Time to reboot UK relations with Africa

From the dawn of time, trade has been an essential human activity. Nations have risen or fallen on the strength of their trade ties with the rest of the world. The trade ties between Africa and the UK hold a particular place in this story.

Now that the UK is set to leave the European Union, this is a time when the UK will seek to rewrite her trade relations with the rest of the world. We believe that the UK can seize this opportunity to re-boot its relationship with Africa to create a 21st century prosperity partnership based on development, trade and investment.

It could not be more opportune, therefore, to shine a light on the UK’s African Free Trade Initiative (AFTi). It was launched by former Prime Minister David Cameron during his visits to South Africa and Nigeria in July 2011, to help African countries integrate into the world trade system, and trade more with global markets.

To mark the fifth anniversary of AFTi, an Inquiry Committee of distinguished British and African experts has published a report examining the achievements of the Initiative thus far.
We are proud to be members of this team - which was set up by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Trade Out of Poverty - alongside Lord Paul Boateng, Ambassador Darlington Mwape, and Professor Myles Wickstead.

The initiative has been successful in supporting key African priorities, slashing trade costs, and delivering real gains for the continent and its trading partners.

AFTi has worked to cut tariffs and reduce red-tape for traders in Africa, streamlined border-crossings and customs procedures, upgraded key gateway ports and transport corridors, and leveraged private sector investment into agribusiness, and the logistics and infrastructure of trade.
There have been some notable successes, particularly in East Africa. An Electronic Single Window set up in Rwanda reduced the average time taken to clear imported goods through customs from eleven days to 1.5 days.

The East African Community Single Customs Territory has helped reduce cargo transit times from Mombasa in Kenya to Kampala in Uganda from 18 days to six days. The modernisation at the Port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania has cut vessel turnaround times by half.

Financing for upgrading port and rail connections in Southern Africa will create 43,000 new jobs in Mozambique. And the Grow Africa partnership has helped leverage $684 million in new private sector investment into agribusinesses across twelve African countries.

These are no small achievements. We have also made several key recommendations for giving AFTi renewed impetus.

Africa’s very high trade costs need to be cut, and there is work to do connecting markets and enhancing productive capacity. We can also focus on using trade to drive inclusive growth for the less well off, including more support for SMEs and for women’s participation in Africa’s extensive cross-border trade.

As we have said, our Inquiry’s report has particular relevance in the light of Brexit and the Referendum vote because there is now an opportunity for the UK to build a new generation of trade agreements with Africa, Of course, there will be challenges, too.

African countries and investors are concerned that there may be disruption in African trade to the UK, and we must start working now to prevent this.

Our report states that a new generation of UK trade agreements should support Africa’s own integration efforts and genuinely boost growth, jobs, and the incomes of ordinary people. They should incorporate the best elements of EU, US, Canadian and other practices, and provide a model for other nations to follow.

These new trade agreements will take time to put in place, but the groundwork can start right away, with more UK aid-for-trade to Africa and a more comprehensive approach to two-way trade and investment promotion between African countries and the UK.

To deliver this ambitious plan, our Inquiry report calls for UK Prime Minister Theresa May to appoint a special envoy to work with African countries, business leaders and development partners like the World Bank and African Development Bank to build this new prosperity partnership.

We believe the time is ripe to reboot UK’s relations with Africa on trade, investment and development. The ability to do this is there, we believe the political will is there, and thanks to the work of AFTi, a strong framework is now in place, with a solid blueprint pointing us clearly in the direction we need to take.