On 14 November 2013, the South Africa Revenue Service (SARS) announced that the Minister of Finance has approved that South Africa’s trade statistics will in future include data in respect of trade with Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland (BLNS countries).

BLNS country-trade statistics have previously not been included in the trade statistics because of the customs duty free flow of trade within the Southern African Customs Union (SACU).

BLNS merchandise trade however, has a material impact on South Africa’s trade balance. South Africa exported R103.8bn to and imported R21.5bn from BLNS countries. In the last full year (2012) this resulted in a positive trade balance of R82.3bn for trade with BLNS countries.

South Africa’s total trade deficit for 2012 was R116.9bn. Had the BLNS trade data been included, the deficit would have been R34.6bn.

The view is therefore that direct trade within the BLNS countries should be included in the calculation of the monthly trade statistics to provide a more accurate reflection of South Africa’s trade.

Furthermore, SARS’s customs modernisation programme has resulted in its systems moving to new technologically enhanced platforms that enabled better electronic capturing of trade data that was previously done manually. The modernised system greatly improves the accuracy of trade data and allows the reporting and analysis of trade data to be done in real-time.

SARS worked very closely with the National Treasury (NT) and the South Africa Reserve Bank (SARB) in preparing the trade statistics that includes trade with the BLNS countries.

The SARB has welcomed the revision of the trade statistics “as valuable additions to building block data used to compile South Africa’s balance of payments.”

While the Bank has always included estimates of the trade between South Africa and this group of countries in its compilation of South Africa’s overall imports and exports, the new building block data will be incorporated in the balance of payments, leading to improved measurement. Previously published statistics will also be revised. The revised balance of payments data for South Africa will be finalised in the next few weeks and published in the Bank’s Quarterly Bulletin, due to be released on 3 December 2013,” the SARB said in a statement.

It is SARS’ intention to approach the United Nations to review the treatment of South Africa’s trade data that will now include BLNS trade numbers.

In addition to the inclusion of the BLNS trade figures, SARS is also contemplating certain other revisions to improve the reporting of trade statistics in the future. Some of these include the following:

  • publishing of imports on both a Free On Board (FOB) and a Cost Insurance Freight (CIF) basis to align it with UN principles,
  • compiling statistics on the date when the goods are actually released into or from South Africa’s economy, rather than using the date on which the goods entered the customs’ system for ultimate release from or into the SA economy, and
  • publishing gold exports as recorded on the SARS system reflecting the physical export movement of gold as opposed to the current practice of reporting the SARB gold export data on the IMF change of ownership basis.

These changes will however, only be finalised and implemented after consultation with international experts and other relevant stakeholders.

The preliminary numbers following the inclusion of the BLNS trade, are summarised in the following tables for -

  • The month of September 2013
  • The nine months to September 2013
  • The calendar years from 2010 to 2012

Click here to view table.

The amendments are a positive development and we trust that the new modernised system will also provide better information on what:

  • is imported directly into the BLNS countries and from there to South Africa, considering that South African importers can be held liable for the customs duties on goods imported into the BLNS countries and from there to South Africa where the South African importer does not have access to the import documentation into the BLNS country and cannot prove that the goods were entered into the BLNS country,
  • is manufactured in the BLNS countries and exported to South Africa, to verify that the goods do not qualify for preferential treatment under the Agreement on Trade, Development and Co-operation between the European Community and their Member States and the Republic of South Africa upon importation into the European Community.
  • The BLNS countries’ trade balance is with South Africa and the rest of the world since this will give an indication of what is imported into BLNS countries and destined for South Africa.