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Trade within Africa

Volume 536: debated on Tuesday 29 November 2011

When I was in Zambia, Mozambique and Namibia earlier this month, I saw for myself the excellent work that officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development are undertaking in support of our African partners to improve the conditions for intra-African trade. The African free trade initiative remains the main vehicle for Her Majesty’s Government’s efforts on this important issue.

I thank the Minister for his response. There are still many obstacles to trade in Africa, including transport, trust relationships and intra-regional trade barriers, that countries such as China seem to be much more successful at overcoming. After his Nigerian mission in July, the Prime Minister pledged the UK to work with Nigeria and other partners towards enhanced west African trade integration. Will the Minister update us on progress?

Yes, indeed. The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Trade between sub-Saharan African countries currently stands at 14% of the region’s total trade, compared with Europe’s 60%. That is why DFID is making £160 million available to support the African free trade initiative. We have made good progress in east Africa with the east African trademark and in southern Africa with the Southern African Development Community trademark, and we are now looking to make similar progress in the west of Africa.

How often does the Minister take trade delegations out to countries in Africa, and what criteria does he use to select the countries that he goes to and the businesses that go along with him?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this. We are putting a huge amount of emphasis not only on breaking down these trade barriers but on making sure that UK businesses are fully aware of the opportunities available. UK Trade & Investment is now being not just reactive but very proactive in identifying companies that might be able to get contracts in Africa. It costs five times as much to send a container from Mombasa to Bujumbura as it does to send one from Tokyo to Mombasa.