UK trade envoy: Britain is adjusting investment approach to Africa

UK Trade Commissioner for Africa Emma Wade-Smith during the interview on Monday. Nadege Imbabazi.

The United Kingdom is working to modify its trade and investment approach to African countries, Emma Wade-Smith, the UK Trade Commissioner for Africa has said.

In an exclusive interview, the envoy told The New Times on the sidelines of the on-going Africa CEOs Forum that her country has been engaging African countries on trade and investment for the past two years.

Throughout the process, Wade-Smith said, the UK has been highlighting its stance in Africa and reinvigorating the approach towards investing and trading with the continent, especially as it prepares to leave European Union (EU).

The UK is currently in the process to divorce from the EU, despite a stalemate on the form of the separation that has kept the process in balance over two years after British people, through a referendum, voted to leave the bloc.  

“We want to focus increasingly on supporting income development and market access, particularly capital markets and other financial markets, which I know are key drivers for job creation and economic development,” she noted.

Britain targets to become the largest investor in Africa, she said.

UK trade investment in Africa currently stands at a little over 30 billion pounds, which makes it the second largest investor in Africa.

“We have an ambition to become the largest G7 investor in Africa over the next three to four years. I am ambitious for what we can do and I see there are opportunities across a whole range of sectors,” she said.

Last year, British Prime Minister Theresa May embarked on a trip in Africa which saw her visit Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria. The visit was described by many as preparation of UK Africa relationship post Brexit.

The envoy said that as part of that approach on bolstering investment efforts in Africa, Britain will host the ‘African Investment Forum’ early next year.

Britain said it is increasing the amount of capital they direct to Africa through CDC, the UK development finance institute, and announced a transition plan for the country’s development programmes.

In the next three years, the country committed to invest about 8 billion pounds to strategically drive private sector inflow, and build confidence and trust.

That commitment is ostensibly a way of changing perception that the country’s private sector might not feel comfortable to invest in.

As this happens, however, the country is in the middle of a complicated process of leaving European Union.

There are still uncertainties around the state of trade and investment between UK and the countries it has been trading with under the EU.

Wade-Smith stated that since the referendum which made the decision for the UK to leave the European Union, they have been working hard with African governments and the rest of the world to provide continuity of trading arrangements.

Currently, there is a network of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) that the EU has with most African countries and blocs.

“What we have also said is that as we leave the European Union, for the first time in more than four decades, we shall have the ability to make our own trade policy,” she noted, adding that the freedom of establishing own trade policy will enable the UK to negotiate the next generation of free trade agreements.

Nevertheless, she admitted that trade arrangements tend to be more complex and evokes a lot of emotion.

“None of these conversations is easy and it’s not an easy question,” she noted.

UK in Rwanda

Rwanda’s business environment has attracted some of UK’s top investment companies like Unilever.

As of last year, the UK was the largest investor in the country with investments worth USD203.1 million.

Wade-Smith noted that the UK intends to bring more capabilities to compliment Rwanda’s economic priorities, highlighting that the economic sectors they have been associating with have already reaped benefits

“We see, for example, that productivity in agriculture sector has been increasing and we have experience in that. It’s really much about matching up what Rwanda is doing,” she said.

Rwanda will also host the next edition of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2020.

The envoy said they are working to focus the meeting on trade and investment focus as well as continue to use Commonwealth as a platform to drive trade and investment initiatives.