In this interview with New Era’s Kuzeeko Tjitemisa, Britain’s High Commission Chargé d’Affaires Charlotte Fenton reflects on bilateral relations with Namibia, the impact of Brexit and how the two countries are positioning themselves to strengthen diplomatic ties.
KT: Madam Charlotte Fenton, you came to Namibia early last year. What was your first impression of the country and what are some of the priority areas of your mandate here?
CF: I first arrived in Namibia in January 2020 and can honestly say that it felt like home straight away. A beautiful country, with blue skies and sunshine that immediately filled me with a sense of positivity. I’m so lucky that we have a wonderful team at the British High Commission who helped me settle in so quickly. I am truly blessed to have an opportunity to serve the United Kingdom here in Namibia. The main area that I work on is climate change, an area that is so important globally. Namibia has been badly affected by drought and though we have been blessed with wonderful rains this year, the extreme effects of climate change can still be seen. As the UK is hosting COP26 in November this year, this is a great opportunity to work even more closely with Namibia on a matter, which is also close to my heart. Of course, Namibia holds such amazing experiences – to see the desert ecosystem, the wildlife, and the biodiversity, these all sit closely to our work on climate change leading to climate action.
KT: Compared to other big economies like China, India, and the US, there seem to be no visible trade relations between Namibia and Britain, what is your take on this and how can this be rectified.
CF: There are many areas in which we, the UK work closely with Namibia on trade and investment, and on building on the trade relations that already exist. The UK and Namibia have – and will continue – to work together on key areas to enable inclusive economic growth for the mutual benefit of both countries and to build on our already strong trade relationship. Indeed, the relationship between the UK and Namibia is long standing, it is a partnership, and spans development cooperation, education, cultural exchange as well as cooperation through investment and direct trade. Since 2019, the UK government has been supporting the delivery of the SACU Customs Modernisation Programme.
Namibia, as a SACU member, is a direct beneficiary of this partnership. Furthermore, the UK has funded and supported the successful development of the customs systems connectivity tools for Namibia to connect with other SACU member states and to enable customs data exchange. Our support has also included funding for training on the use of the Unique Consignment Reference (or UCR) for declaration of goods to Customs, which 300 exporters and 290 customs officials have completed. The UK has supported the SACU Secretariat to develop a Gender and Inclusion Strategy to ensure that gender is incorporated within the SACU framework. This will assist SACU member states to develop initiatives geared towards addressing challenges facing women and informal traders when moving goods across the region, and initiatives to enhance capacity for customs officials. Towards the end of 2020, the UK government successfully launched the Trade Forward Southern Africa Programme (TFSA) across the SACU region and Mozambique. This UK funded programme tackles non-tariff barriers in those countries and promotes greater participation for women in trade. The programme includes an online platform where those interested in exporting and growing their business can log in to start their journey - https://tfsouthernafrica.org/. For Namibia, TFSA supports businesses to competitively grow their exports and export markets by equipping them with access to the latest trade information, building capacity to comply with market standards and customs procedures, and opening up opportunities to operate across regional and global value chains. Local companies are the engines to grow the local market and create jobs, and we are keen that they are the main beneficiaries.
KT: What will the consequences of Brexit be for Namibia or how can Namibia benefit from Brexit?
CF: The UK’s departure from the EU is an opportunity to reinvest in and strengthen our partnerships with some of the fastest growing and most dynamic economies across Africa. At the UK Africa Investment Summit, held in London in January 2020, we set out our intent to strengthen trade and investment partnerships with African countries. At the follow-up summit in January this year, the UK further emphasised our increased interest in trading with Africa. I am particularly proud of a further initiative to facilitate trade between the UK and Namibia via the Economic Partnership Agreement between the UK and SACU plus Mozambique (EPA), which entered into effect on 1 January 2021. The agreement was the result of a close collaboration by all parties involved and is testament to what we can achieve together. The EPA ensures – post departure from the EU – the continuation of duty-free, quota free access for all goods imported from Namibia, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho and Mozambique into the UK, as well as approximately 96% of goods imported from South Africa. Namibia has removed all tariffs and quotas on products covering around 85% of UK exports. Without these tariff preferences, traders in the UK and SACU+M would have faced significant additional costs in duty payments. The EPA also ensures that preferential market access through reduced tariffs or tariff rate quotas is preserved, safeguarding Namibian industries that rely on the UK market, and vice versa. For Namibia, the EPA means the continued export of products to the UK such as fruits and vegetables (£11.5 million), wood and cork (£7.4 million), and meat and meat preparations (£3.7 million). (*Statistics representing the four quarters to the end of Q3 2020)
KT: What are some of the trade areas where the UK and Namibia can improve relations?
CF: Namibia’s exports to the UK are predominantly meat and meat products, vegetables and fruits including blueberries, grapes and dates, and wood and cork. While Namibian imports from the UK vary, the main industry beneficiaries are extractives and manufacturing with vehicle and equipment, services imports for mining, explorations, construction, manufacturing and related consultancies, transport and logistics (cars & other road vehicles), and industrial machinery. As we build back better, the UK would particularly like to see an increase in cooperation on renewable energy products with more partnerships within the areas of renewable and green technologies, to create awareness and increase climate action ahead of COP26 in November this year. We would also like to collaborate more closely on financial technology, one of the UK’s leading industries. As we move towards the 4th industrial revolution, we will work more closely with Namibia to exchange knowledge and look at how Namibia can build in new and innovative ways that will enable stronger resilience of systems to external shocks in the environment, economy, trade and commercial business. Covid-19 has highlighted globally the gaps in how nations interact and work together – the online and virtual world is the new normal; e-commerce is the tool needed for global development. In this vein, last year we provided support to Namibia in examining the economic impact of Covid-19, and how Namibia can start the road to recovery following the pandemic.
KT: During the late 90s and the early 2000s, the British Embassy issued a two-year Working Holiday visa for young Namibians; however, this has since stopped. Do we foresee this Visa resuming following Brexit and provided Covid-19 regulations permit?
CF: The working holidaymaker visa scheme is no longer available for any foreign national, and there are no plans to reintroduce the scheme at this time.
KT: As it stands, Namibian nationals do not require a visa to travel to the UK, however, many Namibians have complained about being deported at airports despite this sitting arrangement? Why is this happening?
CF: Any passenger travelling to the UK is required to demonstrate that they meet the UK immigration rules regardless of whether they are visa nationals or not. Passengers should ensure they have read and understood the UK immigration rules and are able to demonstrate that these are met. Airlines will on occasion seek advice from UK Home Office officials if they have concerns that these immigration rules have not been met. The decision on whether to carry a passenger rests with the airline as is outlined in their terms and conditions.
KT: Any other information you will want to add?
CF: We at the British High Commission in Windhoek are committed and dedicated to taking forward the full remit of our work. I am proud to represent Her Majesty’s government here in Namibia, a fellow Commonwealth country, and I am looking forward to all that we will achieve in 2021 and beyond. Our work in Namibia emphasises the strong ties between our countries and opportunities for mutual support and benefit. Also, we are happy to have been able to provide support to Namibia in examining the impact of Covid-19 and how Namibia can start the road to economic recovery following the pandemic.