ABBC webinar – ambassadorial webinar, 11-08-20

On 11th of August, Algeria British Business Council organised a webinar dedicated to presenting the current political and economic landscape of Algeria and the state of affairs between the UK and Algeria. The panellists included Rt. Hon. Lord Risby of Haverhill – Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Algeria, H.E. Barry Lowen – The British Ambassador to Algeria, Mr Yassine Bouhara – chairman of Tell Group and Lady Olga Maitland, ABBC chairman, who moderated the webinar.

ABBC webinar screen

Mr Barry Lowen gave a strong and positive message:

‘This the time to engage with Algeria.   There is pressure and determination by the Government to reform and diversify the economy. This has been spurred on by the Hirak, and their peaceful demonstrations.  Significantly there was a peaceful Government response. The call for political and economic change was understood.

We have entered a new era of profound change, albeit somewhat slowed down by Covid 19, but it is happening.  It should be noted that Algeria is richer than its neighbours, nearly £60b in reserves and no foreign debt.  There is also a lot of liquidity among the 43 m population which is educated, young and entrepreneurial.  They are tech savvy and increasingly speaking English.

The way forward is for UK companies to form partnerships with local companies, and help them grow.

Mr Barry Lowen

Other points presented by Mr Barry Lowen:

  • It is significant that they are looking seriously at tax and regulatory reform especially with start ups, reducing bureaucracy, light touch on employment regulation and tax.
  • There are incentives for innovation, renewable energy with a dedicated minister. The UK has signed an MOU to support them with our expertise which particularly lies in project integration. The UK is in a strong position to help with this as we head towards hosting in Glasgow the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November 2021.
  • The Government has appointed a minister for mining. The focus will be for us to offer support in the development and exploration of a rich seem of phosphates, iron ore, rare earth, gold and so on.
  • There are opportunities to assist local pharma production companies to develop their products,
  • Keep an eye on opportunities in agriculture, developing fintech, education and training projects – and above all technology. In this regard the need for support with cybersecurity, agri-tech,bio-tech and so on.
  • With the changing scene in Asia, there will be more opportunities for production in Algeria of items to be exported.
  • The UK is working closely with the Government and ready to assist in support and advice.
  • The UK Export Finance has a mission to ensure that no viable UK export or proposal fails for lack of finance or insurance. It has £3b to cover investment projects.
  • My key advice is to NOT to wait to hear what the Government wants, come up with your own ideas, try them on us. We can tell you if they are viable. And if so, we are happy to help you to deliver the business.

Rt. Hon. Lord Risby of Haverhill, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Trade Envoy to Algeria, opened the webinar. His key message was to keep a close eye on new technology and support in partnerships the companies which are engaged in this.

The key point presented by Lord Risby were:

  • One outcome of the COVID 19, is that technology has now been forced into our lives, and become part of a new way of working and communicating.
  • A knowledge economy is a  fact and the younger generation are hungry for it. The UK has the expertise and we can make it available.
  • I am passionate in helping to make this possible.
  • After leaving the EU, a High-Level Task Force has been set up to develop our economic relationship with special attention to technology and all it can offer.

Lord Risby had a special word about Algeria’s role in the world.

‘Today I met at my home with the Algerian Ambassador in London, M. Benguerrah.   We had a long and fruitful discussion.   We discussed the fact that  that without any fuss or publicity Algeria sent four planes and a ship full of medical aid to Beirut. This is typical of their understated approach with their foreign relationships.’

Lord Risby

Mr Yassine Bouhara, Founder and Chairman of the Tell Group, an investment fund active in Algeria, but also in Europe and the Middle East.  He is a member of the ABBC Advisory Board.

Mr Bouhara’s message was practical and positive.

‘The process of transformation did begin in 2019 with the Hirak.  As a result political and economic reforms are on their way. The fight against corruption will make it easier for companies to do business.’

Mr Yassine Bouhara

Key points presented by Mr Bouhara included the following:

  • Post the pandemic, there will be a surge forward.  Focus on the private sector where the real expansion is happening. The state sector is best left to the multi-nationals.
  • New Finance Law is bringing in changes. The 49/51 requirement set up in  2008 has been changed. Apart from strategic sectors such as hydrocarbons, defence and pharmaceuticals, the private sector will permit an investor to hold 100% control.
  • For a major investment project which might infringe on the strategic sector, a proposal should be made. If it is sound, carefully thought out and prepared, , it might get a much more receptive response than imagined.
  • What is important, is that any business serious in engaging in Algeria must have a local representative. This is a practical step and a wise one, in understanding the local scene plus demonstrating a commitment and intent.
  • If money needs to be borrowed there is no need to leverage overseas. There are plenty of sources in Algeria. Tell Group can also help. We helped a local Uber-style company TemTem raise $4m in just two weeks. It needed creativity in providing the right infrastructure but it can be done.  The informal economy has around $12b in circulation. Algeria has the money.
  • If a company wishes to offer advisory services, again, it should have a local partner. There is a great talent pool to set this up. Create a subsidiary.  This will make you closer to clients with a better understanding of the market.
  • There has been concern about collecting tenders. This is not a problem. Overseas companies can engage local lawyers, accountants, or representative to do this. There is a Tender Charge but it is modest.
  • Sometimes things get lost in translation and misunderstood. It is important to take local advice and prepare carefully.  
  • Do not be shy in coming forward.  There is such a huge opportunity to take part in development. For example, the entire date industry needs help with packaging, logistics, distribution, branding and export. The same goes for tomatoes, potatoes, prickly pear fruit and so on.  There is thousands of hectares of land waiting to be developed.  Come forward with a proposal. It will be eagerly received.
  • Be realistic about what you can offer. Do not be too sweeping expecting to take over a whole sector.  
  • My only private concern is that while the reforms are on their way, the process is still far too slow. So be patient!

Lady Olga Maitland, Chairman of the ABBC concluded the webinar by promising a programme of sector-specific virtual seminars.   In early October the Algerian Ambassador H.E,. M. Benguerrah will preside over an ABBC Ambassadorial Round Table in which he will review developments.

‘Finally, the ABBC is there to help, advise and support.   We have the expertise, contacts and support.  We have an office in Algiers run by our Country Manager Maya Boumedine.   We will be delighted to help you to success.’

Lady Olga Maitland,

A full video of the webinar can be viewed under this link:

You can also view the video embedded below.
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