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EU Trade Group Fears Brexit Will Hamper Africa’s Duty Free Access

When Brexit finally happens, the U.K. will have to redo its trade deals, and a coalition of brands and retailers are calling for Africa to retain its tariff free privileges once the secession is settled.

Sustainability-focused non-profit Proudly Made in Africa and shoe manufacturer Soul of Africa spoke at an event at the House of Lords last week, calling on the U.K. government to maintain Africa’s tariff free access after Brexit as the continent could prove a major ethical source for the U.K. market.

“The zero tariffs and zero quotas regime is now at risk with Brexit,” Albert Ticker, Proudly Made in Africa trustee, said in a statement. “It is essential that the tariff free market access be maintained for African fashion products as it makes the crucial difference for the African supply chains engaging international buyers.”

Fashion goods from Africa currently enjoy tariff free access to the EU under the Everything But Arms (EBA) program, which could give certain goods as much as a 12 percent advantage over the same items out of China.

The thing about Africa that’s equal parts appealing and troublesome for brands interested in making there, is that the manufacturing sector is so new that there’s an opportunity to build it ethically and sustainably from the start. That newness, however, also means certain supply chain necessities, like viable infrastructure, aren’t at the level they need to be.

But because of the rapid growth in many African economies and the region’s increasing ability to add value to the goods it produces, jobs on the continent have increased and livelihoods have improved.

“For U.K. retailers this can render value-chains shorter, more manageable and more transparent, and will create new business opportunities,” baroness Lola Young, trustee of the Aid by Trade Foundation and host of the House of Lords event, said.

More and more Western retailers are giving Africa a closer look as a potential part of their supply chains, and with countries on the continent enjoying duty free access to U.S. and European markets, not to mention the ample, young, available workforce, potential for production there is big.

“Africa’s lions are on the industrial march,” Nebil Kellow, managing director of market development firm Enterprise Partners, said. “As China transitions toward higher value-add in manufacturing and services, what we are also witnessing is the beginnings of structural transformation across the continent, whose educated youth are eager for jobs and ready to take up the mantle.”