A view from Africa: Building a brighter future

08 October 2021

5 minute read

Amol Prabhu, the Country CEO for South Africa and Market Head for the African continent for Barclays, recently met up with Emma Wade-Smith, her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner for Africa.

Their conversation was filmed in Johannesburg by the UK Department for International Trade. In this article we share a snippet of their reflections, touching on Africa’s future, the UK’s trade focus, and even a monorail success story in Cairo.

AMOL PRABHU (AP): What is the UK Department for International Trade (DIT) looking to accomplish with respect to trade across the African continent?

EMMA WADE-SMITH (EWS): It’s very, very simple and you can boil it down to the fact that we want to grow the value and the volume of trade between Africa and the UK, and we’re also in the investment space so I think that links really nicely with what Barclays is doing.

Many people will have recalled the UK Africa Investment Summit that we did in January 2020, which feels like a million years ago now, but actually really set for us in train a whole heap of work around driving more investment flows from the public sector and increasingly from the private sector into Africa… 

So of course, the UK now has an independent trade policy, now that we’ve left the European Union and in an African context, we’ve ensured that we’ve got continuity of trading arrangements across almost every African country. So that means continuity for businesses so they understand how they can trade on preferential trading arrangements, to really help drive that trade growth.

And then on the market access side, we’ve really honed in on that over the last couple of years, to understand and to respond to what our clients are saying to us around the fact that it’s difficult to access a particular market or sector. In the last six months alone for example, the market access barriers that my teams across Africa have supported to get rid of, amounts to somewhere in the region of a £1 billion worth of possibility of additional business.

AP: That’s so excellent to hear. I remember being at the first Africa summit actually in person and you know, there was a buzz and an excitement in the room and there was a lot of hope and a lot of energy. It’s great to see that that energy is being translated despite Covid-19.

EWS: Absolutely. On the day of the African Investment Summit, we announced over £15 billion worth of new deals and commitments and of course, just two, three months later we all then entered lockdown. But what I’m really proud about actually is the fact that that £15.4 billion worth of deals are still live, they are still in progress, they’re still, you know, they’re still happening, that is a huge amount of extra business that we’ve been able to generate as a result of that. 

And of course over the last year as well, you know, several billions of Pounds more of deals on top of that, including actually UK Export Finance’s largest ever infrastructure deal internationally which was the monorail project in Cairo. That’s really fantastic because it speaks to infrastructure, it speaks to the whole of the African continent, and it speaks to a greener, more sustainable transport for people. So, you know, we’re literally getting things moving in Africa and I’m really proud of that.

And along with doubling the size of our trade and investment team in Africa over the last couple of years, we’ve really seen UK Export Finance come along with us to the party. They’ve created finance officers in a number of places across Africa, really helping us to bring that trade finance in support and working with companies like Barclays to enable more UK companies to do more business across Africa.

AP: It’s interesting when you reference trade finance because I remember probably about a year ago, just as the pandemic really started kicking off quite severely, there were quite a lot of blocks in terms of trades and investment.

But now since the beginning of this year, things have changed dramatically and we’ve got over 250 people internally that focus on trade and export finance. We are very positive about the future in terms of trade, particularly the UK-Africa corridor. What’s your perception of the current state of UK-Africa trade and investment and where do you see it going for the next few years?

EWS: I describe it as robust. Over the last 18 months, the UK-Africa trade and investment relationship has reduced, as it has across much of the world because of the pandemic. But we’ve got fantastic UK companies, including Barclays, all over the continent and who’ve been here for many, many years and continue to do fantastic things, create and sustain jobs and really, you know pillars of the community really supporting community initiatives as well. 

At the moment we’re obviously experiencing an African recession in many parts of the continent, and it’s first time in 25 years that the African continent has gone into recession. Times are tough but I think through all of that dark cloud I still see real rays of sunshine and grassroots blossoming. There are enormously dynamic, diverse economies right across the continent, and that’s not going to disappear. 

AP: I wholeheartedly agree and a couple of comments that I would make is that Africa has been through a tough time, you’re absolutely right, but it’s a global issue.

I look back to the UK and I just think of our own institution of Barclays, and my heartfelt condolences go out to the families of a number of our colleagues and our clients who lost their lives in this pandemic. We saw our customers and clients struggling and in addition to some fee holidays and waivers, we’ve donated around £100 million to charities that are right at the forefront of helping the most vulnerable during this pandemic.

While we’re not out of the pandemic yet, there’s still some way to go, but at least our own view is that we want to help our clients build back better, we also want to help our clients to grow and thrive as they go through the pandemic.

If you would like to know more about UK trade in Africa, please contact the UK Department for International Trade directly.

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