Preferential trade deal unlikely before year-end: Pretoria envoy

Staff Reporter

CHENNAI: The preferential trade agreement between India and the five member-country Southern African Customs Union (SACU) will fructify faster if the trade and business community of the six nations join hands and sort out issues, the South African envoy to India has said.

Francis Moloi, South African High Commissioner, on Wednesday said the business communities of the countries had to assume a leadership role and set the pace for the governments to forge the agreement. Apart from South Africa, the members of the SACU are Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland.

Under the present indications, the agreement is unlikely to be firmed up before this year-end. It "will not be able to meet the target (of December)," he said, addressing a meeting organised by the Southern India Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Trade and business in the countries, he said, should identify the irritants, "bring down the barriers," and put forth the case for the early formalisation of the agreement, highlighting the business potential.

Mr. Moloi, who assumed office recently, said there was tremendous potential to bolster the business ties between India and South Africa. Underlining the need to increase the bilateral trade five times over the existing 2.4 billion, he said power, energy, automobiles, pharmaceuticals and information technology were some of the areas with scope for greater interaction.

In particular, South Africa could share its expertise in power and looked forward to support from India in the areas of skills transfer, especially in the fields of furniture-making and stone cutting.

Calling for setting up of task forces for the purpose, he said the High Commission was setting up its third office in India and Chennai was a possible location.

A. Satish Kumar, executive committee member of SICCI, said South Africa could serve as a springboard for Indian business to foray into the African markets.

Listing logistics and trade, tourism, healthcare and energy as sectors for greater cooperation between the two countries, he said:

"There is a need to establish direct air links from Chennai to Johannesburg and vice-versa."