Citrus is among South Africa's leading farm-export products. Picture: Supplied
Citrus is among South Africa's leading farm-export products. Picture: Supplied

With the Brexit deadline fast approaching, uncertainty is creeping in over SA manufacturers and farmers’ continued preferential access to the UK market.

The government said recently that the Southern African Customs Union (Sacu), of which SA is a member state, was close to finalising a deal with the UK to replicate the existing economic partnership agreement which the customs union has with the EU.

Sacu includes SA, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Eswatini (Swaziland).

The UK is due to leave the EU with or without a deal at the end of October. With no deal in place, Britain would immediately fall outside the EU’s trade regime.

The UK, a major investor in SA, is the world’s sixth-biggest economy with a GDP nearly nine times the size of SA’s. The country was SA’s sixth-largest trading partner in 2018, with total trade close to R80bn.

DA MP Dean Macpherson said on Monday he had written to trade & industry minister Ebrahim Patel calling on him to update the National Assembly on the progress made towards a post-Brexit deal between the UK and SA.

“By all accounts, it appears that the UK is set to crash out of the European Union without a deal which could have massive consequences for South Africa’s economy, our exports, especially in the agricultural and financial sectors and jobs in these sectors,” said Macpherson.

SA exports R64bn worth of goods through the EU customs union, duty free, of which R10bn is from Western Cape industries such as fruit and wine. Once the UK leaves the EU, this preferential trade could be at risk due to the nonfinalisation of a roll-over deal between the UK and Sacu, said Macpherson.

“With the clock ticking towards Brexit on October 31 2019, time is running out to provide certainty for South African manufacturers and farmers and that is why Patel must update the nation through parliament.

“Ultimately, it will be MPs who will have to ratify any deal between the UK and SA to safeguard our export interests,” said Macpherson.

Department of trade & industry spokesperson Sidwell Medupe said the government is committed to ensure that a trade arrangement with the UK is in place before Brexit to ensure that exports are not negatively affected.

“The affected governments are hard at work to finalise the terms of an agreement. Ebrahim Patel will provide an update on progress as soon as the process has been concluded,” said Medupe. 

Officials from the department are due to brief the portfolio committee on trade & industry on Wednesday on existing trade relations and agreements. They will also provide MPs with a status report on negotiations and implementation of all trade deals, including an update on Brexit negotiations.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za