Interview: Greg Hands

Which sectors and industries have strong potential for increasing bilateral investment?

GREG HANDS: Whenever we look at opportunities in Algeria, there are possibilities across the board. Hydrocarbons is obviously an area where UK companies will always want to get involved. There are two trade missions from the UK coming to Algeria each year focused solely on oil and gas, and when you think of the wealth of UK expertise in the sector and the size of the sector in Algeria, it’s common sense to see hydrocarbons as an area for the UK to look at. Renewable energy, too, is a segment where I think the UK can offer a lot. However, we must not forget that 73% of Algeria’s GDP comes from non-hydrocarbons sectors; all of those sectors have an urgent need to improve their contribution to Algerian exports, particularly towards Africa.

What specific measures can the UK take to encourage greater UK investment in Algeria?

HANDS: The recently created Department for International Trade (DIT) replaced UK Trade & Investment, and we are reviewing how to go about encouraging investment and how we can use UK skills to make a difference. There is one tool that is already making a difference: the Export Opportunities scheme. This is an online facility for Algerian companies – state or private – to advertise what they want to UK business. An Algerian entrepreneur just needs to supply the data to the DIT team at the UK Embassy; a team member will upload that to the DIT website; interested companies will then reply to the advertisement; and the DIT team can then link the Algerian and UK sides together.

What are the biggest challenges facing UK investors when investing in Algeria?

HANDS: Unfortunately it is still a case of unfamiliarity. UK businessmen have historically always looked to countries where English is the first language. We are seeing more and more Algerian company representatives conversing in English, so UK exporters should not see language as a barrier.

I suppose the other issue is security. Exporters can be dissuaded by the perception that Algeria is unsafe to visit, given the troubles of the MENA region. Our travel advice does not restrict travel to Algiers, and it is generally safe to move around Algiers and other major cities. I’d say that UK businesses that are seeking new markets should take the two-hour flight to Algiers from Gatwick to explore what is available on our doorstep.

How will the Double Taxation treaty impact businesses operating in Algeria?

HANDS: It enters into force on January 1, 2017 in Algeria and April 1, 2017 in the UK – the dates of the beginning of our respective financial years. Companies will save money, but it’s impossible to quantify precise savings, as these will vary from company to company. The crucial point is that the Double Taxation agreement will be in place, and UK and Algerian companies will have a level playing field with the countries that have traditionally done well in trade and investment with Algeria.

What can be done to encourage more private sector linkages between the two countries?

HANDS: There are good private sector contacts in existence already, but I’d like to see more of them. I know that the Forum des Chefs d’Entreprise has a London representative, but there are other serious entrepreneurs’ organisations in Algeria as well, such as the Association Générale des Entrepreneurs Algériens and the Club des Entrepreneurs et Industriels de la Mitidja. One objective of the Algero-British Chamber of Commerce will be to bring their members closer to the British Chambers of Commerce members. Our fervent wish is for the chamber to launch in the first half of 2017. This is a difficult phase in Algeria as a result of the drop in oil prices, but it has sharpened the appetite for value-for-money solutions to common challenges.