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Brexit offers business opportunities for SA - envoy

| Economic factors

Britain’s High Commissioner to South Africa, Judith Macgregor, says Britain’s imminent exit from the European Union (Brexit) offers greater business opportunities for South Africa which it should take advantage of.

She was speaking about the implications of Brexit at the British Chamber of Business in Southern Africa, in Johannesburg.

Macgregor said new Prime Minister Theresa May’s commitment to a more global policy, her creation of the department of international trade and the desire of British companies to look for business beyond Europe, had all created opportunities for South Africa.

“To get a real cabinet member (Liam Fox) who’s focused on international trade is what’s required really,” she said, adding that in the past international trade fell under a deputy minister who also had several other responsibilities.

Macgregor has just returned from Britain, where she spoke to British business people, who told her they would continue to do business with Europe, but would also start to look further afield including for more commerce with South Africa.

“So I think it’s a great opportunity for South Africa to come across to the UK and take your bandwagon around the UK, presenting your opportunities, your platforms for the rest of Africa, plans for economic, regional integration in Africa.”

Macgregor said it was too early to say what sort of free trade arrangement the UK would eventually negotiate with South Africa. Trade is now governed by the existing Trade, Development and Co-operation Agreement between South Africa and the EU.

On October 1 this is due to be overtaken by the new Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) which the EU had signed with South Africa and five other Southern African countries last month.

She said the EPA was likely to be ratified by the EU Parliament and the Southern African countries in time to come into force on October 1.

This would be the framework for SA-UK trade for some time as May had made it clear she would not trigger Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon to start negotiations for Britain’s exit from the EU before the end of 2016.

Macgregor could not say yet if the UK would then negotiate separate trade deals with South Africa and other regional countries, or a regional trade deal like the EPA.

But in any case she was sure May would not allow any hiatus between Britain’s current trade arrangements through the EU and new UK-only trade deals.

Macgregor said the new trade deals which the UK negotiated might be even more ambitious than the present EU ones – meaning Britain might seek greater access to markets both ways.

She underlined three of the objectives which May had laid out after taking office this week.

The first was that May would carry out the wishes of British people to leave the EU and would make a success of it.

“Whatever arrangement we make, we will always remain close to Europe. As our new foreign secretary (Boris Johnson) has said, culturally, physically, emotionally, we are European. That will not change.”

“But we will not be formally part of the European Union.”

May’s second important undertaking was to lay out “a new vision of Britain in the world, a new and pretty out there policy, commensurate with out international obligations, standing and funding”.

Macgregor added that the UK was the only country which met both the OECD’s goal of funding 0.7% of its GDP on development aid and the Nato goal of spending 2% of its GDP on defence.

“Those are spent overseas. So it will be a very forward-leaning, energetic and global policy.”

May’s third important commitment had been to take forward the whole of the UK, including the other unions with devolved powers - Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - as well as all classes, parts, grades and types of people.


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