Trade Deficit Skyrockets

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By Chrispin Inambao WINDHOEK The bilateral economic cooperation agreement signed recently in Windhoek would among others narrow Namibia’s robust trade deficit with South Africa currently standing at an astronomical N$3 billion with no sign of shrinking. President Hifikepunye Pohamba and his South African counterpart Thabo Mbeki witnessed the signing of the bilateral economic cooperation agreement at State House a week ago by trade and industry ministers Immanuel Ngatjizeko and Mandisi Mpahlwa. Though South Africa is Namibia’s main trading partner, the country is heavily dependant on finished consumer products and other goods such as agricultural produce that it imports from the regional economic powerhouse, which eclipses the value of its bilateral exports. And officials are working feverishly to balance this growing trade inequality. Though Namibia exports livestock on-the-hoof, hides, beef and edible offal, fish, beer, ores, slag and ash, it imports brandy, wine, fertilizers, cereals, flour, tinned food, pharmaceutical products, refined petroleum products, clothing, textiles, toiletries and light and heavy machinery, coffee, tea, spices, dairy produce, toys and furniture. In a recent interview in his office, Ngatjizeko revealed South Africa would assist Namibia with expertise to develop the 48 projects identified along the Trans-Kalahari. Ngatjizeko acknowledged the trade inequality saying though Namibia’s exports to South Africa are substantial, “we import in fact more than we export to them to the extent that we have a trade deficit of about N$3 billion”. “The agreement that we signed with my South African counterpart is principally providing for bilateral cooperation between our two countries on the economic front. That agreement would encompass cooperation in a broad sphere of economic events. The most central, critical one would be the Spatial Development Initiave (SDI),” he said. He said the purpose of the agreement “is actually to increase products that we can export to South Africa to the extent that this trade deficit could be brought down or minimized. So on that score we would want to do a number of things here for which the South Africans might have the skills.” Key among the 48 envisioned projects are aquaculture projects that would be located along the coast at Henties Bay, Swakopmund, LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz and Oranjemund. The targeted tourism developments would be the Second Palmwag Lodge, Meob Bay Lodge and the Daan Viljoen Lodge. The agriculture projects include the integrated bio-system fodder production project in Gobabis, while the overall plan will benefit tin mining at Uis, among others. In terms of the bilateral pact South Africa agreed to provide some funding that would cover the expenses of the project manager who would be based at the Trans-Kalahari project with the sole mandate of preparing the projects in the identified areas. Ngatjizeko noted that although Namibia has negotiated reasonable market access with a number of regions, it still struggles to fill the prescribed quotas with local produce. He said the envisaged investors’ conference – to be presided over by the two heads of state where funding would be solicited for the 48 projects – will take place in Namibia not later than August 2007 at a venue still to be determined by the organizers. “The most important thing is the issue of refining those projects to make sure they are bankable and this will depend on potential returns for such projects,” he said. “The idea is to have investors possibly invest privately or through joint ventures with locals and also to take advantage of the market access that we’ve got to bigger markets such as AGOA (the Africa Growth Opportunity Act), and we can look into the Chinese, Indian and Asian markets and take these products over there. So these issues would inherently be informed by the investors themselves,” he explained. “It is projects covering the spheres of manufacturing, mining and tourism. Everything viable along the Trans-Kalahari Road but within 200 kilometres south or north of the road. Any projects in that area that are feasible and viable and that have the ability to create jobs for our people,” he said. One of the government’s primary objectives is to “eventually address the issue of poverty and the creation of wealth for our people. We would wish these projects create maximum jobs for the country – not only jobs but help reduce the problems that we have been facing such as poverty and skewered wealth distribution.” He said it is up to the project manager to look into the final projects and to refine them to ensure they are bankable, while another issue is one of marketability of products.