A FRIEND INDEED

Morocco 2020/21 | DIPLOMACY | INTERVIEW

Though trade between the UK and Morocco over the last year stood at about GBP2.5 billion, there is still enormous potential for both countries to do more together given the ambitions of Morocco.

Emma Wade-Smith
BIOGRAPHY

Emma Wade-Smith was announced as Her Majesty's Trade Commissioner (HMTC) for Africa in 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 panAfrican 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 in the last few years, we have seen much closer coordination across the UK government's various arms, where we essentially seek to gain the maximum impact from working collectively. In the context of COVID-19, such an 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 the private-sector investment community as well. In the UK, as part of the immediate response to the pandemic, we have taken a look across our entire programming work in Africa and ensured that as much of that is directed at providing the help and support that governments across Africa need to help them respond to the pandemic and put in place the building blocks for a strong recovery. People are talking about rebuilding better and building back greener and sustainably and inclusively. That is essentially the focus for us, which is really making sure that every pound and penny counts to help Africa's governments and people recover from the pandemic.

What is the significance of UK-Morocco relations, and in what areas do you envisage great cooperation?
Morocco is one of the most dynamic markets in Africa, the sixth-largest economy on the continent, and one of the easiest countries to do business with. If I look across my network, Morocco is one of those markets where the UK has not been as present and visible as it could be. One of the things we have done recently is set up a joint trade and investment task force designed to look at the common and complementary commercial interests. I see real opportunities here, not least because our export credit agency UK Export Finance has a market risk appetite for Morocco for up to GBP3 billion, and it is currently not entirely untapped. In terms of other opportunities, we have Casablanca Finance City, a truly energetic organization. Agriculture is also a real sector of opportunity, though unfortunately COVID-19 prevented us from being the country of honor at Morocco's SIAM agricultural exhibition in April. I am hopeful we will be able to roll that over to next year and be able to demonstrate the opportunities in the agri space. Renewables is also a real sector of opportunity in Morocco, as is education. At the UK African Investment Summit, we signed an MoU to support UK education provision in Morocco. We created the first British school there and see huge potential for doing more in that education space, including edtech. Morocco is a truly vibrant economy, and there is so much more that I want us to be doing there.

What is your strategy to boost the confidence of investors and UK companies that want to enter Africa?
According to traditional investors such as Unilever and Diageo that 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.