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The cap would fit very nicely

Britain’s new trade deal with Australia contains a feature that might well interest South Africa’s trade authorities – a 15-year cap on the volumes of duty-free goods allowed under the treaty.

This is a new provision for the United Kingdom, and the Australian deal may become a model for future UK trade pacts. Those negotiated so far – including the UK deal with South Africa – have largely been a copy of the trade deals to which Britain was a party before it left the European Union at the end of last year.

Those deals, in turn, were the Economic Partnership Agreements, or EPAs, which have brought both benefits and hardships to African nations. After the EU trade deal with South Africa came into force, phasing out tariffs on EU poultry meat over 12 years, a flood of EU poultry imports occurred. No quotas are allowed, and no new taxes can be imposed without EU agreement.

Now Britain, in order to protect UK farmers, is setting import quotas for 15 years on a variety of agricultural products from Australia. British farmers are already protesting that the quotas are set too high to have real effect, but it is the principle that should interest South Africa. The UK government says there will be “a cap on tariff-free imports for 15 years using tariff rate quotas and other safeguards”.

Had South Africa been able to set realistic quotas and other safeguards when the EU free trade deals were first done in 2000, poultry farmers could have been spared two decades of distress, and thousands of South African jobs could have been saved.

Might this be a model for future South African trade negotiations, including revisions of its free trade pact with the EU? Unfortunately, all EU EPAs with African countries explicitly prohibit the use of quantitative controls (ie, quotas) on imports from the EU. 

Another case of the EU calling on African governments to follow what the EU says, not what the EU does. Clearly what’s sauce for the goose (EU) is not sauce for the gander (Africa).

Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson outside No 10 Downing Street. Picture by Tim Hammond / No 10 Downing Street. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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