I am writing today’s article from Sub-Saharan Africa, as I lead a City delegation to Mozambique, Zambia and South Africa. I am now halfway through my two-week visit, and it has been enlightening so far.
Having met with senior business and government officials, including the Prime Minister of Mozambique, I have enjoyed discussing how we can build closer business ties between the UK and the individual countries.
During my year in office, visiting both established and emerging markets was a key priority for me, and I sense a real opportunity for British businesses here in Africa. I have really enjoyed discussing how we can ensure Britain remains a vital partner for businesses across the African continent.
London is the world’s leading financial centre, boasting an unparalleled clustering of expertise. The UK’s regional centres of excellence, such as Leeds, Edinburgh and Bristol, complement London’s exceptional global offer.
One of the UK’s key strengths is our leadership in the field of financial innovation, with London a key global centre for both Green Finance and Islamic Finance. I have encouraged firms that I’ve met to explore these two financial products as possible alternative financing routes for investing in future growth and prosperity.
I have also talked at length aboutthe UK’s rapid growth in the fintech sector, which is quickly becoming one of the City’s crown jewels. More people are employed in this sector in the UK than in Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia combined.
I see real possibilities for British fintech companies to collaborate with African firms to help people across the African continent access banking and financial services in a way that is not currently facilitated by physical banking infrastructure.
The UK and Africa already benefit from strong trade links. Taking South Africa as an example, in 2015 alone it imported £1.8bn in services from the UK, with financial services making up a significant slice of this pie. Our trade in financial services has been growing at a steady rate in recent years too, rising by more than 30 per cent between 2007 and 2015.
But it’s not just trade that ties our two nations: it’s estimated that there are more than 130,000 South African workers based in the UK, who make up around two per cent of the Square Mile’s workforce.
In recent years, the City of London Corporation has been proactively looking at ways to strengthen business ties with partners across the Commonwealth. My visit to Africa as a representative for the UK’s financial and professional services industries this week casts a light on this initiative and drives forward a new era of Commonwealth trade.
The Commonwealth of Nations is a collection of 52 member states and has a population in excess of 2.3bn people united by shared values of democracy, free speech, human rights, and the rule of law.
These basic principles encourage business prosperity and are consistent across all Commonwealth nations, meaning it is only right that we look to strengthen the economic ties that bind us.
With the great collaboration that the UK and Africa have already benefitted from, I am confident that this trip marks a positive step to our mutual commitment to continue to build upon this relationship.
The City, London, and the whole of the country remain open for business and I look forward to continuing to discuss how we can shape a prosperous future for both Africa and the UK.