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Botswana extends import restrictions: Minister Didiza voices concerns over Bilateral Trade impact

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Tulani Ngwenya

Pretoria, South Africa – In a move to attain food self-sufficiency and reduce its import bill, Botswana announced on Monday the extension and expansion of restrictions on imports of specific fresh produce. The ban, initially set to lapse at the end of December, will now persist until the close of 2025, with the list of restricted items expected to double to 32 by July of next year, according to Botswana’s agriculture ministry.

“The grace period until July is crucial, allowing our farmers the time needed to plant and ensure local produce availability,” stated the agriculture ministry, underscoring the country’s commitment to supporting its agricultural sector, which constitutes approximately 5% of the nation’s economic output.

This attempt to strengthen the agriculture sector has been spurred by difficulties local farmers are facing as a result of lower-priced imports, mostly from South Africa. Historically, South Africa supplied about 80% of Botswana’s food, but this changed with a two-year ban on South African exports to Botswana starting in January 2022.

In a recent state of the nation address, President Mokgweetsi Masisi revealed that the import ban significantly reduced the fresh-produce import bill by 71%, emphasising Botswana’s commitment to protecting nascent industries.

However, this extension of import restrictions has sparked controversy, particularly from South African farmers who argue that it violates the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) agreement. Responding to the Botswana government’s decision, South Africa’s Minister Didiza expressed deep concern over the potential repercussions on bilateral trade.

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“The impact of these extended restrictions on our trade relationship is worrisome,” Minister Didiza remarked, highlighting the need for urgent diplomatic dialogue. She announced her intention to meet with her Botswana counterpart, stating, “I want to raise our concerns and understand the underlying issues that led to this move by Botswana.”

Minister Didiza’s proactive approach follows her efforts to address South Africa’s concerns during the SACU Summit in July 2023. She expressed optimism, saying, “We hope that the engagements will assist in resolving this challenge for the benefit of our countries and industry.”

As both nations navigate this diplomatic challenge, the outcome of the upcoming discussions between Minister Didiza and her Botswana counterpart will play a pivotal role in determining the future of bilateral trade relations, ensuring mutual understanding, and fostering sustainable economic ties between the two countries.

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