Evolution and Development of the Legal Framework for the Southern African Customs Union

Clement Ng’ong’ola


For the entire period of its existence as an independent state; in fact, from not long after its founding as British Protectorate, Botswana has been party to the Southern African Customs Union (SACU. SACU is reputed to be the oldest, functioning customs union (CU) in the world today. Some would also claim that by virtue of its longevity it must be the most successful and cohesive regional trade agreement (RTA) in Africa. This paper reviews the SACU legal framework, as revised and modulated over the years, for elements that may or may not have contributed to its longevity and apparent success. The paper also takes note of the fact that the last substantial revision of the SACU legal code, in 2002, attempted to remould SACU into a twenty first (21st) Century, “aligned with current developments in international trade relations.” How successfully was this effort? The paper deliberately has a distinct legal fl avour, in order to shift the discourse on SACU from fi scal and developmental gains or costs from the arrangement for South Africa (SA), the largest and most advanced economy, on one side, and Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland (BLNS), the less advanced economies in the arrangement, on the other side. The paper in effect contends that some legal aspects of SACU deserve as much attention as the vexed issue of pooling and sharing of customs revenue in academic discourses on Africa’s oldest RTA.

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