Blog: Lord Popat’s Presentation: Outlining the UK’s export growth strategy

Lord Popat’s Presentation: Outlining the UK’s export growth strategy

Lord Dolar Popat Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Uganda and Rwanda

Lord Dolar Popat started by acknowledging the presence of His Excellency Vice President Ssekandi, Honourable Speaker Kadaga; the Lords; Ministers; Members of Parliament and distinguished guests.

While addressing the Convention he noted that it was growing stronger and stronger year after and the way it was laser-like focus on the need for trade. He thanked Willy Mutenza and his team for putting up such a successful event.

He also thanked everyone who attended the convention. Commending their determination to build stronger links between the two great nations of Uganda and the United Kingdom. He welcomed His Excellency Julius Moto, Uganda’s new High Commissioner to the UK – who was well known for fostering trade links and looked forward to working with him hence increasing bilateral trade between the two nations.

Lord Popat retaliated that he was delighted to be reappointed as the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Uganda and Rwanda mainly for three reasons:

  • His love for East Africa, especially Uganda, his birth place
  • The amazing economic potential that Uganda and Rwanda were enjoying, with their current high levels of economic potential and the obvious opportunities for that to continue.
  • Because he believed that it was in the interests of both Uganda and Rwanda to work with British firms, due to their high standards and integrity, which would help to build a better future.

He shared with them an article he received via WhatsApp, early in the year, that showed a report from Harvard University forecasts that Uganda would become the fastest economy in the world by 2025. He said, “I want to see that become a reality and I want Britain to play a leading role in Uganda’s success”.

This was an important moment for both countries, as Britain, had undertaking one of the most significant changes the 21st century had ever seen; we leaving the European Union.

He further said that every day, the newspapers were filled with stories about Brexit. He didn’t go into the details of what Brexit would and wouldn’t entail, or discussed the pros and cons of the decision taken in the referendum. However, speaking as a business man he said that Brexit was a fantastic opportunity for the country.

Britain for the past few decades had masked some major economic problems. On the surface it looked OK; GDP growth figures were fine, the unemployment rate generally been low, interest rates were manageable.

But beneath the surface, there were some profound problems. Public sector borrowing was too high, overly reliant on the City and other services industries whilst more traditional industries like manufacturing and construction were suffering. The productivity figures had remained stubbornly low; it was taking a worker in France or Germany four days to produce what a British worker did in five.

Yet perhaps the greatest problem was balance of trade deficit; Britain simply did not have enough exports to pay for its imports. Again, there were many reasons for that which he didn’t go into details but he focused on one particularly appropriate area.

He said that every year he sits on a judging panel for the Queen’s Awards for Exports to review hundreds of applications. He further said that many of them had created the most amazing products that could literally change people’s lives; others had also developed marketing and export strategies that were unique and generate huge amounts of business.

However, there was one trend he had spotted over the past few years; they all tended to have something in common. It’s not the type of product they were producing, or the way they were exporting; it’s where they were exporting to.

The number of firms that only focused on the E.U. were staggering; the one continent in the world where economic growth had been sluggish and demographic trends showed an ageing population. One would get the odd firm exporting to North America, a few in China and some focusing on Saudi Arabia, but he never recalled seeing a single application talking about Africa, and very few looking at the emerging markets in Asia and South America.

This is why Brexit was an opportunity; because it was once in a lifetime chance to challenge every business in the country: why were we doing this? Why were we neglecting the economies that were most likely to grow in the next decade?

Uganda wanted to invest in major infrastructure projects – UK had some of the best construction, design and engineering firms in the world in Britain! Why were they not in Uganda?

Uganda wanted to develop its banking and financial services sector – there was probably no other country in the world that could boast of greater expertise in making this work. What was needed, was to get them into Uganda.

But Brexit was giving Britain an opportunity to challenge assumptions, and to change the world view. And his role as a Trade Envoy was to find those companies who would be a good fit, to persuade them that Uganda was a fantastic market, and to help them put together the best possible proposals to win contracts and establish trading arms in Uganda.

Also his other role was to speak, as a friend, on behalf of British firms when they were having difficulties as he was speaking to those at the Convention . He said that he couldn’t clap with one hand, he needed their help to make their shared wish a reality as well.

Lord Popat said that over the past eighteen months he had helped a number of British-led firms and projects bid for opportunities in Uganda. Things would start well; proposals were well-received and everyone seemed to be on the same page. There was a lots of enthusiasm; lots of actions and then things were submitted to the relevant Departments. And nothing had taken place.

There was no feedback; no progress., things just stop. Nobody was sure if things were proceeding or if they should scrap the project and move on.

This was not only bad for the companies involved, those who had often undertaken significant costs to try and secure the work , but also for Uganda. “There needs to be more clarity, transparency and accountability for how Government decisions are – or aren’t – taken; because it reflects poorly on the reputation of such a great country”, he said.

He further said that, increasingly, businesses were paying attention to the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index, and although Uganda had made efforts to improve it’s ranking in recent years, it was still far too low on the list. A lot more needed to be done to improve in this area, otherwise Uganda would not reach the heights that it could – and should – do.

Lord Popat again said that he was saying this as friend as someone who was desperate for both Uganda to prosper and for UK-Uganda bilateral trade to significantly increase.

However, there was one area where significant progress was made in the past couple of years. Although a lot more had to be done to encourage British firms to export, but the Government had taken tremendous strides to make it easier than ever to export to Uganda.

He outlined the support available from Her Majesty’s Government to the businesses.

He started with the excellent diplomatic support. As the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy, he is at the service of any firm looking to establish themselves in Uganda. He informed them that he was visiting Kampala again in November with a delegation and he was also in constant contact with the FCO, Department for International Trade, the High Commission in Uganda and – of course – the Ugandan Government. He assured them that he was willing to offer contacts, guidance and support for any project they were looking to take forward.

Similarly the High Commission in Kampala was one of the most commercially-minded diplomatic posts he has worked with. The current High Commissioner, Peter West, was very talented and lead an excellent team on the ground.

And the support of the Department of International Trade, which was created by Prime Minister Theresa May. This new Department was dedicated to increasing Britain’s trade presence around the world. 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 – ready to support any business looking to export to Uganda. There were also specialists in a huge number of sectors willing to help.

This was the diplomatic side but there was need to think about the finance too. This had even more good news, he said.

UK Export Finance was the UK Government’s export credit agency not well known enough in the private sector, yet it could open up more doors than almost any of its competitors.

They offered 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, they were there to offer financial support and to make exporting easier. He said that they were the best in the world at what they did. Reflecting on the shift to a more pro-active approach by the UK Government to Uganda, last year, they broadened their range of products to ensure UK companies remained competitive and responded to increasing development and infrastructure needs in Uganda. They increased their current annual country cover for Uganda from £100m to £500m.

He announced that the figure now stood at £600m, after his visit to Kampala in March  This allowed the UK Export Finance to support major projects in Uganda as well as smaller ones, and a number of large projects were currently under consideration.

This reflected not only the importance that the UK Government placed on Uganda, but also the increasing level of interest being shown by British firms for projects in Uganda, particularly larger scale infrastructure, agritech and energy projects.

He further said that, “from financial to diplomatic support; from strategic advice to the best contacts book in Kampala; the UK Government is here to support every business that is thinking that Uganda might be their newest market”.

Lord Popat ended by saying that, for both countries, had reached an important crossroads. Choices – and improvements – had to be made on both sides. But he hoped everyone in the room could agree on, that both countries should be partners on the road ahead as they shared a tremendous history, and a lot of affection for each other’s countries; They were both good for one another.

But both countries should not simply rely on good will; but had to also take the necessary steps to help each other in the months and years ahead. He hoped that his speech had helped to outline what he thought was needed to make that a reality.

He thanked the people for listening, and hoped that they would have a fantastic and profitable day.

Lord Dolar Popat is British Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Uganda and Rwanda

John Doe
John Doe

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