Ministers, Lord Risby, Ambassadors, distinguished members of the business community, ladies and gentlemen:
It is a great pleasure to be here with you today in Algiers.
Aside from being a government minister, I’m the Member of Parliament for Chelsea and Fulham – not just MP for two famous football clubs, but two thriving and lively parts of London, home to 80,000 people. But at the moment, I am in the shadow of the MP for Leicester after their amazing Premiership win.
As you heard, I am also Chief Secretary to the Treasury in the British government.
That means I am No 2 in the team of Ministers, led by George Osborne, whose task is to pull out all the stops for economic growth and greater prosperity.
Indeed, I manage a portfolio of some 740 billion pounds’ worth of spending – although, unlike some of my former colleagues in the City, my objective is not to make that number bigger!
This is my second visit to Algeria after being here for 10 days in 2006.
I had already met President Bouteflika in London, at the inauguration of the UK-Algeria Parliamentary Friendship Group.
So I was delighted to have the chance to visit, as part of a Parliamentary delegation 10 years ago, Algiers, Oran and Constantine. I was struck by the great heritage of this country, including Tipasa and Djemila. I very much enjoyed your wonderful hospitality.
And, as I stared across the Gorges du Rhumel in Constantine, I was able to reflect on the way in which different cultures and eras – including, of course, the 21st century – had each, in turn, made their mark.
So when I was given the opportunity to revisit Algeria, this time as a member of Her Majesty’s government, I leapt at the chance.
The Prime Minister has told me what an excellent, informative visit he had here in 2013, when he had a most productive discussion with His Excellency the President of the Republic. And he warmly recalls his meeting with you, Prime Minister, at No 10 Downing Street in December 2014.
The Prime Minister’s visit in 2013 was, of course, the start of something significant.
President Bouteflika asked David Cameron to help project the partnership with Algeria into the 21st century.
Together, they agreed that the partnership needed to acquire 3 strong components: first, close security co-operation; second, the increased participation of the United Kingdom in the Algerian economy; and third, to support Algeria’s efforts as it increases the use of the English language.
Before I turn to business issues, let me say a very few words about the first two components.
The security issue is fundamental to our joint success. The attack at In Amenas in 2013 made this clear. Vital Algerian and British interests were attacked; and I am proud of the way in which we stood firmly together to tackle the terrorists.
Progress since then has been strong. We had our sixth bilateral session of talks just last Thursday, in Algiers, which took further steps forward in what is an increasingly close relationship. This is an area where we will continue to work together over the coming years.
On the use of the English language, I am delighted that the British Council is reaching millions of Algerian schoolchildren through its work with the Algerian Education Ministry; and thousands of others directly, through their Teaching Centre, and through courses run for, and in, businesses in Algiers.
I say this as a keen linguist myself: knowledge of foreign languages is one of the most important skills that can be taught. And English, in particular, equips people to succeed throughout the world. Where there is an appetite for people to learn it, we will strive to meet that appetite.
But it is, of course, the business relationship that brings me here today.
For too long – and excuse me for being blunt – the UK didn’t attach enough importance to Algeria.
That’s now changing; since the Prime Minister’s visit, and the appointment of Lord Risby as the Prime Minister’s Envoy for Economic Partnership, we’ve seen important partnerships forged, as together, we explore the opportunities Algeria has to offer.
Over 120 British companies have now come here today. And an even larger number from the Algerian business community are here to meet them. That proves to me that the message – that there is good business to be done here – is truly sinking in.
So I hope you have the chance to talk to each other and to establish strong links.
And I hope you continue to build those links after this forum as well. London and Algiers are not very far away from each other – indeed, Algiers is the nearest capital to London, outside Europe. And there are so many sectors in which Algeria and the United Kingdom can work together, for the joint benefit of our businesses and our peoples.
Oil and gas is of course a given. BP and Shell are long established here and our Ambassador hosts trade missions from the oil and gas supply chain every few months.
But with the fall in the price of oil over the last two years, I know that you, Prime Minister, have recognised that Algeria has to develop its portfolio beyond hydrocarbons.
You are right. There is a vast untapped resource here. Renewable Energy, for example, can be really significant, and I want the UK to get more involved.
But alongside developing the links sector by sector, we need to offer practical assistance to our business communities.
So I want to talk today about 3 separate projects which are going to make a difference for all of us.
The first is the Double Taxation Treaty, which will ensure that tax isn’t charged on the same income in both countries – levelling the playing field for UK businesses active in Algeria.
I am delighted that ratification has now been completed. It has entered into force, and will have effect in Algeria on the 1 January 2017, and in the UK in April 2017. I’m sure you’ll all be very pleased to hear that!
The second is establishing a UK-Algeria Chamber of Commerce. This has long been a stated desire of our Embassy here, and of the Embassy of Algeria in London.
The Embassy here has, of course, offered advice and services for several years, but it makes sense for these efforts to be supported by a business-run forum, where Algerian and British companies can develop the habits of joint working.
So I am pleased to say that plans are now being developed to establish a chamber here in Algiers.
This is very much work in progress. It could provide a workspace for visiting businesspeople. It should be a hub for information for those Algerian businesspeople seeking partners or seeking to invest in the UK. But whatever shape it ends up taking, its success will depend on your input.
So I want as many of you as possible who are here today – from both countries – to register your interest by simply leaving your business card at the Embassy’s Stand in the foyer outside. You’ll then find yourself automatically included on Ambassador Noble’s updates as his team keep you all informed.
The third ground-breaking project is to open a British International School in Algiers. The plan is to offer education in English working to the UK and Algerian curriculums. The objective is to open in 2018.
No-one likes to leave their family behind when working overseas, so this will be another great incentive to companies who want to invest in Algeria.
This all goes to emphasize that the United Kingdom doesn’t see Algeria just as a market, but as a place to invest in: and one with a great deal of potential.
There are 28 million people under 30 years of age here: they are the future of the country, together with its other resources.
I’ve heard of the changes recently made to the Constitution, and know that work has now begun on the new Investment Code.
Your new Economic Model, Prime Minister, is eagerly awaited and I hope that, in improving the business environment, it will play an important role in growing the Algerian economy and British participation in it.
So although my visit here is brief this time around, I am already looking forward to visit number 3!
I hope that the roundtables this afternoon will help you all in finding new ventures to pursue.
My government’s global objective is to help 100,000 British companies start exporting by 2020 – and this Forum today should certainly play a role in achieving that.
Let me close by once again thanking you, Prime Minister, for joining us here today; and I look forward to seeing the relations between our two nations grow ever closer and stronger.