Fresh start for UK-Africa relations: In the margins of the Mining Indaba in Cape Town, at a roundtable hosted by the UK's Department for International Trade (DIT), UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and private sector delegates discussed expanding trade ties as well as greater involvement in infrastructure with African delegations.

Author:Yedder, Omar Ben
Position:Economy - Conference notes
 
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Whether one is a 'remainer' or a 'leaver'--as the two camps against and for Brexit are called--the fact that the UK is leaving the EU could prove to be a boon for African economies as the UK seeks to strengthen its trading relationship with old and new partners across Africa.

This message came across clearly during a roundtable discussion hosted by the UK's Department for International Trade (DIT) and attended by a number of African delegations, during the Mining Indaba in Cape Town last month. One of the rationales of the 'leave' camp is that trade with the EU over the last 20 years has fallen from 50% of GDP to 42% today and that the UK should be able to negotiate trade deals with, among others, the fast-growing emerging markets, unencumbered by EU regulatory regimes. From Africa's perspective, this approach would mean that the countries will be able to negotiate hopefully more favourable deals on a bilateral basis with the UK. It is likely that some industries and sectors may be subject to less punitive restrictions than is the case currently with the EU--for example, in the heavily protected agriculture sector.

It was acknowledged at the roundtable however that new trade agreements, which are invariably complex, will take quite a long time to finalise.

Holistic approach to infrastructure

Having set the tone for a prospective new and more intense business relationship between the EU and Africa, DIT introduced a promising initiative, the Africa Infrastructure Board. The aim was to put the case for choosing the UK as an ideal partner across the infrastructure sector. This includes mining projects and the related infrastructure with the aim to create a holistic solution that will benefit the wider community by developing the associated infrastructure around the project.

Nigel Casey, the British High Commissioner to South Africa, said that the UK would be increasing its efforts to work more closely with African governments and the private sector.

Mining projects, he argued, involve much more than the actual mining operations, and they cannot work without the associated infrastructure. Without naming names, he mentioned that the UK was aware that there is plenty of competition out there when it comes to offering comprehensive solutions to African partners.

"We felt the need to up our collective game," he said, "and create a new government-industry partnership called the Africa Infrastructure Board, which brings together all the players in the...

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