Post-Brexit Britain eyes digital trade and investment opportunities in Africa

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez January 20, 2020
The UK-Africa Investment Summit is being held in London today, with deals worth billions of pounds expected to be made during the day.

Image of a the world from space, view of Africa

The British government is continuing to eye up fast growing African nations as investment and trade opportunities, with the UK set to leave the European Union at the end of January. One of the Conservative Party’s key promises in the run up to Brexit has been that there are independent trade opportunities beyond the EU, claiming that these are significant enough to balance any impact from Brexit. 

In 2018 then-Prime Minister Theresa May went on a trade tour of Africa, in an attempt to strengthen ties with the region. A key part of this tour was the announcement of a series of Innovation Partnerships between the UK and Africa, which aimed to enable entrepreneurs to share skills, ideas and encourage future trade - especially in the field of technology. 

And today, current Prime Minister Boris Johnson hosts the first ever UK-Africa Investment Summit in London, where he will make the case for the UK as the ‘investment partner of choice’ for African countries. 

He will say that the UK has unique expertise and innovation in technology, clean growth, infrastructure and finance, which can feed the continent’s demand for sustainable growth. The British government said that deals worth billions of pounds will be announced at the Summit and the Prime Minister will highlight examples that include Dorset-based Low Energy Designs, which is installing smart street lighting across Nigeria. 

International Development Secretary Alok Sharma said:

Africa’s economic potential is huge, with eight of the world’s 15 fastest growing economies and a population set to double to over 2 billion by 2050.

We have much to offer African nations - UK aid is tackling climate change and supporting women entrepreneurs, our tech and digital expertise is helping Africa grow new industries and the City of London is channelling billions of private investment into Africa, boosting jobs and growth.

This Summit is a major step in unlocking the UK’s unique offer, becoming Africa’s investment partner of choice and benefiting people and businesses across the UK and Africa.

Key announcements

The government said that programmes from the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Department fo rInternational Trade (DIT) will boost clean energy supplies, digital networks, jobs and business opportunities for women, as well as improving trade infrastructure. 

It added that £6.5 billion of commercial deals have already been signed by British companies, with billions more expected to be made during the course of the UK-Africa Investment Summit. 

The government is arguing that the UK is home to some of the world’s “most enterprising technologies” and is perfectly placed to meet that demand and be the continent’s investment partner of choice. 

DFID programmes that are being announced, include: 

  • Supporting African countries to meet their rapidly growing energy demands through green energy, including better access to solar energy and electricity.

  • Helping Africa thrive digitally through a £45 million programme helping young Africans, especially women, access the internet, develop digital skills and find jobs.

  • Enabling at least 100,000 more women in Africa to secure high-quality jobs by funding their education and training.

  • A £200 million programme to help build basic trade infrastructure in southern Africa. The new programme will support upgrades to border posts, ports and roads. It will also work with governments and businesses to improve trade policies and cut red tape.

  • Boosting the flow of private financing into African projects supporting girls’ education, healthcare and climate resilience.

Two joint DFID-DIT programmes, also include: 

  • A £37 million programme to help businesses, trade with and invest across Africa.

  • A £20 million programme that will support businesses in developing countries to increase trade with international markets.

  • A separate Climate Finance Accelerator programme, worth £10 million from the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), which aims to help developing countries reduce emissions by attracting more foreign investment and helping to build renewable energy sources, like wind farms.

Commenting on the deals, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said:

Trade with countries across Africa has never been more exciting. As opportunities there grow, it’s great to see so many British firms paving the way in trading and investing in the region to drive growth, create jobs and boost vital infrastructure.

We want the UK to be the investment partner of choice for African businesses and their governments. Our world-leading expertise in finance, tech, and innovation should make us the obvious choice and mark the UK and Africa out as natural partners for mutual prosperity.

The deals announced today show the massive potential of UK-Africa trade and the investment programmes we’re launching will ensure UK and African businesses are able to capitalise on trade and investment opportunities, now and in the future.

My take

There are no doubt plenty of opportunities for the UK, in terms of trade and investment, beyond the EU. However, whilst the announcements coming out of the Summit today are positive, it can’t be denied that these things take time. Striking agreements with African nations is a start, but it can’t be denied that there is a lot of concern from British business about the UK breaking away from the EU without a decent trade deal (which it will just have 11 months to sort). The technology industry in the UK has continuously pushed for close alignment with the EU after Brexit - something the British government don’t seem too keen on. Simply put, new opportunities don’t immediately balance out any negative shocks from closing the door on our closest trading partner of 40 years. 

Image credit - Image sourced via Pixabay

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