Since the British people voted just over a year ago to leave the European Union (EU), I have been regularly asked what this will mean for the UK’s relationship with Sierra Leone – and especially our trade links – once Brexit happens.
The UK government has always made clear, since the Brexit vote, that our commitment to Sierra Leone remains undiminished. Our Secretaries of State for International Development and International Trade have now jointly confirmed the 48 of the world’s poorest countries, including Sierra Leone, will retain tariff-free access to UK markets after the UK leaves the EU.
This gives certainty to businesses exporting from Sierra Leone to the UK that they will continue to benefit from tariff-free exports into the UK on all goods other than arms and ammunition. The agreement known as ‘everything but arms’ will continue after the UK leaves the EU.
This is a UK commitment that, after we leave the EU, trading terms will remain at least as good as they are now. But that is just the baseline. The UK government is determined to strengthen the attractiveness of the UK – already one of the easiest places in the world to do business – as a commercial destination, post-Brexit. A more Global Britain will also aim to strengthen trade and other ties with the rest of the Commonwealth, including Sierra Leone.
For decades, the UK Government has stressed the importance of increasing developing countries’ trade as one of the most effective ways of reducing poverty. It’s working; the UK imported over £19.2 billion of goods from developing countries in 2015, including African staples such as coffee, cocoa, bananas and textiles. Helping African producers and exporters, supporting jobs, and reducing aid dependency.
We’re pleased to see a number of British firms playing a role in major sectors of the economy in Sierra Leone, including banking, agriculture, water, transport, energy, and infrastructure development. We are providing direct support to the private sector, helping small and medium enterprises to access finance and learn the skills they need to grow. We are bringing in UK expertise, including the British Geological Survey to help make sure that Sierra Leone is able to exploit its mineral resources for the benefit of its population.
But there is scope for Sierra Leone to profit much more from tariff-free trade with the UK. In order to attract more investment, jobs and growth, the government needs to work with business and potential investors to tackle the challenges which they consistently identify; improving revenue collection and infrastructure; respecting the sanctity of contract; clarity on land title; tackling corruption at all levels.
The UK can help. We remain the biggest bilateral development partner of Sierra Leone. We are fulfilling our £240million pledge to helping Sierra Leone recover from Ebola, supporting new infrastructure and better public services as well as working with the Government of Sierra Leone to build capability, provide better education and healthcare. Some projects are now reaching their successful conclusions and are being handed over to the Government of Sierra Leone to maintain, use and develop. And we will work with this government and its successor to help improve the business environment in Sierra Leone.
The opportunities are there. Britain is open for tariff-free trade with Sierra Leone. Let’s make that work for Salone’s businesses, jobs, and people.