Sean Sheridan
JOHANNESBURG -  On 29th March 2019 the UK will leave the European Union. 

Currently the noises emanating from the British Government and Westminster is that there will be no exit deal. Inevitably such a result will lead to dire economic consequences for UK businesses and citizens alike.

Major companies already have voted with their feet in relocating to new markets including brands such as Sony, Diageo and controversially Dyson, a leading proponent of Brexit now departing to Singapore, and many of the City-based fund management operations and insurance companies.  Engineering and construction companies from Northern Ireland, a part of the UK and with a common border with the Irish Republic which is member state of the European Union, that have historically had contracts in many of the other 27 EU countries are now desperately seeking new markets in other parts of the world. But the issue is which markets are most amenable and ready to accommodate large-scale UK businesses.

At a recent meeting with Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, a Westminster Member of Parliament and the UK Trade Envoy to Egypt, he stated that if there was one country outside the EU that businesses should focus upon it was South Africa. Although the country has many well-documented problems nevertheless it is a region that has robust financial and legal regimes, English is widely spoken, travel to and from the UK and Northern Ireland is readily available and access to raw materials is plentiful.

A number of representatives of firms based in Northern Ireland are currently in South Africa endeavouring to arrange meetings and presentations with local agencies, the DTI and Chambers of Commerce to more fully understand how best companies can relocate to the region. Ambassador Sadick Jaffer, the Chief Director of the DTI, recently stated that he is planning visits to London, Scotland and Northern Ireland in the near future to actively promote South Africa as a preferred location for many UK businesses that are planning to relocate outside the EU. It is a strategy that should be aggressively pursued as companies in the UK are keen to understand just what South Africa can offer.

Historically the perception of South Africa in Western Europe has been a combination of fear and trepidation. Fear of doing business with the  country due to issues such as political instability, nepotism and corruption, inequality that leads to your high crime rate and a government that is divided on so many issues. And trepidation in that moving to the region may be costly and ineffective.

The Brexit debacle and the impasse at Westminster on trying to reach consensus over an exit deal provides a rare opportunity for South Africa to aggressively market its capabilities to UK-based companies.  South Africa now has a small window of opportunity to reach out and grab a major slice of those UK and Northern Irish businesses that are looking for new manufacturing bases.  This is an opportunity not to be missed.

Sean Sheridan is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Securities and Investments having worked for a number of global fund managers including Invesco Fund Managers and Old Mutual Asset Managers in London and Royal Bank of Scotland in Luxembourg. He is a Director of Trade Development Services in Northern Ireland.

- BUSINESS REPORT