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    Promoting Services Trade in Southern Africa


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 1/2006

    © ITC/E. Vequaud Meetings between service associations can help iron out export stumbling blocks.

    For the first time, service associations in southern Africa met to discuss the potential of regional trade for their exporters.

    While service firms account for much of southern Africa's economic growth and new jobs, export strategies in the region have rarely focused on this "invisible" sector. Countries need to be more sensitive to the fact that trade in services exists and represents enormous economic opportunities, including between countries in the South.

    With that aim, ITC organized a "Bridges across Borders" meeting for service sector associations from nine countries in southern Africa (Johannesburg, South Africa, December 2005). Representatives from the associations exchanged information about their markets and prospected for business opportunities for their firms. ITC also invited the local media to report on the event and help raise awareness about opportunities for trade in services.

    Putting services in the spotlight

    At a press conference, the media brought up the problem of finding reliable data on trade in services and said the event helped them to capture some of this unknown information. Print, television, radio and online media covered the meeting or had a feature on trade in services. Some "prime-time" national news bulletins featured interviews with participants and ITC staff.

    At the meeting, the Government of South Africa showed it has understood the business opportunities in services and the need to give them special attention. Raymond Ngcobo of South Africa's Department of Trade and Industry said, "The Government will review its incentives programme to ensure that the service sector receives the lion's share."

    Present were 165 service associations, representing over 500,000 members in Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and Zambia.

    Participants discussed the impact of the cost of tele-communications on service industries, opportunities and requirements for business process outsourcing, leveraging growth in the construction sector to create jobs and stimulating service growth through major events such as the FIFA (International Federation of Football Associations) World Cup in 2010. Telecommunications is to services what logistics and transportation infrastructure is to trade in goods. Telecommunications policy and regulations must, therefore, look at the sector's strategic positioning within the economy as a whole and reflect the needs of various sectors and not only its own. As one participant noted, "High telecommunications costs could frustrate the Government's economic growth objectives."

    Some blocks to trade in services, such as the mutual recognition of professional credentials, are easily dismantled by greater cooperation among service associations. To facilitate cooperation, ITC organized 616 bilateral consultations between associations.

    ITC will conduct a follow-up visit to Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland to answer issues raised at the meeting and to evaluate the countries' progress since the event. It will deliver information about new training modules, such as building service coalitions. This will increase local partners' ability to help service exporters and allow ITC to assist new countries.

    For more information about these events, contact Emmanuel Barreto (barreto@intracen.org).