Following his recent trip to South Africa for talks with senior representatives of the countries of the Southern African Customs Union (Sacu) – Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland – as well as Mozambique, UK Trade Policy Minister Lord Price wrote a column which was issued by the British High Commission in Pretoria. (Lord Price’s position is equivalent to that of a Deputy Minister in South Africa; in the UK, Cabinet Ministers are designated as Secretaries of State, or Secretaries, for short.)
“My purpose in visiting the region was to make [this] message clear: the UK’s withdrawal from the EU (European Union) does not signify a withdrawal from the world, but an increased openness, . . . I am committed to strengthening the trading ties between the UK and Southern Africa, and to ensuring that, together, our businesses are well placed to grasp the opportunities of the future,” he assured. (The British withdrawal from the EU is known, for convenience, as Brexit.)
He emphasised that South African-UK bilateral trade was worth almost £10-billion and that this country was Britain’s biggest trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa, while the UK was one of the biggest foreign investors in South Africa. He pointed to the long-standing cultural and institutional relationships between his country and the Southern African region, and the large-scale two-way tourist flows.
He reassured that London was determined to maintain trade continuity with African countries. Indeed, he noted that recent British government policy announcements made by the Prime Minister and by the International Trade and International Development Secretaries had focused on increasing support for Africa in terms of economic growth, trade and investment, including maintaining duty-free and quota-free access to the British market for least-developed countries.
This was, in fact, the fundamental reason for his visit to the region and his talks with Sacu trade representatives. Currently, trade between Sacu countries and the UK is governed by an agreement between the Southern African Development Community (of which the Sacu countries are members) and the EU – the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). The UK-Sacu talks were about how the two sides could jointly develop an agreement that would reproduce the EPA once the UK had left the EU. “I’m pleased that we are like-minded on this: we agreed that this should be a straightforward task in our mutual interest,” he stated.
He observed that the EPA provided a great degree of access to EU markets and also had a development focus. “This will continue,” he affirmed. “We will continue to support African economies by offering a high degree of market access for their goods, whilst helping partners to take advantage of that access through Aid for Trade support.” Certainty for businesses, of all sizes and in all Sacu countries, should be ensured by a rapid and simple reproduction of the existing Sacu-EU trading system.
The aim is more than just preventing any trade disruption. It is, he stated, also about establishing a foundation that will permit both sides to reinforce and expand their trade relationships into the future. “We are counting on your support, throughout.
“Trade is now back at the heart of the UK government’s policy agenda and, for the first time in over 30 years, the UK has a dedicated department for international trade,” highlighted Lord Price. “It is the job of my department to help build a Global Britain – the most passionate advocate of open, free and fair trade anywhere in the world. We will strengthen and revive trading arrangements with some of the world’s most dynamic economies. Post-Brexit, we will be able to take advantage of the 90% global growth that is projected to occur beyond the borders of Europe – with a key focus on Africa.”