UK ready to shift focus of Africa aid to trade

Britain is expected to increase the focus of its African aid budget on economic and trade-related projects to try to boost prosperity on the continent while forging new partnerships after leaving the EU.

Priti Patel, the international development secretary, is said to be sympathetic to the recommendations from a panel of experts convened by MPs and peers that the UK should take advantage of Brexit to develop a “pro-development trade policy with Africa”.

The government has yet to develop an Africa strategy, although Theresa May, the prime minister, last month announced that countries in east Africa would be among the biggest recipients of additional British aid to keep illegal migrants out of Europe.

Ms Patel will become Mrs May’s first cabinet minister to travel to the continent when she visits Kenya this week.

Her trip is expected to take in Mombasa, the largest port in east Africa and a focus of British aid through Trade Mark East Africa, a programme that aims to cut trade barriers and facilitate commerce.

Africa receives more UK overseas development assistance than any other region – £2.54bn in 2015 – and the proportion spent on aid-for-trade has increased from 28.5 per cent in 2012 to 37 per cent in 2014, according to Financial Times analysis of data from the government and the OECD, the Paris-based club of mostly rich nations.

Under UK law the government’s international development spending must be focused on poverty reduction. Ms Patel’s strategy of relying on recipient countries being “more open to conversations” about trade and her past hostility to the existence of the Department for International Development have alarmed some non-governmental organisations.

But members of the expert panel, who were assessing the previous government’s Africa Free Trade Initiative, insisted trade promotion was an integral part of development.

“An important role of aid is in disaster relief and that won’t go away,” said Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, a former trade minister and co-chair of the panel. “But everybody recognises that private sector activity is a crucial part of sustainable development.”

He urged the government to take advantage of Brexit to “draw on the best of existing US, Canadian and other policy to drive trade with Africa”.

Ali Mufuruki, a Tanzanian businessman and the panel’s other co-chair, said those against aid-for-trade “were driven by emotion”.

“When they see a child on the street or sick they want to give it a home or medicine,” he said. “But we need to go to the roots of the problem and not just treat the symptoms.”

British aid has, among other things, been used to reduce the time to clear imports to Rwanda through customs from 11 to 1.5 days, helped modernise Dar es Salaam’s port in Tanzania and leveraged $684m in private sector investment into agribusinesses across 12 African countries.

Lord Green said Mrs May should appoint someone to “champion” British trade in Africa and “join up the various dots” between development assistance and trade policy.

Trade between the UK and sub-Saharan Africa has increased by nearly 25 per cent between 2008 and 2014 but the UK’s share of the region’s trade with the world has remained at 3 per cent, according to the UN. Exports from Germany, France and Italy to sub-Saharan Africa were more than 50 per cent higher than those of the UK in 2014.




By John Aglionby in Nairobi and Henry Mance in London

Published on Oct 25,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 860]



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