An anti-Brexit protester sits in Trafalgar Square in London, the UK. Picture: EPA/SEAN DEMPSEY
An anti-Brexit protester sits in Trafalgar Square in London, the UK. Picture: EPA/SEAN DEMPSEY

Nairobi/London — Britain is expected to sharpen its African aid focus on economic and trade-related projects to promote prosperity on the continent in forging new partnerships after leaving the EU.

Priti Patel, the international development secretary, is said to be sympathetic to proposals by a panel of experts convened by MPs and peers that the UK should take advantage of Brexit to develop a "pro-development trade policy with Africa".

The government has yet to develop an Africa strategy, but Prime Minister Theresa May announced last month that countries in east Africa would be among the biggest recipients of extra British aid to keep illegal migrants out of Europe.

Patel will be May’s first minister to travel to Africa when she visits Kenya this week. Her trip is expected to take in Mombasa, the largest port in east Africa and a focus of British aid through TradeMark East Africa, a programme to cut trade barriers and boost commerce.

Africa gets more UK overseas development assistance than any other region, £2.54bn in 2015. The proportion spent on aid-for-trade rose from 28.5% in 2012 to 37% in 2014, according to Financial Times analysis of figures from the government and the OECD, the Paris-based club of mostly rich nations.

Under UK law, the government’s international development spending must be focused on poverty reduction. Patel’s strategy of relying on recipient countries being "more open to conversations" about trade and her past hostility to the existence of the Department for International Development have alarmed some NGOs.

But members of the expert panel, who were assessing the previous government’s Africa Free Trade Initiative, insisted trade promotion was an integral part of development.

"An important role of aid is in disaster relief and that won’t go away," said Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, a former trade minister and co-chair of the panel. "But everybody recognises that private sector activity is a crucial part of sustainable development."

He urged the government to take advantage of Brexit to "draw on the best of existing US, Canadian and other policy to drive trade with Africa".

British aid has, among other things, been used to cut the time to clear imports to Rwanda through customs from 11 to 1.5 days, helped modernise Dar es Salaam’s port in Tanzania and leveraged $684m in private sector investment in agribusiness in 12 African countries.

Lord Green said Mrs May should appoint someone to "champion" British trade in Africa and "join up the various dots" between development assistance and trade policy.

Trade between the UK and sub-Saharan Africa rose nearly 25% from 2008 to 2014 but the UK’s share of the region’s trade with the world has stayed at 3%, according to the UN. Exports from Germany, France and Italy to sub-Saharan Africa were more than 50% higher than those of the UK in 2014.

© The Financial Times Limited 2016

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