London Stansted is set to open up the UK’s only direct service to the Senegalese capital, Dakar, from this summer. Here, Bolaji Sofoluwe explains why the move will help to bolster trade links for the East of England.
Infrastructure is a key component for successful import and export relationships.
This includes transport infrastructure (roads, railways, airports, seaports) and services as well as telecommunications networks – all of which play a part in physical infrastructure that is crucial for moving goods and services to and from different countries.
In the past, emphasis has been placed on sea and land freight because it is less costly than air transport.
However, in recent years the importance of air transport for trade has been increasing – especially when speed is of the essence.
A 2018 study by Steer for Airlines UK with support from Heathrow Airport Limited, Manchester Airports Group and the Freight Transport Association found that air freight services contribute £7.2 billion to the UK economy and support 151,000 jobs and that across all sectors of the economy, £87.3 billion of UK gross value added (GVA) is currently dependent on air freight exports.
Air freight currently represents 49% of the UK’s non-EU exports by value (£91.5 billion) and 35% of non-EU imports (£89.9 billion) – over 40% of total trade by value but under 1% by volume of goods shipped.
To expand on this, strengthening and expanding our airports is key.
However, the quality of the UK’s air freight infrastructure is a major issue since they now cater to significantly more widebody freight capacity than the facilities were originally designed for.
Many of our freight facilities at UK airports are often decades old and have suffered from continued under-investment.
This means bellyhold cargo now accounts for more than 60% of total UK air freight volume, according to the Steer for Airline study, with forwarders and shippers utilising an extensive intercontinental passenger network.
This is why I welcome more direct flights to countries within Africa – which will provide more opportunities for trade as well as for forging new business relationships.
And the news of the new service in Essex to Senegal is particularly interesting after the airline cherry-picked London Stansted for three flights a week starting on June 26.
The reason for the choice could well be the fact that the East of England is already streets ahead in terms of developing relationships with Africa.
After all, of all the businesses I work with, the majority come from Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk and this flight route will give them the chance to develop new trade and investment opportunities.
The UK-Africa Summit held in January focused on sectors where our region has particular strengths, such as renewable energy, housing and technology and this extra boost to the infrastructure here will continue to boost our relationships between Africa and the East.
It is also a great link for Africans in diaspora to the Western part of the continent.