Theresa May to visit SA this week in bid to strengthen post-Brexit trade

Britain's Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party Theresa May. (Justin Tallis, AFP)
Britain's Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party Theresa May. (Justin Tallis, AFP)

Prime Minister Theresa May this week will travel to three African nations as she seeks to emphasise the trading opportunities open to the UK as it leaves the European Union.

The premier will meet with her counterparts in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya on a five-day visit accompanied by 29 business executives ranging from FTSE 100 bank Standard Chartered to London-based start-up, which has created an information-sharing mobile platform for farmers.

May is trying to strengthen ties with economies outside the EU as the clock ticks down towards Britain’s scheduled departure from the world’s largest trade bloc in March. The UK sees potential in a continent with a young and growing population - currently 16% of the world’s total - but which attracts just 3% of foreign direct investment and accounts for just 3% of global goods trade.

“As we prepare to leave the European Union, now is the time for the UK to deepen and strengthen its global partnerships,’’ May said in a statement. “A more prosperous, growing and trading Africa is in all of our interests.”

Brexit tensions

May departs as hardened euroskeptics in her ruling Conservative party are pressing to rip up her blueprint for keeping close ties to the EU goods market after Brexit. With just seven months left before the March 29 exit, concern is growing in the financial markets that negotiations could break down without an agreement.

The prime minister has ordered her top officials to attend a special cabinet meeting on September 13, with a focus on contingency planning for a departure without an agreement, according to The Sunday Times. The meeting, first reported by Bloomberg News, will take stock of preparations so far and plan what further actions are needed.

UK ministers are split on the impact of a no-deal Brexit. Last week, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond warned Britain would be 80 billion pounds ($103 billion) worse off without an agreement. But in an interview with The Sunday Times, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said such forecasts should be treated with “a measure of caution” because they’ve been “wrong” in the past.

Stemming immigration

On her African tour, May will emphasise the importance to Europe of investing in stability and security in the continent to the south in order to stem the flow of migrants seeking refuge on European shores.

“It is in the world’s interest to help secure African stability, jobs and growth because conflict, poor work prospects and economic instability will continue to encourage migration and dangerous journeys to Europe,’’ her office said.

While it’s May’s first visit to the region as premier, she visited Tunisia as Home Secretary. It’s also the first visit by a UK premier to sub-Saharan Africa since 2013, and the first to Kenya - a British protectorate until 1962 - in more than 30 years.

Business chiefs

May will meet with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in Cape Town on Tuesday, before flying to Abuja on Wednesday to see Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, and then to Nairobi on Thursday for a meeting with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

The business delegation includes Standard Chartered Chief Executive Officer Bill Winters, London Stock Exchange Group CEO David Schwimmer and Scotch Whisky Association CEO Karen Betts. Other companies and organisations represented include Bechtel UK, CDC Group, the City of London Corporation, the Financial Conduct Authority, JCB, Mabey Bridge and Mott Macdonald.

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