Theresa May has announced that the UK has secured its first post-Brexit trade deal during her trip to boost British exports in Africa.
The prime minister confirmed that Britain would replicate a deal the EU currently has with six southern African nations.
She also added that the UK would invest an additional £4bn in African economies, with the hope of further match investment from the private sector to come.
But the prime minister also faced accusations that she was playing catch in courting African trade, with France, the US and China all having made concerted efforts.
Speaking in Cape Town she said she wanted to see “strong African economies that British companies can do business with” adding that the “integrated global economy means healthy African economies are good news for British people as well as African people”.
She said: “That’s why I’m delighted that we will today confirm plans to carry over the European Union’s Economic Partnership Agreement with the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) and Mozambique once the EU’s deal no longer applies to the UK.
“As a Prime Minister who believes both in free markets and in nations and businesses acting in line with well-established rules and principles of conduct, I want to demonstrate to young Africans that their brightest future lies in a free and thriving private sector.”
Countries in the SACU agreement include Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland, with Mozambique also included in the pact with the EU that the UK will take on.
Britain plans to take on all of the EU’s current trade deals after Brexit with agreement of the other country’s involved, but the announcement that the first has been locked in will be a boost to Ms May.
She had already let it be known that she was preparing to use the UK’s aid and development spending to support Britain’s private sector in making greater investment in the continent.
The prime minister said the “driving focus” of the UK’s development programme will be to ensure the governments in Africa have the “environment, knowledge, institutions and support” to private sector investment.
She added: “And to help bring those investments about, I can today announce an additional £4bn programme of UK investment in African economies that will pave the way for at least another £4bn of private sector financing.”
It came moments before she held a bilateral meeting with South African president Cyril Ramaphosa at which the agreement laying ground for the deal was to be set in stone.
But at a press conference after her speech Ms May was forced to deny she was “late to the party”, with African leaders she is meeting this week having already met and formed relations with leaders of other large economies – including President Trump, President Xi of China and Emmanuel Macron of France.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies