Throughout my visit to South Africa and Namibia last month, I was struck by the bonds that link the UK and the southern African region. Our historical, commercial, educational and Commonwealth links all help underpin our longstanding and mutually beneficial relationship.
For me this relationship has a personal significance. Over nearly two decades during my career at British supermarket chain Waitrose I made regular visits to South Africa, visiting suppliers who exported excellent food and wine.
I was there to support the work of the Waitrose Foundation, a scheme which sees a percentage of profits reinvested directly back into the farming communities of the Western Cape. I saw how over 50,000 farmworkers and their families benefited because of the Foundation and its partners.
This visit I was delighted to be able to make my first trip to Namibia and to not only hear about, but taste some or your excellent products – including Namibian beef of course which is one of the most important exports to the UK.
British business has a long-held commitment to supporting Southern Africa’s economic growth and development. My purpose in visiting the region was to make that message clear: the UK’s withdrawal from the EU does not signify a withdrawal from the world, but an increased openness, and that long-held commitment remains steadfast.
Trade is now back at the heart of the UK government’s policy agenda, and for the first time in over 30 years, the UK has a dedicated department for international trade. It is the job of my department to help build a Global Britain – the most passionate advocate of open, free and fair trade anywhere in the world.
We will strengthen and revive trading arrangements with some of the world’s most dynamic economies. Post-Brexit, we will be able to take advantage of the 90% of global growth that is projected to occur beyond the borders of Europe – with a key focus on Africa.
Our priority is to ensure continuity and avoid any disruption to trade with our African partners. That’s why at the G20 Summit Prime Minister Theresa May announced a new partnership with Africa, focused more strongly on supporting African aspirations for trade, investment and growth.
It’s also why I agreed with my southern African counterparts to ensure that there is no disruption to our trading relationship under the EU-SADC Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) as the UK leaves the EU.
That was the key purpose of my visit to Southern Africa – meeting with trade ministers and representatives from Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland, to discuss how we can work together on an arrangement that replicates the effects of the EPA once the UK has left the EU.
I’m pleased that we’re like-minded on this: we agreed that this should be a straightforward task in our mutual interest.
As a development-focused trade agreement first and foremost, the EPA provides a high degree of market access. This will continue. More than this, however, the EPA aims to increase development, support regional integration around trade, help develop regional value chains, and ultimately create a stable business climate so UK and African businesses can trade with confidence.
None of these aims change when the UK leaves the EU. We will continue to support African economies by offering a high degree of market access for their goods.
A swift and straightforward replication of the current trading arrangement should provide certainty to traders and businesses – small and large, all across the region.
This is not simply about avoiding any disruption to the status quo, but about securing a foundation enabling us to work together to strengthen and deepen our trading relationship in the future. We are counting on your support throughout.
Underpinning all of this is our recognition that the UK’s relationship with our African partners represents an exciting and enhanced trading opportunity into the future.
Our common values, shared history, and commercial confidence in each other’s economies mean we have a strong base from which to build. I look forward to seeing what more we can achieve together.
* Lord Price is the UK minister of state for trade policy.