The oldest customs union in the world hails from Africa

07/11/2013
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The Southern African Customs Union (SACU) is 103 years old. Established on June 29, 1910 in Southern Africa the Customs Union Agreement (CUA) brought together the South African Union, the High Commission of Bechuanaland territories (current Botswana), Basutoland (current Lesotho) and Swaziland, then under British rule. In fact, the genesis of a customs union already existed as far back as the 19th century: a Customs Union Convention was finalized in 1889 by the Cape of Good Hope, then a British colony, and the Boer State of the Orange Republic.

1969: CUA becomes SACU

The agreement signed in 1910 and creating the CUA was in place in 1969 when fresh negotiations were held between the sovereign states, with Botswana and Lesotho having achieved independence a few years before. In accordance with the new arrangement, the Customs Union Agreement became the Southern African Customs Union (SACU). The currencies of member states were pegged to the South African rand.

Post-apartheid SACU

In 1990, a freshly independent Namibia joined its four neighbours in the SACU. Four years later, with the abolition of apartheid in South Africa, the five member states resumed negotiations. Times had changed and the articles had to be modified. On October 21, 2002 an agreement was signed, eight years prior to the centenary celebrations of the august organization.
The South African locomotive

If SACU has provided important revenues to its members, South Africa remains the driving force of the institution. Madiba’s country alone is responsible for 90% of imports from Swaziland. Landlocked Swaziland and Lesotho rely heavily on the South African economy; while South African companies control whole sectors of the economy in Botswana and Namibia.


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