Campaigners warn against Liam Fox’s post-Brexit strategy to ‘fleece’ Africa

Campaigners warn against Liam Fox’s post-Brexit strategy to ‘fleece’ Africa

Date: 8 March 2017

The meeting of Commonwealth trade ministers hosted by international trade secretary Liam Fox taking place in London on 9/10 March has been criticised by trade campaigners who warn that the meeting is likely to deepen corporate interests in African countries at the expense of ordinary people across the continent.

British ministers are planning to talk with the group’s African nations about deeper free trade deals between Britain and African countries, a plan that has been internally dubbed ‘empire 2.0’ by Whitehall officials.

But campaigners claim that corporate interests are likely to define any agreements reached, highlighting the strategic interests of the event’s organisers, the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC), in controversial mining, oil and gas companies and companies looking to expand markets for private healthcare and education on the African continent. (see notes)

Mamadou Goïta, executive director of IRPAD/Afrique in Mali said:

“Africa has had quite enough of having terms of trade forced on it by Britain. Oiling the wheels of Britain’s economy with cheap products and cheap labour has cost our farmers, our workers and our business people dearly.  We are happy with trade – on fair terms which preserves our independence. But we’ve had enough of the sort of exploitation that bleeds our countries of wealth and resources.

“Africa’s governments are increasingly standing up against exploitative trade deals with Europe. The Victorian delusions of the British government will not receive a positive hearing in today’s Africa.”

Nick Dearden, the director of Global Justice Now said:

“Unfortunately for Liam Fox and his plans for ‘empire 2.0’, Britain no longer rules the waves, and can’t dictate the terms of trade to poorer countries in quite the way that it once could. But that doesn’t mean that Fox won’t try to fleece African economies in the interests of putting as much ‘cheap stuff’ as possible on Western supermarket shelves.

“Trade can help countries generate jobs and employment, so guaranteeing tariff-free access to British markets for many African countries is to be welcomed. But ripping open markets, driving down regulation and undermining incipient industry seriously hinders development – and won’t be welcomed by British producers either.  Trade needs to be fair for producers on both sides if it’s to improve living standards. As recent battles between African countries and the EU prove, more African governments and parliaments are prepared to fight for fairer trade. Dr Fox should listen and learn – the days of empire are over. “

In December 2015, Global Justice Now published  Dreaming of Empire? UK foreign policy post-Brexit, which identified four key trends of Britain’s post-Brexit policy, warning that it will:

  • embed an extreme version of free trade that pushes developing countries to open their markets;
  • increasingly privatise development aid to the benefit of big corporate interests;
  • develop closer ties with authoritarian regimes, including expanding arms sales;
  • use its military power to secure its financial and economic interests.

The CWEIC’s ‘strategic partners’ include a roll-call of corporations with business interests in Africa. They include mining companies, Gem Diamonds and Firestone Diamonds, British multinational equipment manufacturer JCB, engine manufacturer Rolls Royce, Nigerian oil & gas corporation Chimons, Standard Chartered Bank, insurance firms Prudential and Hyperion, investors Abraaj Group and Inclusive Ventures Group, corporate communications firm Brunswick Group and telecoms giant Vodafone.
The CWEIC has a particular interest in breaking into healthcare markets in the Commonwealth. It has established a Commonwealth Healthcare Business Group which has written to Ministers in all 53 Commonwealth countries asking for their top health investment priorities. CWEIC says that ‘The Healthcare Business Group will then consider how best the private sector can help meet those priorities’.
Some of the companies involved in the CWEIC are looking for new investment opportunities in both health and education. For example, Inclusive Ventures Group is an ‘impact investor’ whose portfolio includes the education and healthcare sectors. It currently invests in Bridge International Academies in Kenya  – a chain of private schools – and is also targeting the healthcare sector. Another of CWEIC’s strategic partners, InterHealth Canada, is a leading healthcare organisation specialising in the development, and management of healthcare facilities, whose core business is to export Canada’s Healthcare intellectual and management expertise to emerging economies. It has ‘an emphasis on investment returns’.