Africa Scotland Business Network opens trade opportunities in South Africa

View from the Carlton Centre, Africa's tallest building. Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa. Photo Credit: Adamina (

The launch of the Africa Scotland Business Network in November 2019 highlighted one thing – there’s a great deal of positivity about South Africa’s business prospects. The Scots certainly think so.

According to Wesgro, the official tourism, trade and investment promotion agency for Cape Town and the Western Cape, 13 foreign direct investment (FDI) projects were recorded from South Africa to Scotland (in the period January 2003 and June 2019). These represented a total capex value of £40.40 million, and 529 Jobs.

Over the same period, there were 16 FDI projects recorded from Scotland to South Africa worth £164.96 million creating 1,024 jobs. The same period also saw 3 FDI projects being recorded into the Western Cape from Scotland, representing a total capex value of £66.62 million, creating 196 Jobs. One project worth £10.60 million was recorded from the Western Cape to Scotland creating 20 Jobs.

To support this burgeoning trade relationship, business partner duo Claire Alexander, a Scottish entrepreneur living in South Africa, and Nicola Probyn, a local South African, collaborated with the Scottish Government to launch the Africa Scotland Business Network (ASBN), to support, educate and provide opportunities for businesses from both nations.

Alexander and Probyn put together a board with a mix of dynamic Scottish and African business people and then pitched their idea to start an Africa Scottish business network to the Scottish government.

In July 2019, they were given the thumbs-up and all-important funding from Scotland, which they augmented with their own investment and a sponsorship secured from Craig International – a Scottish oil and gas service who recently set up their Africa Head Office head of Africa in Cape Town.

Steven Craig, director of Africa at Craig International, says that he is hoping to support Scottish companies looking to do more business in Africa, as well as South African companies wanting to invest in Scotland. “We’ve got expertise in a lot of different industries, so we’re confident that we can hopefully increase trade and employment.”

Stephanie McDonald, a Scottish global infrastructure lawyer, has come on board as a non-executive director. “There is so much opportunity here. The Scottish government is very focused on trade relations with Europe, China, India and the United States, but has little coverage in Africa.”

McDonald adds that, other than a focus on oil and gas in West Africa, there is a huge opportunity gap. “From a risk profile point of view, Africa can be a difficult place to do business. So, understandably, there has been limited attention and focus from Scotland.”

Having identified the gap, she says, the founders of ASBN came together in the hopes of fostering closer collaboration between business, networks and government organisations.

“As a network, we’ve started the wheel turning to attract investment into South Africa from Scotland, and vice versa.”

Since the network’s launch in Cape Town during Africa Oil and Gas Week in November, it has grown organically to a membership of 86 and counting.

In collaboration with the Scottish government, ASBN is assisting a Scottish-owned training business expand operations in Cape Town, to train and upskill a local labour force for the oil and gas industry. Currently, Africa is spending huge amounts on foreign expertise to service such industries.

Through direct engagement, ASBN is already facilitating a possible deal for a start-up food tech company; a Johannesburg based Veagent and the Pineapple Growers Association to export fruit to Scotland. In addition to business ventures, ASBN is liaising with a global Scottish charity, looking to increase its footprint in South Africa.

“This is all within two weeks of launching, which is extremely exciting and promising. Our aim is to have 200 businesses on board in our marketplace by the end of 2020,” says Alexander.

Wesgro is an enthusiastic supporter of the network. The organisation had already sought to bed down positive trade relations with Scotland, with a 2017 visit to Edinburgh with now Premier Alan Winde to discuss ongoing collaboration and opportunities between the two nations. Wesgro and ASBN are currently working on a possible trade delegation to Scotland in the first half of 2020.

Alexander believes that there is a great deal of synergy between the economies of Scotland and Africa, They are both strong in technology, renewable energy, agriculture and agri-tech, food and beverages, manufacturing and education.

As Scotland is a global leader in renewable energy, with targets to be carbon neutral by 2050, and is already a net producer of clean energy, many nations are turning to Scotland for expertise. This is one of the industries that Alexander believes is ripe for collaboration.

“The network also has a mission to ensure skills transfer and is investigating opportunities for Scottish universities to provide bursaries for disadvantaged students from South Africa. At the same time, it is collaborating with the Scotland Africa Business Association in Edinburgh to help us match African businesses to commercial opportunities in Scotland,” she adds.

The union of Scotland and South Africa appears to have great potential, as early interest and deals are already indicating. It is likely that the organisation will go from strength to strength, creating international trade, as well as knowledge and skills sharing opportunities for both nations.

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