British PM leaves phone hacking behind for Africa trip

18th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Prime Minister David Cameron begins a two-day trip to South Africa and Nigeria on Monday, leaving behind the national phone hacking scandal to promote British trade on the continent.

In his first visit to the region since taking office in May 2010, Cameron is leading a high-level business delegation to South Africa on Monday, where he will call for more trade within the continent to reduce its reliance on aid.

He admitted the issue of an African free trade area, negotiations on which were launched by 26 states last month, was not as headline-grabbing as aid concerts such as Live Aid, but argued it could be far more powerful.

"In the past, there were marches in the West to drop the debt. There were concerts to increase aid. And it was right that the world responded," Cameron wrote in an article in South Africa's Business Daily ahead of his arrival.

"But they have never once had a march or a concert to call for what will in the long term save far more lives and do far more good -- an African free trade area."

Cameron argued that a free trade area could increase gross domestic product across the continent by an estimated $62 billion a year -- $20 million more than the world gives sub-Saharan Africa in aid.

African leaders agreed in South Africa last month to launch negotiations on creating a free trade zone that would include 26 countries with a combined economy estimated at $875 billion (597 billion euros).

Cameron is accompanied on his trip by a delegation of 25 business leaders, from the chief executive of Barclays bank, Bob Diamond, to the director of communications and public policy of the English Premier League, Bill Bush.

However, commentators at home will likely question the timing of his trip, in the middle of a firestorm over phone hacking at the News of the World.

The scandal led to the arrest Sunday of Rebekah Brooks, a former editor of the tabloid, and the shock resignation of Paul Stephenson, Britain's top policeman.

The Metropolitan Police chief quit over his reported links with Murdoch's media empire.

Cameron described Stephenson's departure as "a very sad occasion for him," adding "I wish him well for the future."

Brooks resigned as chief executive of Murdoch's News International newspaper division on Friday, although she denies wrongdoing.

Cameron is friends with Brooks, and has also come under fire for his decision to employ her successor as editor, Andy Coulson, as his media chief until January. Coulson was also arrested earlier this month over hacking.

© 2011 AFP

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