- Botswana and Namibia has unilaterally closed their borders to certain fruits and vegetables from SA, despite certain trade agreements.
- Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and SA have a common customs union, meaning they are supposed to have the free flow of goods among them.
- An agriculture body calls on the SA government to intervene and address the blocking of certain SA produce.
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The SA government needs to urgently intervene in the unilateral closing of their borders by Botswana and Namibia to certain fruits and vegetables from South Africa, claiming it is to protect their local producers.
Since the beginning of the year, for example, Botswana has blocked SA exports of tomatoes, carrots, beetroot, potatoes, cabbage, lettuce, garlic, onions, ginger, turmeric, chilli peppers, butternut, watermelons, sweet peppers, green mealies and fresh herbs.
This unilateral action is against trade agreements with South Africa, including the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) agreement, according to agricultural body Agri SA. Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia (BELN) and SA form the SACU, meaning they are supposed to have a common external trade border with free flow of goods within the union.
The situation has become "untenable" and requires government intervention urgently to prevent the SACU agreement from being nothing more than a "lame duck", Agri SA executive director Christo van der Rheede writes to Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Thoko Didiza and Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition Ebrahim Patel in a letter dated 8 August and seen by Fin24. He claims Botswana and Namibia are the main culprits.
"These countries have cited a need to protect local production as the motivation for these border closures," Van Rheede tells Didiza. "We have noted that, while Botswana and Namibia close their borders to vegetables from SA, they remain happy to send their like products back into SA, and at predatory prices to boot."
Van Rheede explains that the vegetable sector in SA has a minimum wage of RR23.19 per hour, while the comparative rate in Botswana is 3.8 pula (equivalent to R5.04) per hour and that of Namibia is R12.23 per hour. No minimum wages exist in those two countries for the vegetable sector. BELN countries, for example, have a 13% cost advantage over SA in the case of tomatoes.
"Our first choice would be that compliance [with the SACU agreement] is ensured, and failing this, we would like to see SA reciprocate the gesture and close its borders to vegetable products emanating from the BELN states," said Van Rheede.
Agri SA called for an urgent meeting of Didiza with the Agricultural Trade Forum (ATF) to discuss the border closure dilemma.
Fin24 reached out to the Department of Agriculture for comment.
"At this stage we won't be providing any comment until we meet with AgriSA and discuss their concerns on the issue," responded spokesperson Reggie Ngcobo.