Skip to main content

East Africa: Trading Opportunities

Volume 644: debated on Wednesday 4 July 2018

1. What steps her Department is taking to promote trading opportunities to encourage development in east Africa. (906239)

The UK supports regional trade and development by improving infrastructure and cutting red tape through our flagship programme TradeMark East Africa, which has helped to reduce import times at the Mombasa port by 50%. We will also support the region by ensuring that there is continuity in market access arrangements post-EU exit.

In the past decade more than 1 billion people have been lifted out of poverty, largely thanks to free trade. Owing to my commercial experience, I have seen for myself the quality of the produce from the agricultural sector in east Africa, and I am not surprised that it has found a strong export market. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best and most sustainable way out of poverty is through trade?

I agree wholeheartedly. The greatest progress that has been made towards the first global goal has resulted from the liberalisation of world trade. We want to move more nations from aid to trade, because that is where their future lies.

The Secretary of State may know that the countries of east Africa are some of the worst performers in terms of road deaths and serious road accidents. Could part of the trading relationship involve trade in both services and technology to help to bring down those dreadful casualty figures?

Absolutely. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and thank him for the work he does on a critical issue that results in an enormous number of deaths every year. I think there will be a greater onus on us to provide technical support for developing countries, and cutting the number of road deaths is clearly an area in which that technical support will be needed.

Key to boosting east African trade is continuing to break down non-tariff barriers between East African countries, reduce transportation costs and reduce import-export clearance times. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the TradeMark East Africa programme has an important continuing role in helping to boost trade even further?

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. Frictionless trade is a good thing, and the corridor that TradeMark East Africa has provided has cut border times dramatically, as well as cutting corruption. We are funding the second leg of that trade corridor, and it has done amazing work for the region’s prosperity.

If we are to promote trade, we need to be able to promote travel. However, the Scotland Malawi Partnership and others have received a litany of complaints from people who want to come to the United Kingdom and sell their goods from east Africa, but have been denied visas by the Home Office. Will the Secretary of State meet representatives of the Home Office as a matter of urgency to ensure that they sort out the mess of the east African visa system?

I have frequent dialogues with colleagues throughout the Government. As the hon. Gentleman will know, 70 of my staff are embedded in the Department for International Trade to deal with these issues, particularly in respect of developing nations, but if he knows of any specific cases and will pass them on to me, I shall be happy to look at them.

In Lisbon 11 years ago, the historic joint Africa-EU strategy was launched. That strategy, which was based on the principles of ownership, partnership and solidarity, has already had to withstand the economic impact of the global financial crisis and the eurozone crisis. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the social and economic impact that Brexit will have on it?

The fact that we will be able to make our own trade arrangements with developing countries will be of massive advantage to those countries, and the nations with which we work are incredibly excited about the possibilities that will result from our leaving the EU. I think that we should be optimistic about Africa’s future, and its leaders are optimistic, but as well as promoting trade we must help them to combat illicit money flows. If we add up everything that goes into those nations, we see that it is tiny by comparison with what leaves them as a result of corruption and illicit flows. We will deal with both.

I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s answer, but I have to say that I do not share her optimism. Along with many others, I believe that the joint Africa-EU strategy marked a new phase in Africa-EU relations, opening a gateway to future trade deals based on benefits for African communities, not just European corporations. How will the Secretary of State ensure that any future deals negotiated by her Government benefit rather than damage the livelihoods of the world’s poorest people?

Because at the heart of our trade strategy as we leave the EU are developing nations—we want to give them preferential treatment and support them in their ambitions. I would point to the evidence that since we announced that we are leaving the EU, we have made huge progress on initiatives like the Sahel alliance and a greater focus with bilateral partners including France on our work together in Africa. I urge the hon. Lady to be optimistic about the future.