The UK/SA “trade deal” is not really a trade deal

It would be exciting to think that the UK and South Africa (and the other members of the Southern African Customs Union plus Mozambique – collectively SACUM) have struck a new and improved trade deal as the UK continues the Sisyphean task of leaving the EU.

Sadly, that is not true. What has actually happened is that SACUM and the UK have signed a trade continuity agreement. After two years of intense negotiation, they have all agreed to… replicate the existing EU agreement that currently dictates the terms of trade between these two groups. There are a few cosmetic tweaks to the agreement – the duty-free wine quota for us is smaller, for example – but the bones of the deal are the same as the existing EU agreement.

This is similar to the “deal” struck between the UK and South Korea, under which the two will continue to trade on the terms agreed between South Korea and the EU. However, South Korea has said the deal is only good for two years, after which it must be revisited.

This continuity agreement is great news, obviously, as it insulates SA from a no-deal Brexit. But it does not represent a better trade deal for either us or the UK. If SA is to benefit from Brexit, our negotiators will have to strike a far more ambitious and far-reaching deal with their UK counterparts.

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