Theo Clarke is MP for Stafford.
At the start of a new decade, there is no better time to consider emerging opportunities for Britain. Our exit from the European Union is a chance for us to reassess our place in the world, and to renew and strengthen our relationships with neighbours near and far.
One key regional partner as we make this transition will be Africa – home to five of the fastest growing economies across the world in 2019. This growth, set to continue at an extraordinary pace in 2020, has the potential to yield fantastic opportunities for the people of the continent, and for the people of Britain too, including my constituency of Stafford.
As we chart a new course for our country, investing in the economic power of Africa’s burgeoning and youthful economies will play a vital role in the success of Global Britain. Today’s UK-Africa Investment Summit, which brings together governments, business and international institutions, represents an ideal stage for Britain to make clear its intention to be an open, collaborative partner to nations around the world.
The potential growth of the continent is evident for all to see. Africa is home to 16 per cent of the world’s population, and this is set to double by 2050. Additionally, the continent’s GDP is expected to reach $3.2 trillion in the next five years. Angola alone, Africa’s fifth largest economy and one of the fast-growing economies in the world, is projected to see a 49 per cent growth in its population between 2018 and 2030.
Thanks to its rapidly growing population, by 2050 Africa will be home to a quarter of the world’s consumers. This is exciting news for British businesses looking to connect with new customers and build strong export markets across the world. Locking into this export potential is a compelling opportunity for many up and down the UK, and is especially pertinent as we shape our own independent trade policy outside the EU.
Indeed, Alok Sharma said last week that Brexit means Britain will be able to “turbo-charge” relations with Africa – a statement I wholeheartedly endorse. Our strengths, including our record as a leading source of private investment in Africa, mean that we will be at the front of the queue to help support the growth and development of the continent.
However, trade is just one part of how the UK can support the growth of Africa. Aid is just as important in strengthening the developing world – in fact, they are two sides of the same coin.
Around the world we see clear evidence of how the UK’s development budget is stimulating job creation and economic growth, helping to nurture new businesses and grow them into potential export partners. A good example in my constituency is JCB who have a local manufacturing plant in Hixon from which they export generators to numerous countries in Africa. By creating more opportunities for local businesses to export to emerging markets we can create more jobs in Stafford.
I was lucky enough to visit Africado in East Africa, and see first hand the direct benefit of UK aid – the jobs it’s created, the businesses it’s built and the lives it has changed for the better. Founded in 2007, Africado was previously an abandoned coffee plantation. Today, it is a successful farm exporting 2,600 tonnes of avocados annually, and the largest grower and exporter of avocados in Tanzania, which are stocked directly in British supermarkets.
Throughout my travels in Africa, whenever I ask local people what they need, time and time again they say jobs. To be exact, 50,000 new jobs are needed a day across the continent to meet demand. Africado is a fantastic example of how our aid budget has kickstarted and built up an entire industry. Thanks to the initiative, over 2,000 farmers in the East African country supply avocados for export meaning they now have financial security – Britain alone spends an average of $144 million on avocados every year. The result underlines the fact that trade and aid are not mutually exclusive, instead working in tandem to turn our developing partners today into our future trading partners.
Supporting the development of growing economies is not only the right thing to do, but is also firmly in the UK’s national interest. A great example of the power of UK aid in building opportunities home and abroad is South Korea. A former aid recipient, today South Korea is a high-income country and a leading economic partner of ours, trading £7.2 billion worth of goods and services with Britain in 2017.
With the UK setting out on our ambition to become a truly Global Britain, we must understand the huge role that development plays in promoting ‘brand Britain‘ around the world. The Conservative Party manifesto that I and my new colleagues in Parliament stood on made clear that our party views the UK as a “force for good” and will aim to “strengthen Britain in the world”. The UK-Africa Summit is but one more opportunity to put this into practice and to showcase the values we want to celebrate of compassion, enterprise and leadership.
So as delegates gather this Monday, they should view trade and aid through the same prism. It is not a case of one or the other – both can unleash the huge potential of Africa’s young population.