UK-Africa investment summit hints at post-Brexit future.

Author:Kedem, Shoshana

At the first UK-Africa Investment Summit in January, the UK promoted itself as a "partner of choice" for Africa in trade. Shoshana Kedem examines how far the fanfare and hype measure up to reality

The UK turned its charm on African leaders in January, welcoming 21 heads of state to east London to meet with financiers, trade envoys and investors for the first UK-Africa Investment Summit.

Opening the summit, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson pitched the UK as "Africa's partner of choice" in international trade as the country leaves the European Union (EU) and prepares to forge its own trade agreements. Deploying the jovial personality that helped him to secure a confident election victory in December, Johnson prompted laughter by making use of an Akan proverb he had "picked up in Ghana".

"All fingers are not the same," he said, holding up a hand. "And all countries are not the same. And the UK boasts a breadth and depth of expertise that simply cannot be matched by any other nation."

While deliberately ham-fisted, the speech hinted at the plans being laid in the UK--and the City of London in particular--to cash in on trade with Africa as the UK leaves the European Union (EU) and prepares to forge its own trade agreements.

Laying the groundwork

In anticipation of Brexit--the UK finally departed the EU on 31 January--the country has increased its boots on the ground in Africa, encouraged investment and laid the groundwork for replicating its existing EU trade deals with African countries. But the reality and potential of UK trade on the continent remain limited.

Over the past year, the UK has deployed 15% more personnel in African countries, while investment has grown by 14.5%, Britain's trade commissioner for Africa, Emma Wade-Smith, told African Business before the summit.

"We're now in 23 markets in Africa," she says. "We've extended out into Guinea, Mauritania, Rwanda and Zimbabwe over the last 12 months as part of this invigorated focus on trade and investment in Africa."

The trade arrangements with African countries and economic blocs that the UK has been party to as a member of the EU will continue until the end of 2020. The UK's Department for International Trade has been locked in negotiations with African counterparts to translate these economic partnership and association agreements into bilateral deals that will come into force at the start of 2021.

A continuation of the largest of these agreements, SACU + 1 (the Southern African...

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