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South Africa and UK agree terms on trade post-Brexit

  • Staff Writer: James Miller

The ANC’s Minister for Economic Development, Ebrahim Patel, has concluded a groundbreaking new trade deal with the UK, ensuring all existing trade arrangements and more have been cemented prior to the UK’s departure from the European Union (EU).

With the prospects of a no-deal Brexit having risen significantly in recent months, the onus has been on the UK to engineer new trade deals with partners across Africa and the rest of the globe in the event of a disorderly exit from the EU and immediate trade on World Trade Organization

(WTO) terms.

The spectre of a no-deal Brexit has been the elephant in the room in terms of the financial markets for several months, with the pound looking increasingly weak against both the US dollar and the euro. 

However, the pound has also become a forex market of interest among investors option trading in South Africa who are already speculating on the future price of sterling in the event that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new Brexit withdrawal agreement bill is approved by Parliament. Put options are also a useful hedge for those with 'long' positions on sterling in case a no-deal Brexit happens out of the blue, causing the pound to crash.

As the UK became South Africa’s fourth-largest export market in 2018, it was imperative for the South African government to have clarity and certainty as a Commonwealth trading partner, regardless of the Brexit outcome. Minister Patel has confirmed that the new trade agreement is effectively a "rollover" of the terms of trade in their existing European Partnership Agreement, which will enable "seamless" and "uninterrupted" trade to continue post-Brexit.

This new deal is essential for the protection of up to 175,000 jobs that have been created as a consequence of increased trade links between South Africa and the UK. It’s now a marketplace worth an estimated R142 billion to the South African economy.

What does this new trade deal offer for South Africa?

First and foremost, all automobiles assembled in South Africa can continue to be exported to the UK with tariff-free access. The new arrangement also extends the nation’s tariff-free quota for unrefined and refined sugar, canned fruits and wine – the latter extending to a whopping 70 million litres of South African wine. This is very good news for the Western Cape given that wine was its most influential export to the British Isles in 2018, valued at R1.89 billion. The new agreement also extends South Africa’s quota levels for specific duty-free products, whilst safeguarding the agricultural sector’s health and safety standards for all new products.

The nation’s existing trade terms on EU livestock will also remain applicable to British poultry, until March 2022 at the earliest.

This new trade continuity deal doesn’t just benefit South Africa before the Brexit deadline, it also offers certainty to the five other nations on the African continent within the Southern African Customs Union and Mozambique (SACU+M). The preferential trade terms will provide continued access to UK markets for Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Eswatini too.

In total, the trading relationship between the UK and the entire SACU+M was worth R184.3 billion in 2018. Consumers in the UK will continue to benefit from greater choice of goods exported from SACU+M, while the SACU+M will also benefit from UK exports of automobiles, machinery, appliances and much more.


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