Interview: Fiona Woolf

How can the UK work with Algeria to share best practices related to business environment reforms?

FIONA WOOLF: It is all about getting an in-depth understanding of the Algerian market and finding bespoke solutions, adapting what has worked elsewhere. I do not believe the UK can just point to policies we have brought in and say, “Why not do that?” A direct cut-and-paste solution will not work. The best approach is to talk faceto-face with businesses and the government to explain what we have done and why we have done it, and then see how, in partnership with the Algerian business sectors, both public and private, we can work together to make doing business more effective.

How can the two countries collaborate to help stimulate activity in Algeria’s financial markets?

WOOLF: When I visited Algiers in June 2014, I held a very constructive meeting with Mohamed Djellab, minister of finance. Although our main priority was talking about issues related to the Double Taxation Agreement and preparing the ground for the visit of the HM Revenue & Customs expert team in July 2014, we also discussed how the City of London might work together with Algeria to help in developing the financial services sector. Djellab has since followed this up with Lord Risby, the prime minister’s trade envoy, focusing on how Algeria wants to investigate the world of capital markets. I think an ideal next step would be for the City of London to host Djellab and a team from his ministry to explore further how we can work together.

What can be done to encourage small and medium-sized enterprises based in the UK to expand their presence in Algeria?

WOOLF: I think the main issue is awareness. Algeria has not been a natural market for the UK exporter until now. Meanwhile, those British companies setting out to export would have tended to look to our former empire, then Commonwealth nations, where English was spoken and there would have been an existing base of anglophone expatriates to welcome UK firms. Even though BP has been importing liquefied natural gas from Algeria for 50 years, British companies have not explored opportunities in that country. There are attractive markets in Algeria and more UK firms should tap into them. Once more UK companies realise there is an attractive market there, they will start to visit. There are legal firms present in Algeria already, but in order for consultants to be taken seriously they must realise they have to be based there. Algeria is a complex market to understand, and you need to be there on the ground.

What measures can be implemented to further liberalise trade between the two countries?

WOOLF: The Double Taxation Agreement, which will come into force on January 1, 2016, will help many firms, but as an EU member the UK’s general trading terms are governed from Brussels and the UK benefits from the same relationship as our fellow EU member states. Algeria is also proceeding with an application to join the World Trade Organisation. When looking at setting up a joint venture in Algeria, many firms see the 51:49 rule and are scared off; they should not be.

How can the UK transfer its experience in the industrial sector to Algeria?

WOOLF: When I visited Algiers, I was pleased to meet with Abdesselem Bouchouareb, the minister of industry and mining. His ministry has asked the UK to become more engaged in the manufacturing sector, via a portfolio of 85 companies that require partnership agreements to help them to modernise and be able to succeed in the current environment. I am pleased to say that this is already an area where the UK, via our embassy in Algiers, is beginning to engage. The Middle East Association also had a meeting with the ministry in October 2014. Vocational training is another area that the UK is already working on with Algerians. TVET UK also opened an office in Algiers in December 2014 and has shown local companies that the UK has a lot to offer.