Great pleasure to be able to join you here today and welcome you alongside DMA CEO Atam Sandhu; and HE Ambassador Rachad Farah. We look forward very much to HE President Guelleh joining us later. As you may know, this event was somewhat delayed from when we first planned to hold it, but I hope you will agree this was worthwhile so HE could attend.
This Forum is historic in nature; the first of this kind, bringing together Djibouti and the best of British business to discuss how we can grow the limited commercial links which exist between our two countries to our mutual economic benefit.
I am also Ambassador for Ethiopia and British Permanent Representative to the AU and UNECA and am based in Addis Ababa. But my team and I have responsibility too for our relationship with Djibouti. And that relationship overall is developing and growing fast. I know that when the President visited London in a former role more than 30 years ago, he found the reception in Whitehall a little cool. I hope that you all are finding your visit here this week considerably warmer and that you have been welcomed with open arms and the friendship that we genuinely feel towards you.
I don’t think we would claim that we have traditionally had a strong relationship with Djibouti. But it is unarguable that in the past few years the bonds between us have been increasing and that we now have an ever richer and deeper interaction between our two countries.
In February, for the first time any of us remember, a British Minister - the Minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds, who will join us later today – paid a substantive visit to Djibouti. That was symbolically important too and recognition that we now consult and cooperate closely on regional security issues, including counter-terrorism and anti-piracy work; and that Djibouti plays a key role in the region, not least in Somalia, making a valuable contribution to the AMISOM military operation there.
At present – though we will keep this under review - we have no permanent representation in Djibouti, though through our Honorary Consul, Alain Martinet, we are able to support British Nationals who visit the country. But I and my team are in regular contact with counterparts and colleagues in Djibouti and go there frequently. Only last month we were able again to celebrate the Queen’s Birthday in Djibouti – it was a great pleasure to meet both the President’s daughter and representative there. The success of that well-attended event also highlighted that the relationship our countries share is closer than it ever has been before.
That close relationship – focussing at present on security and regional issues - is something that everyone here today wishes to see extended to our trade and investment relationship, which could certainly improve. The Foreign Secretary – also acting on the wishes of our Prime Minister - has made Commercial Diplomacy, and support for British business overseas, one of the three central priorities of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). The Chancellor has set us the objective of doubling our exports to £1 trillion by 2020 – not solely with Djibouti, I hasten to say. This is an immense challenge for the FCO and it is only through exploring further and building on our good relationships with countries such as Djibouti that we can hope to rise to meet it.
And if anyone were to wonder as to how Djibouti views our interest in developing trade and investment ties, the seniority of the delegation here today, with President, Ministers, and representatives from both the Djiboutian public and private sector, is a clear demonstration of the importance that has been placed on ensuring that this event is a success and one we hope leads to the commercial relationship between our two countries taking off. This fully reflects the ambition of President Guelleh and the Government of Djibouti to further build the economic success of their country and, where appropriate, to do this with new partners.
With their advantageous position on one of the busiest sea routes in the world, providing port access to rapidly growing Ethiopia and oil-rich South Sudan; with their competitive business and investment environment; and with the commitment and drive that are key elements of economic progress; Djibouti is extremely well placed to be one of the economic successes of East Africa in the coming decades – the African Hong Kong, perhaps, to the North part of East Africa’s China. Becoming a financial centre for this part of the region, perhaps an Islamic Finance centre in particular, is an entirely achievable and worthy goal.
And British business, with our expertise in logistics, transportation, security, energy and financial services, is ideally placed to partner with Djibouti in helping our friends to realise those ambitions. We recognise your Francophone traditions and have no desire to disrupt old partnerships. But we also perceive a desire to build Anglophone linkages and linguistic skills too and are keen to assist.
I hope you are all able to make the most of the opportunity that today provides you. We have 5 substantive sessions of discussion, as you can see from your agenda – we hope they cover all the areas of primary interest. Those sessions will provide an excellent platform for debate but I would also urge you to use the informal opportunities at lunch and in the margins of the structured discussion to have your own conversations and discuss face-to-face how you might be able to pursue a brighter business future for both our countries.
I wish you all a fruitful day and look forward to meeting those of you I don’t know already in person over the course of the Forum.
It falls to me to help bring today’s very inspiring Forum to a close; and to look briefly towards the future.
This event is one that I hope will prove a key milestone of the burgeoning relationship between the United Kingdom and Djibouti. It has given me great pleasure to see so many of you in attendance, whether it is those companies already doing business in Djibouti; those companies interested in doing business in Djibouti in the future; or those who have made the trip to be here in London from Djibouti. We surpassed my expectations in spite of competition from the parallel Somalia event and State Opening of Parliament. The commitment demonstrated by your attendance, as well as the energy and enthusiasm of the debate and discussion here today, shows just how interested both British and Djiboutian companies are at exploring the opportunities.
We had five main sessions today, including the financial round table, which featured some excellent and informative presentations. I won’t attempt to summarise the substance covered today, which has been extensive. DMA will send out some conclusions in slower time. But I hope you will all leave with a better idea than you did about Djibouti’s liberal and sound financial system; excellent communications; political stability; and strategic location (which the Foreign Minister described as a “heavenly gift”) – as well as the whale sharks.
I would like to think I was the midwife of this Forum, from when I first visited Djibouti to present my credentials as Ambassador in February 2012. But a great many people have played a part in the success of today’s event and I wanted to single out a few for specific thanks. I would like to thank Atam Sandhu and all the Developing Markets Associates Team for their hard work. Without them this event would probably not have taken place – and it certainly would not have been so successful. Thanks also to Dawit Michael Gebre-Ab of Greenwich Group who embraced the idea of the Forum and helped encourage it forward – and to Greenwich Group and the other sponsors for their support. Thanks to the Parliamentary Chairmen of the various sessions, not least the former Minister for Africa Henry Bellingham. I would also like to thank Michael Smithson and the rest of the East Africa team in the FCO for their tireless work in supporting Britain’s relationship with Djibouti. And above all I would like to thank President Guelleh, the Minister of Economy and Finance and the other Ministers and their public and private sector colleagues for their willingness to make the journey here and offer their insights on how Britain and Djibouti can work together to meet our mutual aims when it comes to trade and investment.
Of course today’s event is not an end in itself, but simply a stepping stone, which we can all use to build a stronger economic partnership between us in the years to come. I very much hope that the ideas, information and connections arising from today’s discussions can be harnessed and will turn into real opportunities and concrete outcomes. That will be the true measure of success. It may be that some deals have already been struck today but it will be over the coming months and years that we will realise the true benefits of coming together and discussing our shared interests.
As I suggested in my opening remarks, it cannot be overstated how energised and engaged British Ministers, from the Prime Minister down, are when it comes to supporting British business overseas. Our FCO Charter for Business (see our website) outlines clearly how we are able to support you if you need our help. Against that background, I urge you to stay in contact, to approach me or my team, and to use us to make the most of the opportunities that are there in Djibouti and indeed in East Africa more widely. I will stay for a while in case you want to do that now.
I should like once again to thank you all for coming and hope that we can meet like this again in the future; ideally next time in Djibouti and that we make certain that this isn’t a single one-off event that we then consign to history. But rather the first big step in a journey for both our countries towards a brighter, shared, more prosperous future.