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UK likely to be SA’s biggest foreign direct investor — even after Brexit

Created after the Brexit decision, the UK’s department for international trade sees SA as a key business partner.

Last month marked a year to go until the UK leaves the EU. While we’ve been clear that we will remain close friends and partners of the EU in future, we also have a unique opportunity to re-invigorate our relationships with other trading partners around the world.

The UK’s new department for international trade, created after the referendum, is leading the way. As we look to establish our own independent trade policy for the first time in more than 40 years, our business relationships with countries such as SA will be key to our mutual prosperity.

After all, as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts, 90% of global growth will be outside the EU in the coming decades, and the UK’s new trade policy should be about helping businesses from both our countries work together even more extensively.

UK businesses are already recognising SA as a great place to do business. SA’s bilateral trade with the UK was worth £8.8bn in 2016 — a 9.2% increase on the previous year. The UK remains SA’s biggest long-term foreign investor, with 45% of SA’s FDI stock originating from the UK. And there are many South African companies active and present in the UK, growing their businesses and sustaining jobs in SA.

We are clear that this strong relationship will continue as the UK leaves the EU. I’m pleased to report that we’re making excellent progress in our discussions to ensure continuity of the regional Economic Partnership Agreement with SA, the other members of the Southern African Customs Union, and Mozambique.

The UK and partners in the region share a common goal of replicating this trade agreement to provide certainty of our trading relationship for businesses, and so that we have a framework that will allow us to build an even closer economic partnership in future.

I’m looking forward to discussing this with Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies when we meet in Johannesburg this week.

But we can do even better. To improve our already impressive record of working together in business, we need to make it even easier for UK and South African companies to operate in each other’s markets, to overcome any regulatory barriers that make trade more expensive.

There is huge potential, given the complementary nature and shared entrepreneurial spirit of the UK and South African economies. Our companies stand to benefit if we are better able to bring together the home-grown technology and innovation we see being created in SA and the UK. Our shared strong commitment to open trade, democracy and the rule of law gives us the solid foundation from which to build an exciting and prosperous future.

Supporting this ambition is where our post-Brexit relationship can flourish further. Our expertise can be SA’s expertise, and UK companies stand ready to help advance economic transformation for SA’s future. The UK’s export credit agency, UK Export Finance (UKEF) has nearly £3bn available to support UK companies doing business in SA, as well as South African companies looking to buy British goods and services.

And as the UK welcomes a diverse community of 52 Commonwealth nations at next week’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, including many of SA’s regional partners, I look forward to embracing a future of fair and free trade that we can build together for shared success.