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Brexit could be good news for African trade

BID: Chi Onwurah (left) with members of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Africa as they are greeted in Southern Africa on a recent visit

WHEN I was elected the first black chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Africa, I never thought it would lead to my discussing Brexit and Swaziland pears in Namibia.

All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) bring together MPs and peers from across Parliament to promote a shared interest.

There are APPGs for everything from American football to Zoroastrianism, but the Africa APPG is the largest and one of the most active. That’s because of the long history between the UK and Africa. But it also reflects the importance of the current and future relationship. Many MPs represent sizable African diaspora communities and even those who don’t will have businesses who trade with African countries and constituents who travel there or take an interest in the development of Africa.

The Africa APPG exists to promote positive, mutually beneficial links between Africa and the UK, to give a voice to the African diaspora in the UK and to overturn some of the negative stereotypes about Africa which still exist in the UK – and elsewhere.

I am proud to be the first black chair. The APPGs for Nigeria, Jamaica and Angola now have chairs who represent the UK African and Afro-Caribbean diaspora, which helps signal the UK’s diversity to the world. One of my first decisions – to focus on trade – came out of the time I had spent in Nigeria and on the National Executive of the Anti Apartheid Movement.

Having boycotted South African produce all my youth, it was a real pleasure to start buying Cape apples and South African wine in the knowledge that I was helping the economy of a newly democratic country. Building out telecoms networks in Lagos was my personal contribution to a future Nigerian economy not dependent on oil.

My APPG colleagues agreed that trade is critically important to emerging economies. With the help of the Royal African Society and Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, we organised a delegation for September to southern Africa to look at the European Economic Partnership Agreements that determine many trade tariffs.

And then Brexit happened. Everywhere we went in Southern Africa the delegation members – Conservative MP Amanda Solloway and SNP MP Anne McLaughlin and I –were welcomed eagerly by MPs, Ministers, business people and NGOs alike, all keen to understand what Brexit meant for Africa.

And the answer is – it’s complicated.

Take Swaziland. It has a canning factory, which is great, as canned fruit provides more income and jobs than fresh fruit. And because it’s a less developed economy, its canned fruit gets to enter the EU without any tariffs. But if it runs out of pears and tries to use some from its neighbour South Africa, well, South Africa is a more developed country and so the European Union isn’t happy to take its canned pears tariff-free – should we?

Or look at Namibia. It has cattle, lamb, goats, fish and grapes. And uranium. Would it not be good for Namibia and Britain if our shoppers could buy Namibian grapes and the Namibian economy would be less dependent on mining? Perhaps we could even export some manufacturing equipment to help them industrialise and give UK manufacturing a boost.

Different again is the region’s economic power house, South Africa. Financial services are 25 per cent of its economy, providing much-needed capital for Africa’s infrastructure and manufacturing needs. Much of that finance goes through London. Which is dependent on free exchange between the City of London and the rest of Europe. These issues are replicated across the continent. There are trade agreements between the European Union and southern Africa, West Africa, East Africa etc. It is truly complicated.

We no longer have a minister dedicated to Africa. The continent now shares a minister (Tobias Ellwood) with the Middle East. Another truly complicated area. So far, I haven’t had the impression that Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davis are focused on delivering trade deals which provide sustainable support for African economies. For a start, Boris would have to figure out that Africa is not a country…

That’s why we need the African diaspora to make sure fair trade and sustainable development are at the top of the agenda for our trade arrangements post-Brexit. Brexit could be an opportunity for Africa and in the APPG, we will be continuing our inquiry, but we need your support. Write to your MP. Ask what’s happening on trade with Africa and if the Government is prioritising fair trade or short-term profits.

As chair of the APPG, I truly believe that positive trading relationship is in the interests of Africa and the UK. Help make that happen. Africa needs you.

Chi Onwurah is Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central and shadow minister for business,
innovation and skills.

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