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UK/Africa: Preparing for a post-Brexit realignment

By Ben Fox
Posted on Tuesday, 8 October 2019 10:39

A group of school children at the ID Mkhize Secondary School, take a selfie with a phone with a Union Jack cover after a visit to the school by Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May in Gugulethu near Cape Town, South Africa, August 28, 2018. Rodger Bosch/Pool via REUTERS

Britain has begun to lay the groundwork in strengthening its ties with Africa after Brexit is due to take place on October 31. Government officials are making optimistic sounds, while analysts are worrying about the impact of a potential no-deal Brexit.

[This is the second of our 5-part series on EU-Africa relations. For the first article, please follow this link. Tomorrow; France-Africa]

British government officials say that they have big plans for the continent.

  • Britain has vowed to be Europe’s leading investor in Africa by 2022.
  • It also plans to expand its diplomatic presence in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, traditionally its main trading partners in sub-Saharan Africa.

In the meantime, although British officials in Brussels talk of “very close partnerships” with the European Union (EU) on development in general and Africa relations, Britain has effectively been an ‘empty chair’ in the debate on the next seven-year EU budget — known as the multi-annual financial framework.

The budget will determine EU development spending and the post-Cotonou framework for the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of countries.

Analysts in Brussels fear that, particularly on trade, Britain’s departure weakens the EU’s offer on trade and may encourage African countries to play off the EU and UK against each other.

  • The UK’s first post-Brexit priority vis-à-vis Africa is trade relations. But the government has not opened formal talks with any country and, until it formally leaves the bloc on October 31, is only able to offer identical trade terms to the EU’s trade accords with African countries, by cutting-and-pasting them into UK domestic law.
  • Even that has been a slow process. Zimbabwe, the Seychelles, Mauritius and Madagascar are the only ones to have formally agreed to a rollover trade deal.
  • A rollover deal with the six countries in the Southern African Customs Union, which includes South Africa, has been finalised. South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa’s had previously agreed to continue trading with the UK on identical terms after Brexit.

Meanwhile, African policy-makers are also worried about the spillover effects on the global economy if Britain leaves the EU without an exit deal on October 31.

Baker McKenzie’s managing partner, Morné van der Merwe, wrote: “Volatility in financial markets and increased investor risk aversion are considered to be the main challenges brought about by a hard Brexit, not just for South Africa but sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. Brexit is expected to result in losses to trade, tourism and aid across Africa.”

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