Oct. 20, 2020

Emma Wade-Smith


Emma Wade-Smith

Her Majesty's Trade Commissioner (HMTC) for Africa, United Kingdom

“The story of Nigeria and its sheer size and scale makes it an essential partner in Africa.”


Emma Wade-Smith was announced as Her Majesty's Trade Commissioner (HMTC) for Africa in June 2018. She has lived and worked in South Africa since 2016, following her appointment as the UK's Trade Director for Southern Africa. She created and subsequently led DIT's pan-African regional trade team since 2017. She has also worked on international trade at the UK's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Prior to working on trade and investment she had a distinguished career as a British diplomat, spanning more than two decades.

How do you see UK debt relief and humanitarian aid efforts developing in Africa as a result of the COVID-19 situation?

The UK is a large donor into Africa, and what we have seen over the last few years is a much closer coordination across the UK government's various arms where we seek to get maximum impact from working collectively. In the context of COVID-19, such alignment is more essential that ever, and we are seeing that not just within the UK government's aid efforts but also across all DFIs and even into the private-sector investment community as well. In the UK, as part of the immediate response to the pandemic, we have taken a wholesale look across all of our programming work in Africa and ensure that as much of that as possible is directed to provide the help and support that the governments across Africa are in need of to help them respond to the pandemic and also to put in place the building blocks for a strong recovery. People are talking about rebuilding better and building back greener, more sustainably, and more inclusively. That is essentially the focus for us, which is making sure that every pound and penny counts to help Africa's governments and people recover from the pandemic.

How do you see the UK-Nigeria relationship developing?

Nigeria is not the only one that is keen to boost trade, because the UK is as well. The story of Nigeria and its sheer size and scale makes it an essential partner in Africa. It is so dynamic and energetic, and the innovations we see on every street corner in Lagos are inspiring and makes you want to work together. We have had a great business relationship with Nigeria for a number of years, and not just in terms of oil and gas, although that has been a dominant feature. There has been GPB4.5 billion worth of trade between our countries year on year. Over this last year, we saw nearly a half billion worth of new business from the UK into Nigeria. We have worked hard to bring those opportunities to the UK business community. At the end of 2019, we did a Nigeria investment showcase in London, for example, with the Lord Mayor of London and packed the room with UK investors who are interested and excited to hear from Nigerians about the opportunities. We have a great relationship at the government-to-government level and across business levels. The Nigerian government has ambitions to diversify its energy mix in the next 10 years, so we see real opportunities in the renewables space as well. We have exciting deals happening around that in terms of solar energy and other areas. Agriculture is another area of growth, and we see education as an extraordinary sector as well given the size of its population and the ambition and drive of Nigerians. We have had fantastic conversations around education and skills training.

What is your strategy to boost confidence for investors and UK companies that want to enter the market in Africa?

According to traditional investors such as Unilever and Diageo, which have operations on the ground, times are tough, as they are around the world, but everyone is committed to Africa and committed to doing the right thing in terms of helping in that response phase and being part of the recovery phase. The way that we see UK investments across Africa really plays into what the strengths will be for that recovery phase. We are seeing people coming to terms with the new reality. We are seeing and hearing from companies that are interested in the opportunities that will emerge in Africa, whether that is in terms of mergers and acquisitions, business restructuring, or companies that were previously vibrant and dynamic but are perhaps just cash strapped and looking for investment. We will see a return of some of that investment that has flooded particularly out of sub-Saharan Africa in the last few months.