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Britain seeks deeper ties with S.Africa post-Brexit: Hammond

Finance minister Philip Hammond on Wednesday said Britain was working on strengthening ties with non-EU partners before exiting the European Union.

After a string of “constructive” talks with top political and business leaders, the chancellor of the exchequer, who is currently in South Africa, pledged millions in aid for developmental programmes.

“As Britain leaves the EU, we will be deepening our work with our international partners to build ever stronger economic links around the world,” he said in a statement issued by the British embassy in Pretoria.

“South Africa is a key strategic partner for the UK in Africa and internationally, and we are determined to see that go from strength to strength.”

The visit is the first leg in a three-nation tour that will take the minister to Japan and South Korea.

Hammond, who on Tuesday was in Brussels to discuss Britain’s impending departure from the European Union, is embarking “on a series of international trips to showcase the UK’s commitment to forming even stronger global ties,” according to Treasury.

Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May has stated that she will formally trigger the two-year EU divorce process by the end of March 2017.

However, Brussels and London face the daunting prospect of gruelling negotiations on future trade deals with the European Union and countries outside of the bloc.

In South Africa, Hammond met his counterpart Pravin Gordhan and International Relations Minister Maite Nkoane-Mashabane.

– ‘Tackle barriers’ –

He also visited the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and took part in a roundtable with leaders from major local companies.

Hammond told South African business leaders that Brexit “is in no way a vote by the British people to turn inwards, to close the doors, to turn our backs on the world, (it’s) quite the opposite.”

“We will manage the Brexit process very much with business equities in mind … we need to continue to attract foreign direct investment to the UK,” he assured the captains of industry and commerce.

During the talks with political leaders, he confirmed “up to £35 million ($44 million) for an ambitious new prosperity programme over the next four years supporting inclusive economic development in South Africa”.

The two countries will achieve this by working together to “tackle barriers to trade and growth, increase competitiveness, and improve ease of doing business”.

“This funding is a key part of the UK’s strategy for helping promote economic growth.”

South Africa is Britain’s biggest export market in Africa, with its bilateral trade hitting almost £8.0 billion ($10.2 billion, 9.5 billion euros) in 2015.

To build on the close business ties between the two countries, several commercial deals were announced including a $180-million Rolls Royce service contract with the national carrier South African Airways

“South African Airways have signed a new TotalCare service order for Trent 700 engines made by British company Rolls Royce that power five Airbus A330 aircraft,” the statement said.

On Thursday, Hammond is expected in Cape Town where he will meet start-ups to discuss synergies with British tech businesses and investors.

From South Africa he flies to Japan to meet the finance minister Taro Aso and Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda, as well as with Softbank chief executive Masayoshi Son.

The mobile giant’s recent $32-billion takeover of iPhone chip designer ARM Holdings is the biggest Asian investment in the UK.

In South Korea, Hammond will hold bilateral meetings with government ministers and the Bank of Korea’s governor Lee Ju-Yeol.