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Southern Africa: Trading Relationships

Volume 783: debated on Tuesday 18 July 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to promote trading relationships with Southern African countries.

My Lords, the Department for International Trade has a dedicated trade team working across southern Africa to provide support to British firms looking to do business in the region, building on total trade with the UK of £12 billion in 2015. The department works with partners across the region to strengthen our trading relationships. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Price, the Minister of State for Trade Policy, is travelling to South Africa and Namibia this week for discussions with Ministers.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her reply, and I warmly welcome her to her Front-Bench position as a Minister. With her long interest in international affairs, she is certainly well qualified for the role. Given the creation last year of the African free trade zone, with 26 countries representing in excess of 620 million people, can the Minister elaborate on the steps being taken to consolidate and develop the Commonwealth network in southern Africa? To what degree are Her Majesty’s Government synchronising trade with aid?

I thank the noble Lord for his gracious welcome. I know that his Question stems from a long-standing interest and expertise in Africa. We welcome all initiatives to integrate African trade. At the G20 last month, the Prime Minister unveiled a package of new measures to boost trade with Africa and ensure that our aid spending benefits trade, ranging from help to integrate into global financial markets to working with the World Bank to nearly double the capacity of the Dar-es-Salaam port. The CDC Act, which your Lordships passed earlier this year, enables the UK to invest more in Africa to build on the 500,000 jobs that it helped to create there in 2016.

My Lords, to what extent have our embassies and high commissions been equipped to deal with the proposed new trade relationships?

The Department for International Trade is working with all embassies and high commissions. We have nearly 1,500 staff overseas and they are working closely with Governments to ensure that our trade spend is absolutely aligned with our aid.

My Lords, I too welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box. When did the Government last hold meetings at ministerial level with the current chair of the Southern African Development Community in South Africa, and when did officials of the Department for International Trade last hold discussions with their SADC counterparts on this issue?

I thank the noble Lord for his welcome. As I mentioned before, my noble friend the Minister of State for Trade Policy is in South Africa and Namibia this week. He will meet the SADC secretariat as well as Trade Ministers across the region. In addition to those talks, at the Commonwealth Trade Ministers’ meeting in March he met SADC counterparts, and there continue to be ongoing meetings with officials.

Plenty of opportunities will arise from Brexit to develop our relationships with Africa. However, there will also be substantial threats, including the development within the EU of EPAs, which of course have a huge development side to them, and we will not be able to influence those. Can the noble Baroness assure us that in future talks on Brexit these issues will be embraced by the Department for International Development and by other departments with an interest in development as well as in trade?

I thank the noble Lord for his question. I read with interest the Africa APPG report, which raised many of these issues. We have been a long-standing supporter of EPAs and will continue to be so. They put our trading relationship with Africa on a more equitable, mature and business-like footing. As we leave the EU, we will, first, ensure continuity with our trading partners. In the longer term, we will have the opportunity to negotiate new trade deals, and we will look to strengthen our trading relationships with developing countries in the future.

My Lords, I too welcome my noble friend to the Dispatch Box for the first time. Does she agree that a vital part of our trading arsenal is visits by Ministers and delegations to the continent of Africa? We see many visits to Asia but very few, if any, to Africa. Quite often, these visits are to do with DfID—in other words, they are to do with aid, not trade. Can she encourage more Cabinet Ministers to lead from the front and start visiting Africa?

I agree with my noble friend, who speaks from his experience as the Prime Minister’s envoy to Uganda and Rwanda. Ministerial visits and delegations of course lead to improved relations and progress on commercial trade deals. I have already mentioned that my noble friend the Minister of State for Trade Policy and Rory Stewart, the Minister for Africa, were in the region last week attending the Great Lakes trade summit. The Chancellor visited South Africa last year, but there are opportunities to do more, and I will pass on my noble friend’s request.

My Lords, I too welcome the Minister. Are the sustainable development goals at the core of all discussions on increased trade with Africa and the rest of the Commonwealth? I very much hope that they are.

I reassure the noble Baroness that the sustainable development goals are always at the core of all our discussions.

Does my noble friend agree that if my noble friend Lord Popat’s suggestion were followed, and Cabinet Ministers did this productive work, there would be less chance of them falling out round the Cabinet table at home?

As always, we absolutely encourage visits across all our trading partners, and I am sure that they will continue to do so.