Zimbabwean and South African officials will meet next week, as preparations for the visit by South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa to his northern neighbours gather momentum.
President Ramaphosa will visit Zimbabwe on March 12 for the Third session of the two countries' Bi-National Commission (BNC), and Zimbabwe's Ambassador to South Africa Mr David Hamadziripi said yesterday that preparations for the visit were underway in both Harare and Pretoria.
The two countries held their last BNC in October 2017 and the visit by President Ramaphosa will give a lift to the already existing strong bilateral relations.
"We are going to have meetings with relevant South African officials next week to prepare for the BNC," he said.
"It is important to note that the BNC, which last met in Pretoria in October 2017, will review co-operation across the board.
"We expect issues around trade and investment, energy, transport, health, security and defence among others to be the major talking points."
He said one of the major issues expected to dominate the discussions was the establishment of a One Stop Border Post (OSBP) at Beitbridge. Under the concept travellers will be cleared once for passage into either country as opposed to the present situation where travellers have to queue twice at either side of the border to complete the same processes, which slows down the movement of cargo and human traffic.
Zimbabwe and South Africa enjoy cordial relations dating back to the days of their struggle for liberation. There is also likely to be a strong geopolitical flair as South Africa, the most influential neighbour and Africa's strongest economy, will likely throw weight behind Zimbabwe on the back of external pressures against the country, notably regarding illegal sanctions imposed on the country by the West.
Last week, the 28-member European Union bloc reviewed its restrictive measures on Zimbabwe, which was but a small token amid opposition to the embargo from progressive forces.
South Africa's Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Lindiwe Sisulu this week revealed that South Africa remained ready to help Zimbabwe, underscoring that the regional giant had a strong interest in having Zimbabwe as a peaceful and prosperous neighbour. She said of sanctions against Zimbabwe was central to this and that sanctions would feature in the discussions between Presidents Mnangagwa and Ramaphosa. President Ramaphosa has been a strident anti-Zimbabwe sanctions campaigner himself.
Last month, he took the campaign to the 49th edition of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, where he publicly called for the lifting of the embargo. Last year, he also called on the European Union (EU) to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe during the 7th South Africa-European Union Summit in Brussels, Belgium, where they discussed a number of issues around trade, climate change, women's rights among other global issues.
The EU and the United States of America maintain sanctions on Zimbabwe, with the EU having progressively loosened the measures. The US remains adamant, tying the punishment of Zimbabwe and Zanu-PF to give an advantage to the opposition MDC-Alliance.
Botswana and Zambia have signed the agreement of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) meant to create one African market.
The country signed the agreement at the just-ended Africa Union Summit. Zambia also signed the AfCFTA at the same event. Botswana and Zambia were among the countries that had not signed the AfCFTA following its establishment on 21 March 2018 in Rwanda, Kigali.
The delay was largely attributed to negotiation on some of the protocols of the AfCFTA, as the countries wanted to consult stakeholders before appending. Briefing journalists upon his return from the just-ended AU Summit, Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi said he signed the agreement in the presence of African Union Commission chairperson, Moussa Faki, and outgoing AU chairperson, Paul Kagame.
He said the agreement would give Batswana the opportunity to “benefit from inter-regional trade within the African continent, and greatly contribute to the growth and diversification of our country’s economy.
“We have received the documents so that we can rectify the agreement,” he said.
Masisi said Botswana recognises the importance of the agreement as one that will liberalise trade of both goods and services for all African countries. The AfCFTA aims to create a market of 1.2 billion people and a gross domestic product of US$2.5 trillion, across all AU member states.
The Continental Free Trade Agreement would provide Botswana access to the African market estimated at 1.6 billion people in 55 countries. This means a wider and increased market access for Botswana exports; among which are live animals, beef, salt, vaccines for veterinary medicine, minerals and leather products.
Reports indicate that the AfCFTA envisages the liberalisation of both trade in goods and services in the first phase of negotiations, and will extend to investment, competition policy and intellectual property in the second phase. The decision to establish the AfCFTA was taken during the eighteenth Assembly of Heads of State and Government in 2012 when the Heads of State and Government decided to establish a Pan-Africa Continental Free Trade Area by 2017.
According to Zambia News and Information Services, Zambian President Edgar Lungu said the country would now work towards ratifying the AfCFTA.
Zambia is already in wide free trade areas through the 16-member SADC and the 21-member Comesa trading blocs. But in a statement issued by the first press secretary at the Zambian mission in Addis Ababa after the signing, Inutu Mwanza said.
“The AfCFTA will help resolve the challenges of multiple and overlapping memberships and expedite the regional and continental integration processes.
“It will also help to enhance competitiveness at the industry and enterprise level through exploiting opportunities for scale production, continental market access and better reallocation of resources.”
President Donald Trump said on Friday there was "a very good chance" the United States would strike a deal with China to end their trade war and that he was inclined to extend his March 1 tariff deadline and meet soon with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
U.S. and Chinese negotiators had made progress and will extend this week's round of negotiations by two days through Sunday, Trump told reporters at the White House as he met with his top negotiators and their counterpart, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He.
"I think that we both feel there's a very good chance a deal will happen," Trump said.
Liu agreed there had been "great progress".
"From China, we believe that (it) is very likely that it will happen and we hope that ultimately we'll have a deal. And the Chinese side is ready to make our utmost effort," he said at the White House.
The Republican president said he probably would meet with Xi in March in Florida to decide on the most important terms of a trade deal.
Extending the deadline would put on hold Trump's threatened tariff increase to 25 percent from 10 percent on $200 billion (153 billion pounds) of Chinese imports into the United States. That would prevent a further escalation in a trade war that already has disrupted commerce in goods worth hundreds of billions of dollars, slowed global economic growth and roiled markets.
Optimism that the two sides will find a way to end the trade war lifted stocks, especially technology shares. The S&P 500 stock index reached its highest closing level since Nov. 8. Oil prices rose to their highest since mid-November, with Brent crude reaching a high of $67.73 a barrel.
Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the two sides had reached an agreement on currency. Trump declined to provide details, but U.S. officials long have expressed concerns that China's yuan is undervalued, giving China a trade advantage and partly offsetting U.S. tariffs.
Announcement of a pact aimed at limiting yuan depreciation was putting "the currency cart before the trade horse," but would likely be positive for Asian emerging market currencies, said Alan Ruskin, global head of currency strategy at Deutsche Bank in New York.
"How can you agree to avoid excessive Chinese yuan depreciation or volatility if you have not made an agreement on trade that could have huge FX implications?" Ruskin asked in a note to clients.
In a letter to Trump read aloud by an aide to Liu at the White House, Xi called on negotiators to work hard to strike a deal that benefits both country.
Trump said a deal with China may extend beyond trade to encompass Chinese telecommunications companies Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corp.
The Justice Department has accused Huawei of conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions on Iran and of stealing robotic technology from T-Mobile US Inc.
Chinese peer ZTE was last year prevented from buying essential components from U.S. firms after pleading guilty to similar charges, crippling its operations.
MEMORANDUMS NO MORE
Trump appeared at odds with his top negotiator, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, on the preliminary terms that his team is outlining in memorandums of understanding for a deal with China. Trump said he did not like MOUs because they are short term, and he wanted a long-term deal.
"I don't like MOUs because they don't mean anything," Trump said. "Either you are going to make a deal or you're not."
Lighthizer responded testily that MOUs were binding, but that he would never use the term again.
Reuters reported exclusively on Wednesday that the two sides were drafting the language for six MOUs covering the most difficult issues in the trade talks that would require structural economic change in China.
Negotiators have struggled this week to agree on specific language within those memorandums to address tough U.S. demands, according to sources familiar with the talks. The six memorandums include cyber theft, intellectual property rights, services, agriculture and non-tariff barriers to trade, including subsidies.
An industry source briefed on the talks said both sides have narrowed differences on intellectual property rights, market access and narrowing a nearly $400 billion U.S. trade deficit with China. But bigger differences remain on changes to China's treatment of state-owned enterprises, subsidies, forced technology transfers and cyber theft of U.S. trade secrets.
Lighthizer pushed back when questioned on forced technology transfers, saying the two sides made "a lot of progress" on the issue, but did not elaborate.
The United States has said foreign firms in China are often coerced to transfer their technology to Chinese firms if they want to operate there. China denies this.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Friday urged the U.S. government to ensure the deal was comprehensive and addressed core issues, rather than one based on more Chinese short-term purchases of goods.
China has pledged to increase purchases of agricultural produce, energy, semiconductors and industrial goods to reduce its trade surplus with the United States.
China committed to buying an additional 10 million tonnes of U.S. soybeans on Friday, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said on Twitter. China bought about 32 million tonnes of U.S. soybeans in 2017. The commitments are a "show of good faith by the Chinese" and "indications of more good news to come," Perdue wrote.
China was the top buyer of U.S. soybeans before the trade war, but Beijing's retaliatory tariffs on U.S. soybeans slashed business that had been worth $12 billion annually.