Regional economic chasm still too wide
DESPITE South Africa's stated intention of opening up its economy and attempting to reduce the levels of inequity between itself and its Southern African Development Community partners, very little has changed, according to the University of South Africa's Bureau of Market Research (BMR).
SA was only admitted into the regional club three years ago, following the abolition of statutory apartheid.
The BMR's study on the SADC warns that the enormous disparities which exist can in themselves create serious obstacles in the process of regional integration - the stated objective of the 14-member regional club.
The BMR says the movement towards closer regional integration in southern Africa calls for careful planning to create balanced regional development to the mutual benefit of all member countries.
For the moment, the differences are glaring.
South Africa's trade surplus with its regional partners stood at R11.5-billion in 1996, more than offsetting the country's deficit with other regions such as Europe and North America. South Africa contributes about 80% of the SADC's gross domestic product and has the third highest per capita income level of $3 160 a year after Seychelles ($6 620) and Mauritius ($3 380). At the other end of the table is Mozambique ($80), and Congo and Tanzania with $120 each.
Although the study's conclusions are not new, it nevertheless reinforces some of the widespread concerns around pursuing, for instance, a free trade area without addressing inherent economic inequities sufficiently.
The report notes: "Not only will the concentration of markets tend to attract investment into South Africa and even lead to de-industrialisation of neighbouring members, it could also lead to political tension.
"Member countries may become nervous about the power wielded by the economic giant at the southern-most extremity of the continent," says Unisa's BMR.