High commissioner says trade with UK could increase
Soothing concerns of a trade collapse when Britain exits the European Union, a high-ranking British diplomat said yesterday that annual trade between South Africa and the United Kingdom valued at about £10-billion (R180-billion) was not only expected to be maintained, but that Britain hoped it would increase.
At an information session on the implications of the Brexit referendum and the UK’s business and trade posture going forward, High Commissioner to South Africa Dame Judith Macgregor assured a gathering at the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber that the referendum would have no immediate effect on trade between the two countries.
“Brexit is happening, but it is happening very slowly,” she said.
“Before the actual Brexit process is started, Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon – which if invoked will signal the official exit –must be activated,”Macgregor said.
“Prime Minister Theresa May has indicated that Article 50 will not be activated this side of Christmas. “In fact, no formal date has yet been set,” she said.
“Only once Article 50 has been activated will negotiations [with the EU] start. That process is expected to take about two years.”
The diplomat, whose last posting was as Britain’s ambassador to Mexico before her appointment as high commissioner to South Africa in 2013, said her country had been talking to Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan about trade in the wake of the Brexit referendum.
Macgregor listed agri-tech, which she essentially defined as food security along with associated issues such as drought, infrastructure, rail, aerospace, healthcare and information technology, as being among Britain’s priority sectors in terms of economic cooperation with South Africa.
Macgregor also made reference to the recently signed Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the European Union and South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland and Mozambique.
“This agreement will give the countries full access to European markets and will provide significant assistance to exports from these countries,” she said.
Having referred to education as another priority area in South Africa that was receiving considerable support from the United Kingdom, Macgregor named the Chevening Scholarships as being particularly relevant.
The scholarships, applications for which are now open and can be accessed at www.chevening.org, are awarded to individuals with demonstrable leadership potential and who have a strong academic background.
The scholarship offers financial support to study for a master’s degree at any UK university.
“I am delighted to call upon potential leaders from South Africa to apply for this prestigious opportunity,” Macgregor said.
“The UK is home to many of the world’s best universities, and Chevening enables you to develop academically, professionally and personally while studying in the UK.”
Chamber chief executive Kevin Hustler asked the high commissioner to consider exploring twinning agreements with British cities and institutions with a view to economic cooperation, as well as providing assistance with helping gain more exposure at British trade shows.