For many African states, negotiations to liberalise trade in services is a relatively new experience. Southern African Development Community (SADC), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and East African Community (EAC) member states are set to negotiate services at several levels – regional, bilateral, multilateral and even at the supra-regional level in the context of the Tripartite agreements.
Trade in services is not a feature of the 2002 Southern African Customs Union (SACU) agreement, and although the Heads of State and Government hinted at the possibility when they undertook to develop “SACU positions on new generation issues”, it is unlikely that services will be negotiated in the context of SACU any time soon. SACU member states already have to contend with bilateral services negotiations with the European Union (EU) (Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland), regional negotiations as part of SADC (all five SACU member states), regional negotiations as part of COMESA (Swaziland) and even at the supra-regional level as part of the Tripartite negotiations. This is already ambitious, particularly for a country with limited capacity such as Swaziland. These negotiations are mostly focused on services liberalisation, which addresses regulatory barriers relating to the access and treatment of foreign services suppliers. If SACU member states feel the need to directly address the issue of services within the configuration, the basis of the discussion should be deeper integration. With deeper integration, the focus should be shifted from liberalising the barriers that exist at the borders, towards addressing the behind-the-border issues, which exist within the jurisdiction of the member states.