Allan Olingo spoke to the newly-appointed UK Trade Commissioner for Africa Emma Wade-Smith about what the continent should expect in the wake of her country leaving the European Union.
The United Kingdom is the second largest investor in trade in Africa, to the tune of $36.8 billion. How will the UK’s exit from the European Union impact trade relations with the continent?
The UK will concentrate on building its stock of investments and growing Africa’s exports in order to narrow the deficit.
We are working on bringing more investors to the continent to support African businesses to increase exports not just to the UK but also within Africa.
We want to boost intra-Africa trade by bringing down trade barriers and building a strong market for African products.
What should the East African Community expect post Brexit?
We want to ensure the continuity of the existing trade arrangements. We are already in discussion with governments across East Africa as well as the East African Community.
The European Union-EAC Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) is the best option on the table to provide this continuity.
We want to transition from a EU arrangement to a UK one. We have until December 2020 to put a deal in place.
We are addressing trade barriers among existing arrangements so that we can all benefit from them. We want to ensure that duty-free, quota-free relationships are not affected by our departure from the EU.
Should countries in the region expect improved trade agreements with the UK?
Post Brexit, we will be in a position to have an independent trade policy that offers room for a lot of improvements from current arrangements. We shall strive for a more vibrant relationship with our African partners, including the EAC countries.
There is an impasse on the EPA, with some member countries raising concerns about the deal. How will you handle these concerns under UK-EAC trade negotiations?
Countries within the EAC must find the right solutions through commitment and the desire to break this impasse.
Post Brexit, we will have discussions on reducing barriers, which will address concerns some countries have raised over imbalance.
The UK government is clear about what we want to achieve with these trade agreements. As part of my role, I want to bring out the full force of the UK government trade offer to the region and ensure that we are all happy trading with each other.
Critics say that the UK has been proactive in improving trade efficiencies within the region as opposed to boosting exports to Europe...
It is important to see trade within Africa grow. Thus, a vibrant and sizeable consumer market is key for businesses.
Breaking down these barriers is important for the bloc. We have provided support to improve the regional markets.
We are also working on building the capacity of businesses to meet the demand in UK for African products. We are constantly improving on helping African businesses gain access to better markets.
We are also supporting many African export promotion agencies on this front so that they have an easy time entering the UK market.
Will the African Continental Free Trade Area offer investment opportunities for UK businesses in these markets?
Yes indeed. We want to ensure that UK companies understand that there are now many opportunities for them to bring projects and services across East Africa. We want to raise the level of interest for these businesses.
One of the opportunities that the Brexit affords us is increased interest from UK companies in Africa as they have to expand outside their normal trading blocs.
We are encouraged by these continental markets and even the regional blocs’ tripartite agreements which creates a larger market for investments.
Corruption remains a challenge for European firms investing on the continent. How will you tackle it?
Corruption is not endemic but a consequence of systems that do not work. It is an ethical issue that is of concern to us.
UK businesses understand that they are not allowed to compromise on it.
Fundamentally, our companies comply with the anti-bribery law and we see many businesses in the region doing great business. This shows that it is possible to navigate this challenge and excel.
Does the UK feel threatened by China’s heightened investment in Africa?
Africa has a massive infrastructure gap and as the trade commissioner, I am tasked with doing all that is possible to help UK investors to take advantage of the gap, and also bring financing solutions as part of this package.
Already we have the UK Export Finance that has doubled its risk appetite for the continent to the tune of $26.2 billion.
So we are not really competing with China because the gap is big enough for everyone to come in and help the continent grow.