INCOMING British resident High Commissioner to Lesotho, Ms Anne Macro, has vowed to ensure that Britain's exit from the European Union (EU) will not disrupt trade with Lesotho and other Southern African countries.
Ms Macro, the first resident British High Commissioner in Lesotho in more than a decade, said she will prioritise collaboration with the government and the private sector "to identify and reduce barriers to trade, promote investment and stimulate economic growth".
She said this in a recent interview with the Lesotho Times shortly after presenting her credentials to His Majesty King Letsie III in Maseru.
The presentation ceremony marked the formal re-opening of the British High Commission almost 12 years after it was closed in 2005. Up until now, Britain had been represented by a Pretoria-based high commissioner who was also responsible for South Africa and Swaziland. Swaziland is set to get its own resident high commissioner as well.
The appointment of Ms Macro and the re-opening of the diplomatic mission are part of the wider British government's aims to increase its presence in Africa. The move is seen as crucial to ensuring closer cooperation with the continent, particularly Commonwealth member states on trade and investment, cyber security and environmental protection.
She described the re-opening of the resident high commission as a "great opportunity to renew the United Kingdom's historic relationship with Lesotho, a valued Commonwealth partner and friend".
"Five years ago I accompanied former High Commissioner, Judith MacGregor, as she presented her credentials to Your Majesty. We arrived from South Africa the previous day and returned there a few days later. So I am thrilled that on this occasion I make no such return journey, but will be staying here in Lesotho, as the first resident British High Commissioner since 2005.
"In August last year in Cape Town, (outgoing) Prime Minister Theresa May set out plans to expand the British government's presence in Africa. The relationship between Lesotho and Britain has remained strong in the years since 2005 but with a renewed focus on Africa, re-establishing a permanent British High Commission in Lesotho has been an important priority. This is the first step towards that and I hope that we will be able to celebrate the opening of a high commission building in the next few months," Ms Macro said.
She said the high commission in Lesotho is one of nine new high commissions which Britain will be opening in Commonwealth countries over the next year.
"This (re-opening of the high commission in Lesotho) highlights the importance the United Kingdom places on our Commonwealth partnerships and will enable us to engage more closely on the shared vision agreed by Commonwealth Heads of Government in 2018, including on trade and investment, cyber security and protection of the environment.
"I look forward to becoming reacquainted with the many non-governmental organisations, partnerships and charities that bring British and Basotho people together including Skillshare International, Sentebale, the Wales and Durham Links and Kick for Life.
"I am also looking forward to deepening engagement with the talented young Basotho (and some who are now not so young) who have studied for postgraduate degrees in the United Kingdom under the British Government's Chevening scholarship scheme. More than 80 Basotho have benefitted from this prestigious programme and Lesotho has benefitted from the expertise they bring back with them. Congratulating a further five Basotho scholars selected this year, will be one of my early tasks as High Commissioner."
Ms Macro's tenure commences at a time when Britain is in the process of pulling out of the EU, a process commonly known as Brexit. She allayed fears that Britain's withdrawal from the EU would negatively affect trade and other economic relations which Britain had committed to as an EU member.
Lesotho and other members of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), namely, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa have a preferential trading arrangement with EU member states including Britain.
Britain voted in a June 2016 referendum to pull out of the 28 member EU bloc.
The Brexit move immediately sparked uncertainty over the fate of several multi-lateral agreements that Britain had committed to as part of the EU, including the EU-SADC Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).
However, Ms Macro said she will prioritise collaboration with the government, private sector and other stakeholders "to identify and reduce barriers to trade, promote investment and stimulate economic growth".
"This collaboration includes working to ensure that as Britain leaves the European Union there is no disruption to our trade with SACU countries. In July 2017, British, SACU and Mozambican trade ministers agreed to create a bilateral framework that replicates the effects of the existing EU-SADC Economic Partnership Agreement. We have made good progress and look forward to concluding the agreement as soon as possible.
"British ministers have pledged that countries such as Lesotho will continue to benefit from tariff-free quota free trade arrangements after Brexit. We expect to begin delivering a technical assistance programme we have designed with Lesotho government officials to maximise bilateral trade.
"So there is much to do. Reinstating a resident British High Commissioner in Lesotho is a clear demonstration of our commitment to build on our historic friendship. I look forward to working closely with Your Majesty's government in support of a brighter future for Lesotho and continued mutual respect and partnership."
Over the past decade, Britain has continued to actively support Lesotho's development in a wide range of sectors including health, water resource management, climate change, education and security sector reform.