Examining the Potential for the UK to Export to Africa

The Managing Director of DHL Express in South Africa says that British small and medium enterprises (SMEs) should examine the potential for exporting their products to Sub-Saharan Africa, where a growing middle class is creating interesting opportunities.

"The timing is absolutely perfect…We are seeing an enormous growth in the up and coming middle class, which means that from a consumer spend perspective they are now ready to spend their money somewhere. I think that opens up an entire new market for SMEs out of the UK," Hennie Heymans said.

According to Heymans, British companies should find it relatively easy to export to South Africa due to a similar business language and the fact that the two countries have a strong historic commercial relationship.

"I think South Africa is in a wonderful position because the business language in South Africa is English, so…there should be no language barriers there. From a cultural perspective, [it should also be] pretty easy to do business. The two countries have been doing business with one another for an incredibly long period of time, so I think there is great sensitivity to one another's cultures and way of doing business."

In order to further explore this potential in Africa, Barclays bank conducted a survey in 2012 involving 250 prominent UK business leaders who trade with the continent. 64 per cent of UK companies currently exporting to Africa said they believe opportunities will grow in the next five years. Whilst the majority of respondents indicated that UK exporters will take advantage of Africa's improved trading landscape, only 17 per cent think these companies will truly maximise the opportunities.

South Africa is rated the top African country for UK exporters, with 60 per cent of responders saying they currently export there. Other important markets worth highlighting are Nigeria (37%), Egypt (35%), Ghana (24%) and Kenya (23%).

Heymans stated that the fashion industry holds significant potential for British exporters, especially considering the growth of e-commerce in Africa: "I cannot tell you the amount of wedding dresses I'm actually importing from the UK for our base of customers in South Africa." Sporting goods, especially cycling equipment, was also highlighted as an area for growth potential in Africa. Cycling is one of the fastest growing sports in South Africa and is predominantly practiced by high-income earners.

Heymans says British companies need to make themselves known in the African market, and ensure that customers understand "they are a click away". "I think the continent is absolutely ready to get some more products in from the UK," he concluded.