Britain hosted leaders from 16 African countries in London last week for the UK-Africa Summit. New investment deals and agreements worth billions of dollars were signed.
Britain is looking to strengthen its trade prospects ahead of Brexit, which takes place on Friday 31 January after more than three and a half years of negotiations.
Britons voted 52 per cent to 48 per cent in favour of leaving the European Union (EU) in a referendum on 23 June 2016.
“We want to build a new future as a global free trading nation, that is what we are doing now and that is what we will be embarking on 31 January,” UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the gathering.
During the summit British Investment Firm Actis signed a memorandum of understanding with the Sovereign Fund of Egypt. Actis will provide direct support for the fund as it attempts to attract and steer private investment to critical sectors of the economy.
The Wealth Fund’s Chief Executive Ayman Suleiman said Actis’ proposal reflected its interest in expanding investment in Egypt. “We look forward to unlocking further appetite and value through such partnerships,” added Suleiman.
Among the other deals signed the UK’s Development Finance Institution (DFI) agreed with Commercial International Bank (CIB) to channel $100 million to Egyptian projects.
British healthcare company GSK agreed to invest $6.57 million in Egypt to upgrade production lines at GSK-Salam and SmithKline Beecham-Giza.
British retailer MATALAN also announced that it will open 20 stores across Egypt in the next five years. MATALAN is a well-known British fashion and homeware retailer with over 230 stores in the UK.
The UK expects to start an 11-month transition from being a member of the EU starting from 31 January after which it will be able to sign bilateral and multilateral trade deals as an independent country. London is currently seeking a renegotiation of trade deals initially signed under the EU.
EU officials quoted by the Financial Times (FT) said the European Commission would send a diplomatic note to more than 160 countries with which it has international agreements as the UK seeks to navigate the unique circumstances of its post-Brexit transition period.
The FT says the UK and EU will be in uncharted territory after Brexit day on 31 January when they enter an 11-month period in which the UK will still be covered by EU law, inside the bloc’s single market and customs union, but outside the EU.
The UK has been in negotiations with many countries to try and replicate the EU trade agreements which cover more than 70 states, including Egypt, and allow tariff-free access.
The UK has already signed post-Brexit era deals with Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia and Lebanon but has yet to finalise a trade deal with Egypt.
Badr Abdel-Ati, Assistant foreign minister for European affairs, held a high-level meeting a few weeks ago with a delegation from the British government as part of ongoing negotiations over trade relations between the two countries.
A press release issued by the Foreign Ministry said the talks came in the context of negotiations towards a partnership agreement between Egypt and the UK, the treaty framework for trade relations between the two countries after the UK exits the EU.
The ministry said the third round of negotiations included representatives of all concerned ministries and authorities in Egypt and the UK and focused on ways to guarantee the new deal allows Egyptian goods and products to continue to enter the British market.
The talks also reviewed ways to develop and deepen bilateral cooperation after the exit process from the EU is complete.
The UK is the top foreign investor in Egypt. British investments in Egypt are estimated at $48 billion, and trade exchange is currently at $3.9 billion.
Trade relations between the two countries improved in 2019, according to the latest report issued by the Egyptian Commercial Office in London (ECOL).
ECOL reported that bilateral trade reached $3 billion between January and September 2019, a 9.4 per cent increase compared to the same period in 2018.
Egyptian exports to the UK increased by 5.8 per cent to reach $920 million, compared to $885 million in the first nine months of 2018. Exports include electricity cables, mineral oils, petroleum products, fertilisers, fruits and vegetables, garments, chemical products, plastics, textiles, carpets and floor coverings, iron and steel products, ceramics, paper products and furniture.
Imports from the UK between January to September 2019 reached $1.3 billion, up from $1.2 billion during the same period in 2018. Imports include iron and steel, pharmaceutical products, tools and machinery, potato seeds, electrical equipment, mineral and petroleum fuels, vegetables, oils, aromatic plants and plastic products.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 30 January, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.