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East ‘has everything to gain’ from closer trading ties with Africa, says trade deals broker

PUBLISHED: 12:40 21 February 2020 | UPDATED: 15:08 21 February 2020

Bolaji Sofoluwe at a Suffolk-based warehouse investigating logistics and distribution arrangements for a client  Picture: STEPHEN BROWN

Bolaji Sofoluwe at a Suffolk-based warehouse investigating logistics and distribution arrangements for a client Picture: STEPHEN BROWN

Stephen Brown

East Anglia is playing a leading role in forging new trading relationships with lucrative markets in Africa, according to a businesswoman brokering deals between the two.

Bolaji Sofoluwe with Terry Ighagororo, a British entrepreneur setting up trade links to Africa through tech and innovation, at the Commonwealth SME Summit in Nairobi  Picture: ICSABolaji Sofoluwe with Terry Ighagororo, a British entrepreneur setting up trade links to Africa through tech and innovation, at the Commonwealth SME Summit in Nairobi Picture: ICSA

Bolaji Sofoluwe - who has been introducing UK businesses to Africa and vice versa since 2012 - says numerous companies across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex are developing importing and exporting links with countries such as Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya.

"Africa is open for business, and the East of England is leading the way with export and import relationships," she said.

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Among these are a Norwich-based Agritech firm which partnered with a Nigerian University for the purpose of product testing, an Ipswich-based importer of Chinese products who located a drop shipping provider in South Africa and an Essex-based juice concentrate manufacturer, looking for direct sales opportunities in Kenya.

"All these businesses understood that there was opportunity in Africa, but they needed help negotiating the red tape. That's where I come in," said Ms Sofoluwe.

Bolaji Sofoluwe with MPs Dr Liam Fox and home secretary Priti Patel at the House of Commons  Picture; ESSEX CHAMBERS OF COMMERCEBolaji Sofoluwe with MPs Dr Liam Fox and home secretary Priti Patel at the House of Commons Picture; ESSEX CHAMBERS OF COMMERCE

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Her work includes negotiating legislative hurdles such as planning permissions, legal barriers to purchasing property and land, and financial difficulties such as setting up African bank accounts and payroll systems.

She also tackles cultural barriers such as HR training and staff recruitment and negotiating purchases and sales, working closely with the Department for International Trade and the Essex Chamber of Commerce who provide her with referrals.

"I have more than 2,000 clients on the books and 40% of these are in East Anglia - proving that it's ahead of the game and reaping the benefits," she said.

International trade secretary Liz Truss said East of England companies had "everything to gain" from closer trading relationships with Africa, which has one of the youngest populations in the world with 60% of people under the age of 35, making it, and says she wants the UK to be "the investment partner of choice for African businesses and their governments".

Ms Sofoluwe pointed out some of Africa is underdeveloped, while the rest includes one the world's fastest growing economies, providing a wealth of opportunity in housing, logistics and further infrastructure.

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