Interview: Tobias Ellwood MP
What is the main challenge with respect to increasing UK investment in Algeria?
TOBIAS ELLWOOD MP: It is the lack of awareness of Algeria as a country and as an investment destination. Algeria is not regularly in the public eye in the UK and is viewed in a similar security context as Libya and Mali. It remains an unfortunate fact that most British exporters feel they lack the skills to engage with Francophone countries and are put off by the language barrier. New exporters will look to English-speaking countries, such as those of the Commonwealth, where they know that they can explore the market in their own language. The challenge for us is to get British exporters interested, to inform them of the opportunities available and to get them to visit.
Which are the sectors that offer the greatest potential scope for British investors?
ELLWOOD: President Bouteflika’s five-year plan (2015-2019) has allocated $262bn across key areas such as infrastructure, agriculture, health care and tourism. So those are four areas where I think British businesses can start. Of course, we know that getting a foothold in the infrastructure market will be hard, as UK constructors find it challenging to meet the margins offered by other foreign construction companies. On my visits to Algiers I have seen the vast number of Chinese construction projects under way. But British architects are sought-after, and I think this is an example of where not only cost but also expertise and skills – which our Algerian customers know that UK businesses have in spades – plays a role.
What is the preferred approach for the transfer of competencies and technologies?
ELLWOOD: Knowledge transfer is vital. There is a vast workforce in Algeria ready to be tapped, to learn, ready to be trained, and British companies working in Algeria already are doing just that – GSK and Unilever employ hundreds of staff, and usually only need a couple of expatriates as part of their operation. The British vocational training company TVET-UK is also closely engaged with the Ministries of Education and Vocational Training; working with the embassy in Algiers they have brought in a series of British higher education institutes over the past few years with a view to strengthening training skills. And of course there is the British Council, which opened its training centre in May 2015. They have already registered over 1000 students for English language lessons.
How can the UK help Algeria meet its liquefied natural gas and hydrocarbons targets?
ELLWOOD: Gas and oil remain the cornerstones of the Algerian economy. Hydrocarbons account for 96% of Algerian exports. We work with organisations in the UK that put together trade missions – the two key ones for Algeria are Scottish Development International and the Energy Industries Council. Each brings at least one mission a year. It gives us an ideal platform to engage with key representatives like the Ministry of Energy, Sonatrach and Sonelgaz. It is all about engagement and making sure we keep track of opportunities. Petrofac remains a trusted partner of Sonatrach, and it is good to see AMEC Foster Wheeler now starting to work in Algeria as well.
In what specific ways does the UK support Algeria in matters of security?
ELLWOOD: Algeria has emerged from a painful past with experience in reconciliation, reintegration and reconstruction. Areas for UK-Algeria bilateral cooperation are discussed at our biannual security forum – senior talks where we discuss regional security threats and share expertise and experience with contemporary security issues such as countering violent extremism and terrorist financing. The UK delegation is led by the prime minster’s national security advisor.
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