South Africa will retain its preferential trade relationship with the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel told Parliament on Tuesday.
Patel was briefing MPs on the recently concluded SACUM-UK Economic Partnership Agreement. The deal sets out the rules of bilateral trade between the UK and a bloc of countries including South Africa, Lesotho, eSwatini, Namibia, Botswana and Mozambique.
"Under the agreement, SA-assembled cars – if I can use that as an example - will have tariff-free access to the UK, making our cars more competitive in that market," he said.
Patel said that, without the new trade deal, many SA products - including cars - would have lost their duty-free status if the UK were to exit the EU as planned on October 31 without a deal.
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the UK would automatically revert to trading on World Trade Organisation terms, said Patel, which would mean an increase in tariffs for SA exports without a new trade deal.
The new deal rolls over and replicates the terms of trade in the existing economic partnership between SADC and the EU, he said, adding that it offers "seamless uninterrupted trade" to give SA business confidence. This includes 0% tariffs for SA-assembled auto exports.
The treaty took two years to negotiate and runs to 2000 pages, including annexes, he added.
Liz Truss, the UK's international trade secretary, said in a statement last week that the deal was a "major milestone as the UK prepares to become an independent trading nation once again".
Patel told MPs the deal had to be ratified all countries involved, which may not take place before October 31. He said the it made provision for this by allowing trade to continue without disruption on the agreed terms until the it had been ratified.
Opposition parties and the ANC praised Patel's department for concluding the trade agreement with one of SA's major trading partners, with the exception of the EFF, who said SA still had a colonial status in its trade relationship with the UK.