Britain is set to leave the European Union at the end of this month. The government will then be free to strike new economic deals without being bound by EU regulations. It now has 11 months to come up with a trade deal with the EU to avoid reverting to World Trade Organisation rules. Time is running out, and replacing the EU market is the next step. It is necessary to forge a new set of international alliances and trade deals with new markets in the US, Australia, Canada, and Africa.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is putting more focus on strengthening non-European relations, in the hope of opening the door to new agreements and investment opportunities. To this end, London has hosted the UK-Africa Investment Summit, sponsored by the British government, which aims to boost trading ties between Britain and Africa, home to eight of the 15 fastest growing economies in the world. The summit is the largest annual investment event held for the eighth time outside Africa.
Sixteen African heads of state accepted the invitation to take part in the summit, where Johnson told participants that Britain will be more open to African migrants after Brexit. The historic event was also attended by Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, International Development Secretary Alok Sharma, Trade Secretary Liz Truss, and Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom, as well as Prince Harry before he left for Canada. A number of businessmen and investors were among those taking part.
Egyptian President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi spoke in his capacity as the President of the African Union alongside Johnson; both men gave welcome speeches to start the summit.
"Look around the world today and you will swiftly see that the UK is not only the obvious partner of choice, we're also very much the partner of today, of tomorrow and decades to come," said Johnson in his opening address.
Sisi explained that there are four factors for the development process in Africa: intensifying infrastructure; activating an African free trade agreement; supporting the private sector; and empowering youth and women, providing job opportunities to achieve social stability. "Despite the enormity of challenges and their intertwined effects on the African continent," he added, "I can say that there are promising and diversified opportunities for the continent's partners, which makes Africa one of the most important destinations for international business institutions."
President Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania pointed out that: "We have reinforced security along our coasts. Other measures include the establishment of a Council on Investment. These huge efforts are showing tremendous results and it is giving comfort to investors."
While political and business leaders were taking part in seminars and discussions inside the Central London venue, a number of Egyptians gathered outside. They were either supporting or protesting against Sisi.
Rather than establishing aid-based, donor-recipient relationships and grants, it's essential for countries with strong economies to develop trade cooperation and partnerships to improve the standard of living in African nations. According to a BBC report in 2007, the International Organisation for Migration estimated that around 4.6 million African migrants were living in Europe, whereas the Migration Policy Institute estimated that between 7 and 8 million illegal migrants from Africa were within the EU. Some of the latter would be from North African Arab countries.
Most of Africa was colonised by European states, whose influence on the now independent African nations is still strong and clearly evident in some places. Like anywhere else, though, poverty and conflict are rooted in corruption, injustice, bad governance, and poor human rights records.
It is hoped that the summit will pave the way for deals worth billions of pounds to be struck. This will help provide jobs and achieve growth across both Britain and Africa, experts say.
Britain hopes to be Africa's international developer, as the continent's population is predicted to double to 2 billion over the next three decades. However, direct investment from Britain in Africa between 2014 and 2018 was just $17 billion (£13bn), well below China's $72bn, France's $34bn, America's $31bn, and the $25bn invested by the United Arab Emirates.
So all eyes are on Africa, a booming continent with unmatched investment opportunities. In November 2006, the China-Africa Summit was held in Beijing, followed by the EU-Africa Summit in Lisbon a year later; April 2008 saw an India-Africa Summit in New Delhi.
Britain thus has a lot of competition for deals in Africa, and the post-Brexit period might lead to unexpected difficulties, including a new recession. Despite all the smiles and carefully posed photo-opportunities at the London summit, uncertainty remains.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.