Following the EU referendum result and the formation of the Department for International Trade, both the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Trade have been engaged in positioning us as a partner of choice for countries across Africa.
As chair of the all-party group on Africa, I recently led a delegation to Namibia and South Africa to look at trade and economic development. There is huge concern there and across Africa about the impact of Brexit, particularly on the European economic partnership agreements that currently govern trade agreements. This is undermining developing economies. Will the Minister confirm that leaving the single market will mean abandoning these agreements, and will he estimate how long it will take to negotiate agreements with each of the 54 African countries?
May I first pay tribute to the work the hon. Lady does on the all-party group on Africa, and indeed to the work of all such all-party groups and of the Prime Minister’s trade envoys, many of whom are in the Chamber? That work reflects our desire to do more business post-Brexit. We are trusted, we are engaged and indeed we are committed to doing more in those countries, and South Africa is just one example of that. She raises the very important point that a number of countries have signed deals or are about to sign deals with the European Union on trade; some of them are now bowing out, saying, “Let’s wait to see what happens with Brexit.” It is important that we strike the necessary bilateral deals as we move forward.
As well as encouraging trade with Africa, what can Her Majesty’s Government do to increase trade between African countries, particularly in the Great Lakes area?
I pay tribute to my predecessor as Minister for Africa for the superb work he did in pioneering and strengthening Britain’s relationship with this important continent. These countries want to do business with us: we want to do business with them. It is important that they are also encouraged to do business with each other. The Great Lakes is a great example of that—a massive infrastructure project is being carried out to get oil out of the country through a number of other countries. It will also assist countries such as South Sudan, which could do with the revenue. Britain can come forward with our expertise in that area.
It took the European Union 12 years to negotiate the economic partnership agreement between itself and Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland, which was finally signed in June. Will the UK Government seriously have to begin that process all over again?
I suggest to the SNP that they understand where we are now. The result is there and Brexit is where we are—that has been made clear already. We now have an opportunity to embrace it and go to those countries and sign deals. That is where we should be, not looking through the small print to ask why we cannot do any of those things.
From the Gambia to South Africa, the Commonwealth offers great potential for expanding trade with Africa. Will the Minister make sure that we make full use of those opportunities to secure trade deals and get exporting to those emerging economies?
When trade opportunities arise, it is not simply just having companies that want to work there, it is also the element of trust that exists between the two nations. Our legacy, heritage and history—and the trust that exists—are exactly what we need to leverage, as well as the wonderful companies that we have to provide support across a wide range of sectors.