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Why Africa should be at the heart of the UK’s Brexit strategy 0

The UK will miss out on a huge opportunity if it neglects Africa in its Brexit plans. Here are three actions it should take.

Of all the issues raised by the UK’s recent Brexit vote, one of the most concerning is that Africa has been ‘downgraded’. Judging by the debate over the UK’s future relationship with the European Union and its trading partners, Africa is not even on the Brexit agenda.

Across Whitehall and the civil service, the brightest and best minds are being pulled off other activities and into the Brexit negotiations, depleting the already under-resourced Africa teams. The decision by the new prime minister Theresa May to fold the Africa Ministry into the Middle East Ministry sends an ominous signal, relegating sub-Saharan Africa to (at best) third place behind the Middle East and North Africa. This means that sub-Saharan Africa will need to fight for increasingly scarce resources to get its case heard.

Despite creating a brand new Department for International Trade, the UK is missing a trick. Officials are understandably excited about forging trade deals with the world’s largest economies, from the US and Canada to China and India. But by focusing on the largest economies, it is missing out on a huge opportunity.

Why? Because over the next century, Africa is set to be the world’s fastest-growing region. This growth will be underpinned by economies that are rapidly diversifying and growing their consumer base. Africa already has one fifth of the world’s population and one quarter of its under-18s, and this proportion will rise dramatically over the next 50 years. In tandem, African purchasing power, the rate of urbanisation, and demand for goods and services will also rise. As the UK recalibrates its global trade relationships, Africa needs to be a key partner – not a collection of bitty, disjointed deals based more on luck than design.

The urgency for action cannot be understated, especially as British commercial relations with Africa are surprisingly weak. The UK accounts for just 3.5% of Africa’s total trade, around half the level of France, while FDI flows from the UK into Africa totalled just $2.6 billion in 2014, compared with $18.3 billion from France. Perhaps one of the ironies of Brexit is that the UK now needs to be more French when it comes to its attitude towards Africa. Even as an integral member of the European Union, France has maintained close commercial relations with African countries.

Continue reading on African Arguments

by Edward George

Photo credits: Jonathan Ernst 

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