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Heavy lifting ahead after London's low-profile trade conference

The pandemic's economic effects and Brexit disruptions have diverted focus on business deals with Africa

A year ago at its inaugural Africa Investment conference, the United Kingdom's prime minister Boris Johnson hosted 16 African heads of state, resulting in commercial deals across the continent worth £15 billion (US$20.5 bn).

This year's online UK–Africa Investment summit on 20 January – the first UK hosted international investment event hosted since it left the EU's single market on 31 December – was a more low-key affair with business leaders and development finance institutions and delivered far fewer promises of investment (AC Vol 61 No 13, Retreating from the stage).

It raised concerns about where increased African trade and investment sits in the Johnson government's list of priorities, a year after he remarked that the UK was the 'obvious partner of choice' for the continent.

London has finalised trade pacts with 13 African countries but they are, in most cases, almost identical to the terms those countries have with the EU. It also still has its priority markets in Africa: South Africa, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria, but little progress has been made in establishing new trade relations.  

Rolling over the EU's trade deals has proved far slower and more complicated than expected (AC Vol 60 No 23, Brexit and a trade pipe-dream). Nigeria and Ghana are yet to agree new terms because they are seeking better terms than those they currently have with the EU. 

Meanwhile, the six-member East African Community has complained that the UK's roll-over deal with Kenya alone could undercut the bloc's single external tariff.



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