal with Efta would be a scaled-down version of the original agreement. Efta members earlier agreed to Sacu's request to shelve complex issues such as government procurement, intellectual property and investment.

The five Sacu member countries were still looking to harmonise their own trade policies on these issues.

The deal is important for Efta, because Sacu is the first partner on the African continent with which the Efta states are concluding a comprehensive trade agreement.

Switzerland, which is the largest economy in Efta, imports large quantities of precious stones and metals, plastics and vehicles.

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