By Ntombi Mhlongo
The Kingdom of Eswatini and the Republic of South Africa have taken an initiative to identify and find ways of dealing with trade barriers between the two countries.
This was during a breakfast meeting organised by the South African High Commission which was attended by leading chief executive officers in investment and other business stakeholders.
The meeting took place at the Royal Villas and the guest speaker was the Minister of Commerce, Industry, and Trade Manqoba Khumalo. Also in attendance were officials from the South African Revenue Service (SARS).
Delivering her remarks, South African High Commissioner to Eswatini, Advocate Thoko Sipamla said the meeting also aimed at proposing practical recommendations to remove trade barriers between the two countries.
She said it was important for the two countries to identify potential trade and investment opportunities around which mutually beneficial and complementary partnerships can be developed.
The high commissioner highlighted that both the South African and Eswatini economies are benefitting from growing trade between the two countries.
South Africa, she said, for the 2021/22 fiscal year imported E23.76 billion which reflects a total of 73.55 per cent of the country’s entire imports for the year, an increase of 24.45 per cent over the 2020/21 financial year. The high commissioner mentioned that when Eswatini’s export market was analysed in 2020, almost 77 per cent of the country’s total annual exports were destined for SADC countries, a trend she said continues. She said Eswatini continues to be identified as one of the top five inbound African markets by South African tourism.
“Eswatini is currently exporting almost 70 per cent of its goods and services to South Africa. This reflects an amount of E21.732 billion for the 2021/2022 fiscal year, an increase of 6.6 per cent over the previous year,” she revealed.
“From a tourism perspective, there has been a 124.5 per cent increase in tourists from South Africa visiting Eswatini in the period from January to September 2022, as opposed to the same period in 2021. These statistics reflect an amount of 232 651 South African tourists visiting Eswatini during the same period, compared to 103 609 in 2021,” she stated.
She said although exact destinations are difficult to obtain, a total of 460 477 Eswatini citizens left the country during the period from January to September 2022, as opposed to 204 243 during the same period and this reflects an increase of 125.5 per cent.
Minister Manqoba recommends Eswatini-South Africa Summit
Khumalo added that trade and investment can be boosted through the hosting of an Eswatini-South Africa Investment Summit. The minister said there are many opportunities yet to be realised especially with the free movement of funds as the two countries are in the same common monetary area.
He said the two governments must take real, practical steps to achieve this – doing business, breaking down barriers to trade, mobilising domestic resources, and supporting the vision of boosting economic growth through investment and trade.
“We can build further on this shared agenda with an Eswatini-South Africa Investment Summit that can be hosted in both countries. South Africa continues to be Eswatini’s major trading partner for both imports and exports,” the minister said.
He mentioned that with the 2022 trade statistics, one realises that over 75 per cent of Eswatini’s trade is with South Africa which emphasises the importance of strengthened trade mechanisms between the two countries.
The minister said both governments need to work together to ensure the seamless movement of goods and services across ports of entry, especially the Ngwenya/Oshoek border post.
“We both must work tirelessly to remove technical and non-technical barriers to trade. Eswatini has been ranked by the World Bank Ease of Doing Business as No.1 on the index of trading across borders mainly because of the collaborative efforts we enjoy from the South African side.
“We are glad that both countries are working collaboratively in implementing the single window system to allow ease of customs clearance for goods being traded across both countries. There are still some items to be addressed though as the private sector continues to raise flags on delays experienced by some truckers at the border”.
He highlighted that the Eswatini government greatly appreciates the benefits derived from the country’s membership in SACU.
He also stressed the importance of the African Free Continental Trade Area (AfCFTA) which is being rolled out across Africa to enable the free movement of goods within the continent.
However, he said, the objectives of SACU are challenged by the AfCFTA and there is a need to expedite the discussion around the alignment of SACU with AfCFTA to further promote and enhance trade between our countries.
The minister closed his speech by reaffirming the government’s commitment to Eswatini’s trade and investment relationship with South Africa which he said is an important market and opportunity.
“Eswatini is open for business and government is available to support businesses and navigate through challenges that arise for the benefit of stakeholders. Let’s make the most of our strong relationship by partnering the financial strength, services, and technical expertise of the South African companies with the potential, ambition, and local networks of and markets to Eswatini firms; all in pursuit of building a bright, secure, and prosperous future for the people of Eswatini and South Africa,” he said.