For many of the African states, negotiations to liberalise trade in services is a relatively new phenomenon. For the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) member states, the only experience acquired on this subject was during multilateral negotiations in the context of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). Now SACU countries are confronted with the issue of services liberalisation in the context of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations, seemingly without a clear and coherent strategy on how to deal with this new trade related issue. There are a number of reasons for this, and the paper attempts to present the possible explanations for this state of affairs. It starts with an assessment of the depth and scope of commitments undertaken during the Uruguay Round and the challenges created by the different degrees of liberalisation. This places the SACU member states at different stages in their services liberalisation process, which together with their different levels of development have the potential to produce a fragmented approach towards services liberalisation.
The paper further considers the effect services liberalisation currently has at the regional level of SACU, the regional level of SADC and the bilateral level of the EPA, as well as the future impact these services negotiations can have on the SACU member states. The SADC Protocol on Services, which is being circulated amongst member states for approval, is also analysed to provide an indication of what can be anticipated at SADC regional level.
The final part of the paper deals with the preparation for negotiations and the activities countries can carry out in order to equip government to more effectively understand and negotiate the complexities of trade in services. The preparation phase focuses on two aspects, that of defensive interests which feed into the formulation of the services offer and, that of offensive interests which play a role in the formulation of the services request. The paper considers, amongst other things, the sources where regulatory information on services can be found, how to conduct a trade regulatory audit, the alignment of international obligations with domestic laws, the creation of enquiry points, and the establishment of communication channels between government and stakeholders.