By Lord Dolar Popat
What a difference a year makes. When embarking on a new year and a new decade it is natural to look to the past and reflect, and also to look ahead to the future and plan for the potential there.
Many things are new about this New Year specifically. To name a few of the big ones, there is a new Conservative Government under Prime Minister Boris Johnson. There are new MPs and lots of them! There will need to be a new relationship with the EU when we leave at the end of this month, and there will need to be new relationships with all our worldwide trade and security partners of old, and well, of new!
January is an important month in any year, but to me, this January seems perhaps the most important in recent history. Which is why I couldn’t be more relieved and elated that on the 20th of this month the UK will be hosting the UK-Africa Investment Summit.
At this historic Summit, our Prime Minister, Heads of State of Government, and business leaders will meet in London to work out a deservedly ambitious set of partnerships that have the potential to be transformative for both the UK and the countries of Africa. The Summit will develop progress in protecting the environment, promoting the health and economic development of the people of Africa, it will deliver more opportunities for investments and jobs, as well as showcase the world-famous resources that the UK has to offer and preview to the rest of the world just what prosperity and progress can be possible when working shoulder to shoulder with UK plc.
Few are unaware of the mountainous national and international hurdles which lay ahead of us all in business and politics. I believe more often than not that when faced with new challenges, the key to overcoming them is found within our past and with our most steadfast friends. It is, for this reason, I believe so passionately that the Commonwealth is the answer to so many of our questions, and specifically Africa.
It is worth noting that since Britain joined the EU in 1972, the EU has recorded average annual economic growth of just over 2%. But during the same period the economies in the Commonwealth have expanded twice as fast; by 4.4% average each year. In 2018 the Commonwealth had a combined GDP of $10.5 trillion, accounting for almost 14% of the global economy.
Furthermore, Africa makes up 19 of the 53 states in the Commonwealth and has been dubbed the ‘new economic frontier,’ for good reason. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that Africa is home to eight of the world’s 15 fastest growing economies and 4 of them are in the top 5. Furthermore, the IMF observes that Africa has collectively tripled its
GDP since 2000 at an annual rate of 4.6%. She has some of the most innovative and largest cities, 60 of which have populations over 1 million and it is home to a third of the world’s natural resources. It is no wonder the likes of China, Turkey, France and even Japan have been rushing in to visit the continent during the last few years.
These are just some of the many reasons why it is not only a pleasure to host our African friends at this years’ UK-Africa Investment Summit on the 20th January but humbly a privilege.
This year’s Summit we will be focussing on a number of key areas. Firstly, how we can build our UK Africa commercial partnerships in areas such as agriculture, infrastructure, renewables and manufacturing, how we can make these partnerships even stronger by also learning and harnessing tech and innovation from leading UK and African businesses. Secondly, we want to showcase our world-famous financial institutions, capital and expertise from the City of London, particularly in areas where we are at the forefront, such as green, early-stage and local currency financing. And thirdly, it is really important we work to build a modern, strong, stable and enduring partnership fit for the 21st Century based on long term mutual prosperity, recognising that both the UK and African countries have so much to learn from each other’s expertise, including for example around energy transition.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is acutely aware of the potential in Africa. In fact, he broke two African records in the last couple of years. Firstly by making more visits to Africa than any other UK Government official in the last few administrations, and secondly, by being the first recorded British Foreign Secretary to visit The Gambia.
I know the Prime Minister and this Government are dedicated to a powerful vision of an even closer special relationship with our African friends, founded on sustainable investment, job creation, innovation and prosperity throughout both the United Kingdom and the African continent. I have always said that there is nowhere which is more of natural business home for the UK outside of our own borders, than in Africa. So it seems only right we begin this New Year and new decade with this UK-Africa Investment Summit. Our mutual opportunities and combined potential are limitless, not only in relation to the advancement of our economies but also in answering some of the world’s wider social and sustainability questions. I cannot wait to meet with our Prime Minister and all our African friends at the Summit and get down to work on our successful futures which I know will endure not only for our lifetimes but for generations to come.