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 relationship is underpinned by visits to each other’s countries every year and our shared cultural and institutional frameworks.
Over nearly two decades during my career at British supermarket chain Waitrose, I took regular trips 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 farming communities in the Western Cape.
Not aid, but trade at its most free and fair.
It was through visiting communities, such as those in the Citrusdal valley, that I saw how trade can empower people to transform their lives.
Across South Africa, more than 50 000 farm workers and their families benefited from the foundation and its partners.
This is why I believe that business is a force for good.
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 this 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.
I am committed to strengthening the trading ties between the UK and Southern Africa.
South Africa is already the UK’s largest trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa, with bilateral trade reaching nearly £10 billion (R173 billion).
Exports from both countries are increasing year on year.
The UK is also one of the largest investors in South Africa.
The future holds huge opportunities.
Britain’s infrastructure capability is on hand as South Africa expands the impressive Gautrain and improves the current fleet of its national airline.
We should also pool our expertise, working together on infrastructure projects and business deals across the African continent.
Trade is now back at the heart of the UK government’s policy agenda, and for the first time in more than 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 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 on supporting trade, investment and growth.
It is also why Secretaries of State Liam Fox and Priti Patel have committed to maintaining existing duty-free and quota-free trade access to UK markets for Least Developed Countries, and why I agreed with my southern African counterparts to ensure that there is no disruption to our trading relationship under the EU-Southern African Development Community 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.
As a development-focused trade agreement, the EPA provides a high degree of market access.
We will continue to support African economies by offering market access for their goods, while helping partners to take advantage of that access through Aid for Trade support.
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 which enables us to work together to strengthen our trading relationship.
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 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.
Price is minister of state for trade policy in the UK department for international trade
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