On becoming Minister for the Middle East and Africa I made it a priority to visit Algeria. Algeria matters to the UK and I am delighted to be visiting for the first time.
The United Kingdom wants Algeria and the Maghreb to succeed. The Maghreb is our neighbour. We are already working closely on security and foreign policy issues. The issues of counter terrorism, drugs and crime are too serious not to be the subjects of cooperation.
But while it is important to remember that we share the same threats, we should also stand ready to grasp the same opportunities. The Maghreb is a region of growth which provides the UK with economic and other opportunities. Britain has had a long historical relationship with the countries of the Maghreb. But the relationships have not been fully developed. The British Government is strongly committed to building stronger links, and to work with partners in the region and outside it for a successful, secure and prosperous Maghreb.
In May this year I came into office as part of a new Government which is determined to show that the UK is open for business, rejects protectionism and supports trade. We are already cutting red tape and reducing corporation tax, and we are committed to giving a new impetus to the Doha trade talks. As we look abroad for partners, North Africa and Algeria are a central part of our vision.
We know of the challenges facing the region. As many in the region remind us, greater economic cooperation in the Maghreb is essential if the young are to find employment, not least given the slow-down in the European area and the demographic trends in your countries. Only 2% of trade by Maghreb countries is between the countries of the Maghreb. That is surely unsustainable.
Algeria is the largest market in the Maghreb and there is huge potential for increased trade between us. Algeria is a long-standing trading partner and our commercial relationship has seen tremendous growth in recent years, despite the global economic difficulties. Bilateral trade between our two nations totalled £1.4 billion in 2008 and has continued to rise. The UK is now one of the largest foreign investors in Algeria. But we can do more together and have much to offer each other.
Algeria has had enormous success as an energy producer and the UK has been a partner since the beginning. In 1965 we jointly concluded the world’s first shipment of Liquefied Natural Gas. Ever since then, UK companies, including BP, Shell and the BG Group, have helped drive production in Algeria. But we continue to look for ways to modernise and revitalise our commercial relationship. Earlier this year we signed a road map on future co-operation which will enhance the already strong existing energy relationship into new areas such as health and safety and energy efficiency. It also acknowledges the importance of developing a new partnerships in low carbon industries and working together on renewable energy, in which Algeria has a huge potential.
Outside the energy sector, British firms have also long been based in Algeria. Unilever started operating here in 1954 and is one of the largest foreign employers in the country. Ever since, we have sought to encourage British firms to work with Algerian partners. In recent years, British companies such as HSBC have come with global financial knowledge and GSK has developed a pharmaceutical manufacturing base, bringing highly skilled jobs to Algeria.
Britain’s vibrant, modern economy and reputation for quality, innovation, customer service and know how is matched by Algeria’s ambition - not least in infrastructure. UK firms stand ready to help with design and engineering expertise garnered in some of the most difficult conditions in the world. In addition, the defence sector British companies are interested in Algeria’s programme of modernisation of its armed forces. Augusta Westland has recently won orders to supply helicopters to the armed forces and we hope such partnerships will progress.
If we are to really harness our potential we must also develop our cultural links. Together we are already encouraging more Algerian students to come to the UK and Algerian companies to set up schools and colleges in Algeria in partnership with the UK. Algeria understands the importance of its people learning English. The British Council recently partnered with the Ministry of Education in training 1,000 middle school teachers and more than 70 inspectors in English.
But even more exciting are the smaller firms that are already making inroads in Algeria. These include Linguaphone and Language Solutions. The latter has been in Algeria teaching English for seven years and has expanded its business to teach English to aircraft personnel. An increased knowledge of English will open the UK’s world class universities to more Algerian students. It is advances like this that push forward an economy, encourage communication and business, and help spread prosperity throughout the country.
There are many opportunities for UK businesses to support the development of the Algerian economy in sectors as varied as oil & gas, agriculture, construction, education &skills, environment, healthcare and ICT. The British Government will continue to encourage British businesses to realise the many excellent opportunities that Algeria has to offer. In return we look to Algeria to create the conditions in which trade and investment can prosper. I hope, and expect, the commercial relationship between our two nations to flourish.