At the SADC Council of Ministers Meeting this week, South Africa handed over the role of chair of the SADC Council of Ministers to Namibia. The SADC Council of Ministers Meeting is one of the meetings which precede the 38th Ordinary SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government, which will be hosted by Namibia from 17 to 18 August 2018 under the theme: “Promoting Infrastructure Development and Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development.”

The 38th SADC Summit is expected to discuss key regional issues which include, status of Member States contributions, overview of the socio-economic situation and state of peace and security. When South Africa was afforded the opportunity to chair SADC, taking over from the Kingdom of Eswatini, we resolved to build on the initiatives of promoting regional integration, industrialisation and socio-economic growth.

We needed to maintain the focus, in particular, on industrial development, promotion of regional value chains and value addition in the region. In this regard, the theme for our tenure of office “Partnering with the Private Sector in Developing Industry and Regional Value Chains”, was chosen with the full realisation that our goals can only be met if we focus on strong and meaningful partnerships with the private sector, which is part of the engine for sustainable economic growth.

Through the SADC Industrialization Strategy and Roadmap, we recognise that trade liberalization can meaningfully contribute towards sustainable and equitable development, whilst meeting the goals for poverty alleviation. Production should not only be in terms of quantities, but also quality, based on effective and efficient systems, while being mindful of the comparative advantages of SADC Member States.

Regional industrial growth, particularly in the manufacturing sector, has been less impressive, and our economies are insufficiently diversified. We have, for a long time relied on very few primary commodity exports, making our Member States extremely vulnerable to price shocks. It is now time that we diversify our economies, increase participation of Member States in regional value chains and promote value addition. We must collectively work towards accelerating economic integration processes that will promote specialisation and the development of regional value chains.

SADC has progressively put in place policies and institutions that will promote the adoption of technological know-how, ensuring modernisation of production systems, as well as embracing skills development, science and technology. To further realise these objectives, we will have to continue strengthening financial systems that would facilitate availability and movement of capital. Above all, we will continue to ensure that the region has well-developed infrastructure to facilitate trade and the easy movement of goods and services.

In order to optimally achieve the objectives as set out in our work programme, we need to further strengthen and cultivate private sector involvement. The role of our governments is to put in place policies and initiatives that would create an enabling environment for the private sector to grow. We are catalysts, something which should be appreciated by Member States so that our investment, trade and industrial policies are able to shape incentives to attract private sector involvement. It is for this reason that we have taken a very proactive approach to engage the private sector in the SADC regional integration agenda. In this regard, efforts are underway to develop a cooperation framework for private sector participation of businesses operating in SADC.

To this end, the SADC Industrialisation Week, recently held in Windhoek has been running for the third year successfully. The event provides a useful platform for private sector companies domiciled in SADC Member States to showcase their products produced as a result of regional value chains and promotion of value additions. It is also an excellent platform for engagement and continues to foster opportunities for intra-regional trade and investment.

More work needs to be done on SADC industrial development initiatives. We need to prioritise trade facilitation bottlenecks such as inadequate infrastructure and customs procedures, as well as weak logistics systems which raise trade costs and hinder the ease of doing business. Transport costs and transit delays in Southern Africa are reported to be particularly higher than in most other regions, and have a potential to reverse the gains in regional industrial development.

Without resource mobilisation which provides options for funding our programmes and agenda, we cannot achieve envisioned objectives as outlined in our approved strategic blueprints. Regional integration is not an option and, as such, we must strive to establish sustainable funding mechanisms for the implementation of SADC programmes and projects. The SADC region remains relatively peaceful and stable. Peace, security and stability are essential ingredients for sustainable economic growth, poverty alleviation, addressing inequalities and underdevelopment in the region.

The region’s democratic footprint and its prevailing positive security and political climate is undoubtedly conducive to the promotion of investment inflows into the region and contributes towards intra-regional trade and the movement of capital.

We will, therefore, continue to guard our hard-won freedom by ensuring that Member States continue to adhere to good governance, the rule of law, and ensuring that regular national democratic elections are held. We remain seized with political developments in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Kingdom of Lesotho and the Republic of Madagascar, in order to find lasting solutions to achieve peace and stability.

As South Africa hands over the chairship of SADC to Namibia, we are heartened by the fact that the advancement of the regional integration agenda will continue for the benefit of all SADC Member States.

Lindiwe Sisulu is the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation

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