By Hilary Mare
THE Southern African Customs Union (SACU) has written a letter to the United Kingdom government, formally requesting the initiation of talks on the terms of the bilateral trade relationship that will be put in place, after Britain exits the European Union (EU) in 2019.
On 29 March, British Prime Minister, Theresa May, formally triggered Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, which gives any EU member the right to quit unilaterally, and outlines the procedure for doing so. It gives the leaving country two years to negotiate an exit deal, and once it’s set in motion, it can’t be stopped, except by unanimous consent of all member states.
May subsequently also called for a snap, 8 June general election, which she claimed was necessary to provide the country with the stable leadership required to see the UK through its Brexit negotiations.
Confirming the commencement of deliberations with the UK, South Africa’s Trade and Industry Minister, Dr Rob Davies, told members of the British Chamber of Business in Southern Africa last week that the SACU letter, dated 7 April, followed discussions he had held on behalf of customs union, with the UK Minister of State for Trade and Investment, Lord Mark Price.
These discussions with Price had taken place at the inaugural Commonwealth Trade Ministers Meeting, in London on 9 and 10 March.
Davies and Price agreed that the discussions between the UK and SACU should be “done quickly”, and that the recently ratified Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the EU should provide the framework for the immediate period, following Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.
Any possible improvements to the agreement could form part of a ‘medium-term’ bilateral negotiation agenda.
The EPA, which took more than 10 years to negotiate, includes SACU members Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, South Africa and Swaziland, as well as non-SACU member Mozambique. The agreement has improved Namibia’s access to EU markets. The deal was signed in Kasane, Botswana, in June 2016, and ratified by all participants in November last year.
Davies said SACU was eager for negotiations to begin with the UK, which would have several other more pressing negotiating priorities in the run-up to Brexit. However, owing to the 8 June election, Davies said talks were unlikely to start until the end of June, at the earliest.
“For most of the countries that are part of SACU we think that there is probably very little to talk about, because they have duty-free, quota-free access into the EU. Presumably, they will continue to have duty-free, quota-free access in to the UK,” Davies said.
SACU intends to have negotiations wrapped up well-ahead of 2019, so as to ensure that there was no disruption in the trade relationship, which both sides recognised as being important.
Bilateral trade between Namibia and the United Kingdom (UK) recently stood at N$2 billion (2015), with the export of Namibian goods to the UK estimated at N$1 billion and imports from the UK valued at N$983 million.
British High Commissioner to Namibia, Marianne Young, recently expressed optimism that the trade between the countries will grow exponentially, basing her assessment on the excellent bilateral agreements between the two nations.
The EPA provides duty-free and quota-free market access to African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) products into the EU. For Namibia, this agreement does not only guarantee continued market access for current products, such as beef, grapes, dates and fish, but also provides an opportunity to diversify its export basket into other new, exportable products.
“In return for market access, Namibia, as with other ACP countries, will need to reciprocate, by granting market access for EU goods into their territories, at the agreed preferential duties, during the implementation of the EPA. As the principal outcome of the EPA negotiations, secure market access for our products into the EU will continue to support an enabling framework for production, manufacturing and value-addition in Namibia, and thus support the achievement of the ‘Growth at Home’ strategy for industrialisation,” Namibia’s Finance Minister, Calle Schlettwein, said last year..
“I wish to add that despite the important benefits that are obtained through the market access that was negotiated through the EPA, and similar agreements, we are concerned about the long-term erosion of market access preferences globally,” Schlettwein added. – Additional reporting by engineeringnews
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