The UK was built on international trade and commerce and, as we leave the EU, we will re-embrace once again our historic tradition of trading with every corner of the globe. And I am constantly reminded that a key part of the future of Britain’s trade is with Africa.
Too often we view Africa mainly through the prism of foreign aid instead of as a continent with the potential to be equal partners in trade.
Transforming the public’s perceptions and expectations of our relationship with Africa is just one of the many positive consequences of diversifying our trade relations.
Commercial exchanges forge and strengthen ties between countries; they create new cultural exchanges in their wake; and ultimately lead to more engaged, globalised and interesting societies. African countries, like Ghana, are natural trading partners for post-Brexit Britain bound as we are by common histories, legal systems, languages, and large and vibrant diaspora. Throughout the continent demand for British business expertise is high and in former French colonies like Guinea there is an appetite to partner with the UK and UK businesses to deliver the much needed infrastructure that will underpin future development.
But new trading partnerships in Africa will not happen by chance. They will require hard work, and extensive use of our newly regained sovereign powers over trade to revive our diplomatic relationships, many of which atrophied after years of disuse whilst we were members of the EU.
As the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Ghana and Guinea I know that, above all, trade agreements are built on trust. Which is why diplomatic and political exchanges with our trading allies in Africa are vital, and will help pave the way to a mutually beneficial era of trade post-Brexit.
So I am delighted that this week the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, will make his first official visit to the UK.
Having met President Akufo-Addo, I was honoured to attend his inauguration last January as a representative of Her Majesty’s Government. The President is an innovative and forward thinking statesman who values the private sector, and I know that his visit this week will cement the already strong bond between our two nations and encourage more British businesses to look to Africa, where opportunities for mutually beneficial trade abound.
On my last visit to Ghana earlier this month we discussed, amongst other things, openings for British companies in the burgeoning oil and gas, and transport sectors.
The UK’s history as an oil producer has made us home to a wealth of academic and engineering mining expertise, and Ghana has enormous reserves of oil and gas. British companies are already operating in the sector and, in years to come I hope to see many more UK businesses joining them. Not least after the conclusion of the ITLOS international arbitration provided reassurance and certainty over the future of the sector in Ghana.
I was also fortunate enough to meet with the Minister for Railways and visit the railroads during my visit. Rail networks across Africa are expanding as international trade grows and British companies, experienced in delivering complex transport networks are ideally placed to engage.
It is very much my hope that the African railways of the 21st century will be built with British expertise as we work in partnership with our friends and allies on the continent.
There are many challenges in international trade with Africa, but the opportunities are enormous, both for Britain and for our trading partners across the continent. As we prepare to leave the EU the Government must ensure that it is doing everything possible to lift our ambitions in Africa. In recognising and welcoming President Akufo-Addo, we take another vital step outwards into the wider world of international trade.