Free Trade with the US Pursued Again

South Africa and its SACU partners met with officials from the U.S. Trade Representative’s office last week in Washington. The free trade agreement negotiations were half heartedly resumed at the end of last year after a year’s lapse. Local negotiators are concerned that the US proposals are too closely linked to a ‘standard template’ and not specific enough to match the trade and development focused approach required by SACU.
South African Trade and Industry Acting Director-General Tshediso Matona said at a press conference last week that there were 2 possible prongs in making progress on specific topics, “market access in goods and agriculture, should be allowed to continue and not be held back by the more difficult areas such as intellectual property, investment.”
USTR Portman has indicated that his office would not ‘walk away’ from the US-SACU talks, despite the difficulties experienced. This is however in contrast to the view coming from the US Congress. The Congress Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas indicated that President Bush would consider giving up on trade negotiations that have shown little progress and rather focus resources on more promising deals (like Egypt).

Senior Trade Advisor Hilton Zunckel commented that, “We are very pleased that the SACU negotiators are standing their ground. I think that it shows some maturity in our negotiating capacity when we are able to step back and invest some time to get the right deal as opposed to the easy deal. I do however think that the Congress warning that the US groom will not wait forever at the altar for the SACU bride should be heeded. In this vein, I think that we do need to show at least some progress now as an indication that we are still serious about being wooed by ‘the handsome cowboy’.”