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African market 'set to expand'

Posted by: Laurence Simons 10/12/13

General counsel (GC) could see a host of opportunities open up across the African market over the coming years, with the continent's development path beginning to look similar to that seen in India and Asia over the last two decades, according to legal experts.

Speaking at a London seminar hosted by the Association of Corporate Counsel and legal services body Lex Mundi, more than 70 GCs, business leaders and legal services experts shared their experiences of working in Africa.

While the sheer scale of the continent means the situation varies heavily from country to country, particularly in terms of pre-existing legal infrastructure, there does appear to be widespread consensus that the legal market is beginning to mature.

The keynote presentation at the London symposium was given by Charles Robertson, global chief economist and head of macro strategy at Renaissance Capital as well as the author of a book on the African economy's boom.

"Africa will move up the value-added curve, from resources and services which help drive growth today, to service exports, textiles and increasingly heavy industry from the 2020s. There is the opportunity to deliver a better performance in the coming years than Asia achieved over the last 40 years," predicted Mr Robertson.

Corporate counsel and Lex Mundi member firm partners from across 15 African jurisdictions emphasised the economic expert's point by discussing the issues they have faced in their specific countries.

Pat Rich, Africa regional counsel for drinks giant Diageo, said the biggest risk for multinationals is not investing and competing in the country.

As long as thorough due diligence procedures are run through, the opportunity is too great to miss for firms that can afford to set up an African base, he concluded.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa's 2013 report suggested that many countries in the region will have the chance to capitalise on their resource endowments over the coming 12 months.

For GCs, this could mean the creation of even more positions at local and international firms.