The COVID-19 pandemic, the UK’s post-Brexit economic and political focus on Asia-Pacific and development aid cuts all appear to have widened the political and economic distance between the UK and Africa in recent years. But these changes are part of a long-term trend of a slow decline in the relationship: for example, Africa’s share of UK imports fell from 2.1% to 1.7% in past 10 years (ONS).
The trade, aid and finance environment in Africa is also changing: despite delays in its negotiation and implementation, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), as part of which trade began in 2021, represents a significant opportunity for many African countries to transform their economies and develop regional value chains, reducing dependence on trade and investment with the UK and other countries. other traditional partners.
Africa and the UK can benefit from a reversal of this trend. Indeed, given the dynamism of many African economies, technological innovations and the challenge of climate change, stronger strategic engagement with Africa is essential for the UK, now more than ever. From a business perspective, Africa’s demand is not only growing, but also becoming more sophisticated as its middle class grows. This growth is generating medium to long-term investment opportunities in critical sectors such as business services, in which the UK has considerable expertise.
In addition, the green transformation of the UK economy towards net zero will require the creation of partnerships with many African countries to ensure access to critical inputs, such as rare earth minerals. It is important to note that this access must be based on the transformation and development of African economies themselves: the United Kingdom should reconsider its lack of an import policy beyond trade preferences and its recent cuts in the support for economic transformation.
The COVID-19 pandemic, the UK’s post-Brexit economic and political focus on Asia-Pacific and development aid cuts all appear to have widened the political and economic distance between the UK and Africa in recent years.
On the African side, AfCFTA negotiators and African policymakers need to better consider and design additional policies to develop the enabling environment that modern businesses need. These policies should include the provision of critical essential services (eg energy), adequate infrastructure and other aspects of the business environment. Furthermore, the provision of modern services such as business, financial, insurance and technology services is critical to the success of modern businesses as well as the development of regional and continental value chains. UK investment and expertise in all of these sectors can play a useful role.
Importantly, building new and strengthening old partnerships between the UK and individual African economies must be central to the UK’s global economic and political strategy. The UK may need to be flexible: these partnerships should be developed and implemented within the context of the AfCFTA and Africa’s own ambitions. Indeed, the UK’s support for the implementation of the AfCFTA is an important first step that needs to be complemented by further actions to place the relationship with the continent at the center of the UK’s geopolitical strategy over the of the next few decades.