Lord Dolar Popat: UK Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Uganda and Rwanda
Lord Popat, thanked the delegates for attending, and for helping to further the ever-strengthening relationship between the UK and Uganda. He appreciated the organising team for taking this event from strength to strength and commended them for this year’s focus on increasing trade links between the two great nations.
He pointed out that “This Convention always offers an opportunity to celebrate the close links between the UK and Uganda, but I think more than ever, this year’s convention helps to offer a roadmap for how we build on those links and take our relationship to the next level.”
Lord Popat was born in Uganda in the town of Busolwe, and brought up in the town of Tororo. Despite the many years which passed when he left Uganda, Lord Popat had remained close to Uganda.
When he visited Uganda in 2012 and was privileged to meet His Excellency President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni and many Senior Government Ministers. He was also impressed to see how Uganda had developed; the transformation was extraordinary.
“Since independence in 1962, Uganda has been on a rollercoaster ride; a socialist Government, a brutal dictator in Idi Amin and a civil war; and now, finally, freedom and democracy under the leadership of H.E President Museveni”, he expressed.
He further said that the President and his Government deserved great praise for their vision, and for the way they had encouraged private sector growth to power the Ugandan economy. And the most exciting thing was that there was still so much potential for further growth; Uganda was only just beginning its journey to become an economic powerhouse.
He said that “The time to invest in Africa is now” in his February 2015 article for the Parliamentary Magazine, which is read by almost everybody in British politics, stating clearly and without compromise that British perceptions on Africa were the problem. He finished the article with this comment:
“President Obama said last year that ‘young Africans are less interested in aid and more interested in how they can create opportunity through businesses”.
He encouraged UK businesses to respond by grabbing the economic initiative and playing a leading role in Africa’s future growth. Otherwise they would be left behind by the countries that see “Africa as it is, rather than how they fear it is”.
Lord Popat informed the delegates that in January this year he was appointed as a Trade Envoy to Rwanda and Uganda by the then British Prime Minister David Cameron who established the Trade Envoy programme to build links with specific markets that were identified for their economic potential.
He expressed that that, the new role combines his main political passions: encouraging trade with Africa, supporting Britain’s SMEs to export more, and to reduce one of Britain’s biggest economic problems, its significant current account deficit. The job of a Trade Envoy was to encourage bilateral trade and investment and, through that work, to bring increased prosperity to the people of the United Kingdom and Uganda.
He pointed out that the UK was already the largest cumulative investor in Uganda, apposition it wished to retain. It was therefore, worth reflecting on for a moment on why investing in Uganda made so much sense.
In his maiden visit as Trade Envoy to Uganda, meeting with Ministers, the Business community, Civil Servants and His Excellency President Museveni. He saw another wave of development across the country, yet another leap on from what he saw in 2012. He came away with a number of important conclusions about why British businesses can succeed in Uganda:
- Britain’s reputation – the goods and services offered by British businesses were often, if not always, considered superior than those of our competitors. It was interesting to hear that, in future infrastructure developments, the Uganda Government are very keen for British project management to be involved; whilst other countries can offer cheap labour, the results have sadly too often reflected the price paid.
- Political stability – Uganda is a settled democracy. Since 1986 elections have become an important part of Ugandan culture, and there are many dedicated Parliamentarians and elected officials looking to further the development of their country. Linked to that is my third reason:
- Political Will – Earlier this year the Presidential elections saw President Museveni return to office. His new Government are determined to make great strides in Uganda’s development; tackling corruption, developing infrastructure fit for any country in the 21st Century and advancing Uganda’s economy are all clear priorities. All of these should be welcomed by British businesses; they either offer opportunities to be involved in the necessary work, or help to create a very business-friendly environment. Having spoken to His Excellency personally about his plans, I am convinced of his commitment to this work, and to further improve Uganda’s ‘ease of doing business’ rating.
- Economic Strength – following the pro-market structural reforms undertaken by President Museveni in the late 1980s, Uganda has been through a sustained period of high economic growth. Growth averaged 7% in the 1990s and 2000s, and whilst it has dropped a bit from that level, it remains strong. As I mentioned, the expected investment in infrastructure and desire to support private sector growth is only going to help further economic growth – and spread prosperity – in Uganda. Those British firms thinking about entering the Ugandan market will be entering a thriving economy.
- Shared History – The UK and Uganda have a long and powerful history that makes doing business there easier. There is, of course, our shared language; the legal systems operate on the same principles; we share our commitment to democracy and there is tremendous respect for Great Britain in Uganda. On top of that, there is also a sizeable Diaspora in each other’s countries; all of these links help to make investment and doing business in Uganda easier than many other markets.
Following the referendum in June, Britain will be leaving the European Union. It is now up to all of us in politics and in business to identify opportunities that are open to us, as we forge a new role in the world, in the Commonwealth and in Africa.
Below is the good news he shared with the delegates.
During his visit to Rwanda, they reached an agreement in principle to start direct flights from Kigali to London, via Entebbe. This was his number one aim as Trade Envoy and it would make a huge difference to increasing trade with East Africa; dramatically cutting the time to get to both countries.
UK trade with Rwanda was around £10m a year; but with the agreements-in-principle they reached at the recent Rwanda summit, that number could go up to £200m this year. It included major road projects, selling aeroplanes and a major Government contact. In the post-Brexit world, we all needed to be wise to the opportunities that were out there in the world.
During his conversations with President Museveni, he agreed to host the summit in Kampala in 2017, which would be a perfect opportunity to showcase Uganda and its economic opportunities to British businesses. Lord Popat would be leading a very large delegation to next year’s summit.
Support for British Firms
He pointed out that support was available to British businesses looking to invest in or export to Uganda.
There was, of course, excellent diplomatic support. As the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy, he was at the service of any firm looking to establish themselves in Uganda. Similarly, UK High Commission in Kampala, Alison Blackburn was one of the most commercially-minded diplomatic who had worked tirelessly with British businesses establishing themselves in Uganda; and based on the presence of Tullow Oil and, now, the presence of two other leading FTSE 100 companies there, Prudential and Vodafone.
The support of UKTI; or UK Trade and Industry, who now fell under the newly established Department of International Trade. Their role was to drive the Government’s desire to increase trade and exporting, and they had dedicated staff – both across the UK and on the ground in Kampala and were ready to support any business looking to export to Uganda.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there was the support available from UK Export Finance, the UK Government’s export credit agency. They were offering a tremendous range of products to British businesses looking to export to Uganda; from direct lending to bond insurance; from a Working Capital Scheme to a Letter of Credit Guarantee Scheme, available to offer financial support and to make exporting easier.
Reflecting on the shift to a more pro-active approach by the UK Government to Uganda, he informed the delegates that they had now broadened their range of products to ensure that UK companies remained competitive and responded to increasing development and infrastructure needs in Uganda. This was a game changer, meaning that the current annual country covers for Uganda had been increased from £100m to £500m.
This would allow them to support major projects in Uganda as well as smaller ones, and also a number of large projects were also under consideration.
From financial to diplomatic support; from strategic advice to the best contacts book in Kampala; the UK Government would be there to support every business making Uganda their newest market.
In his conclusion Lord Popat said that “this is a hugely exciting time to be involved in UK-Uganda relations, and Now is the time to invest in Uganda; now is the time to export from the UK; and the UK Government are here to support you in your efforts”.