LESOTHO and other members of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) have welcomed a commitment by the United Kingdom to avoid trade disruptions ahead of its withdrawal from the European Union (EU).
SACU whose other member countries are Botswana, Namibia and South Africa are among Southern African Development Community (SADC) states that have a trading arrangement with the EU member states including the UK.
The UK voted in a June 2016 referendum to pull out of the 28 member EU bloc in what was dubbed the Brexit vote.
The Brexit move immediately sparked uncertainty over the fate of several multi-lateral agreements that the UK had committed to as part of the EU, including the EU-SADC Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).
The EPA deal liberalises trade between five African nations including Lesotho and the EU, superseding the non-reciprocal 16-year-old Cotonou Agreement, which is set to expire in 2020.
In terms of the EPA agreement, Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho benefit from duty-free access to the lucrative European market, but South Africa, with its more advanced economy, will still have to pay tariffs on some products it chooses to sell.
In return, the African countries are expected to open up their markets to European exports by scrapping tariffs on 86 percent of products originating in the EU.
However, the UK allayed fears about possible negative consequences that Brexit would have on EPA in a recent meeting with SACU Trade Ministers in Johannesburg, South Africa.
“SACU Ministers have welcomed the UK’s intention to avoid disruption for its trading partners as it withdraws from the EU, SACU Trade Ministers said in a joint statement issued after the meeting.
“The United Kingdom reaffirmed its commitment to the trade arrangement under the current EU- SADC Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), to maintain current market access to the United Kingdom following its withdrawal from the EU, [as well as] to ensure continuity of the effects of the EU-SADC EPA,” the SACU Trade Ministers further stated.
According to the statement, Lesotho was represented at the meeting by Fusi Notoane who stood in for Trade Minister, Tefo Mapesela.
Other countries were represented at the meeting by Vincent Seretse (Botswana), Immanuel Ngatjizeko (Namibia), Rob Davies (South Africa) and J Mabuza (Swaziland).
The UK was represented by Mark Price, its Minister responsible for Trade Policy. Mozambique which is also a member of EPA was represented by its High Commissioner to South Africa, Paulino Macaringue.
The two sides agreed to continue discussions to explore ways to ensure that EPA will not be disrupted by the UK’s departure from the EU.
“Talks are likely to focus on steps to agree an arrangement that replicates the effects of the EPA once the United Kingdom has left the EU. This would be a technical exercise to ensure continuity in the trading relationship, rather than an opportunity to renegotiate existing terms,” the SACU Ministers said.
The SACU ministers also agreed to continue discussions on how best to work with Mozambique, given its participation in EPA.