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The UK has committed to making Africa’s landmark trade agreement successful

African countries are the ones who must make their historic free trade agreement work, but having allies from other parts of the world doesn’t hurt.

On Sept. 13 in Ghana, James Duddridge, the UK’s minister for Africa, signed a memorandum of understanding with Wamkele Mene, the secretary-general of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) secretariat. It makes Britain’s commitment to the success of the trade bloc, which includes several former colonies, official.

Duddridge said the UK was “the first non-African nation to recognize the opportunities for trade and investment” proposed by the AfCFTA. Ranil Jayawardena, the UK’s minister for international trade said the MOU “shows our commitment to boosting bilateral trade and investment, leading to sustainable economic growth across the continent.”

The UK is remaking its Africa trade relations

European Union rules governed trade between the UK and Africa until the end of the Brexit transition period on the last day of 2020. But the UK started planning for its future with Africa 12 months earlier by inaugurating an investment summit in London that 21 African leaders attended.

Since Jan. 1 this year, the UK has fully ratified trade agreements with 14 African countries including Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, and Tunisia. It also has agreements with the Eastern and Southern Africa trade bloc which includes Mauritius, Seychelles, and Zimbabwe, and with the Southern Africa Customs Union and Mozambique which includes Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, and South Africa.

With Ghana, Kenya, and Morocco, agreements are on the road to ratification but that hasn’t prevented bilateral trade. In 2020, total trade between the UK and African countries with which it had agreements was £17.3 billion.

The UK’s trade with African countries in 2020 

CountryAmount (£ million)Ratification status
Cameroon 163Full ratification
Côte d’Ivoire 501Full ratification
Eastern and Southern Africa trade bloc* 1,377Full ratification
Egypt 2,742Full ratification
Ghana 869Provisional application
Kenya 1,014Bridging mechanism
Morocco 1,456Provisional application
Southern Africa Customs Union and Mozambique** 8,689Full ratification
Tunisia 492Full ratification

It’s not a large total when compared to the UK’s trade with Japan (£24.7 billion), Canada (£17.7 billion), Singapore (£14.1 billion), and South Korea (£11.2 billion). Africa constitutes only 2.5% of the UK’s trade, with France and the US doing more business with the continent, according to a former member of a UK foreign affairs committee.

Perhaps the signed commitment in Ghana will herald more action towards UK trade with Africa. Indeed, a lot more substance is needed to back the talks and commitments of the last 20 months.

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