I’ve spent the latter part of the week in Mozambique and Ethiopia leading a government delegation as part of this year’s UK Presidency of the G8, where we are making ‘the three T’s’ – tax, transparency and trade – the focus of discussion.
This was my first visit to Sub-Saharan Africa as Deputy Prime Minister, but I was lucky enough to have Lynne Featherstone with me to guide me through it all. Lynne’s already gained such knowledge of ‘her patch’ in her short time at the Department for International Development, she has already met her second Ethiopian Prime Minister!
In meetings with leaders from both countries I particularly highlighted the need for global action on tax avoidance and evasion. Developing countries have suffered from this for years but the developed world is now waking up too. Big companies can move quicker and easier than national tax laws and they end up playing us off against each other. Only by working together – developed and developing nations – can we make sure that tax is properly collected and spent on the public services we all need, whatever country we live in.
I also took a business delegation with me because the opportunity for British businesses in Africa are enormous. Seven out of the ten fastest growing economies in the world are on the continent and it’s part of the job as a Government Minister to make sure they are getting the best access to these booming emerging markets.
And no visit to Africa would be complete without looking at some of the aid projects that could only happen with the generosity of British taxpayers. I wish all of you could have come with Lynne and me to the schools we went to in Mozambique and Ethiopia to see the Girls Education Challenge Fund, which I launched in 2011, helping girls realise their dreams of becoming doctors, lawyers, engineers and accountants. I know that at times when we’re asking people to make great sacrifices at home, this can all seem very remote and, to some people who object to money we spend overseas, unfair. But I firmly believe that well-targeted aid is not only the right thing to do, but also in our own self interest as it enhances prosperity and diminishes the forces of violence and extremism.