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    Trade is fundamental to the economic development of a region. However, it also has broader benefits that support the process of Regional Integration. Nations that expand trade with others through liberalisation of trade policies increase economic growth and improve the quality of life of their people.

    The Protocol on Trade

    The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Trade (1996), as amended in 2010, is one of the most important legal instruments guiding SADC's work on Trade. It is an agreement between SADC Member States to reduce customs duties and other barriers to trade on imported products amongst SADC Member States. The Protocol envisioned the establishment of a Free Trade Area in the region. The Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan targeted achievement of SADC Free Trade Area by 2008 and a Customs Union by 2010.

    A Free Trade Area, in which Member States agree to remove tariffs against each other but are free to levy their own external tariffs on non-member nations, fosters economic cooperation between Member States. A Customs Union adds a common external tariff against non-SADC countries, with all members of the union receiving shares from that tariff.

    During the 28th SADC Summit, held in Johannesburg in August 2008, the Free Trade Area was officially launched by 12 of the 15 SADC Member States. By the beginning of 2008, most customs duties had been eliminated on goods from the participating Member States (i.e. about 85% of goods attained zero duty in January 2008) and a Common Tariff System was applied to import of goods from non-Member States. The Protocol on Trade in Services was developed and signed in August, 2012 as a step towards achieving a Free Trade Area in Services. These are important steps towards achieving the subsequent SADC Integration Milestones such as the Customs Union, Common Market and Monetary Union.

    SADC encourages the following strategies as a way to foster trade throughout Southern Africa:

    • Gradual elimination of tariffs;
    • Adoption of common rules of origin;
    • Harmonisation of customs rules and procedures;
    • Attainment of internationally acceptable standards, quality, accreditation, and metrology;
    • Harmonisation of sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures;
    • Elimination of non-tariff barriers (i.e., any barrier to trade other than import and export duties); and
    • Liberalisation of trade in services.

    SADC addresses the Trade issues within the region by focusing on five key areas: