Brexit could give SA-UK trade agreement more scope - British High Commissioner to SA

British High Commissioner to South Africa, Nigel Casey, has reassured that they are working hard to ensure there is no disruption in trade between Southern Africa and the United Kingdom after Brexit.

There may also be more scope for areas and products that weren't previously included in trade deals under the banner of the European Union (EU), he told the Cape Town Press Club on Monday.

"Our number one objective and my personal highest priority since [being appointed] last April is to avoid any disruption to existing trade.

"We have with South Africa a healthy, balanced trading relationship and [are] well aware that the UK is an especially important export market for some of South Africa’s high-profile exports - cars, wine, fruit, vegetables - much of which is produced here in the Western Cape." 

Casey detailed his thoughts on trade with African countries and what was happening behind the scenes to plan for the end of the anticipated Brexit transitional period in December 2020.

He said he was pleased to say that very good progress had been made in producing an agreement with Southern African Customs Union countries (South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini [Swaziland] and Mozambique) that replicated the current deal with the EU.

"My ambition all along has been that we should be the first country or set of countries to complete this process, to give clarity and certainty to UK and Southern African exporters," he said.

"The good news is that we are close to completing that process."

Post-Brexit, there may also be greater room for the trade of certain products that were previously excluded because of direct competition with other EU growers. These included wine, fruit and vegetables.

Casey acknowledged that both the UK and South Africa had economies which were "heavily services-dominated".

One way that the government could enable future growth was to focus on removing barriers in those industries.

While no one knew yet what future SA-UK trade negotiations would look like, Casey suggested it wouldn't follow a classical model.

"But I think I would also say that future trade negotiations may well focus on areas that aren’t classical free trade agreements. So a lot of modern trade negotiations focus on behind the board issues like data protection, internet property protection, investment protection."

The UK was clear about Africa's future growth prospects and recognised that it needed to up its game, said Casey.

"To finish, Brexit is not a signal of retreat politically or economically. For us, it is a spur to reinvestment, re-engagement and raised ambition here in South Africa and around a world."

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