SADC Regional Integration: What Role has Bilateral Trade Agreements Played in Promoting Intra-Regional Trade?

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James Maringwa
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Member countries of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) have engaged in a number of bilateral trade liberalisation agreements and initiatives from as way back as the 1950s; with the main objective being to increase bilateral trade flows through deeper opening and access of regional markets. The implementation of these various bilateral ‘country to country' trade agreements coupled with the adoption, by the SADC region, of a ‘Protocol on Trade' (TP) in 1996, and, its implementation which started in 2000 is seen as coherent trade policy objective by the countries of southern Africa that trade can be used to promote regional economic growth and help reduce poverty.

In this paper, I use the traditional gravity modeling technique, trade intensity and product complementarity indices to analyse bilateral trade flows (on sensitive products textiles and apparels, cereals and vehicles) between SADC countries that have signed bilateral trade agreements between themselves and also implemented the SADC TP which led to the adoption of a SADC Free Trade Area in 2008. Analysis focused on sensitive products because preferential bilateral trade agreements seem to be more generous (offer better concessions) on these products as compared to commitments member states undertook at the wider regional level under the SADC TP. I find that trade creation on wheat and sugar products dominates trade diversion even though the percentage increase in trade in these products is small. More so, there is no conclusive evidence that bilateral trade agreements have increased bilateral trade flows beyond the market access opportunities provided by the SADC TP except only for textile products from Malawi into South Africa. In conclusion, the paper recognises that SADC countries need to do more in terms of implementing commitments undertaken in their bilateral trade agreements so as to realise real market access benefits brought about by trade liberalisation.  

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