Britain and Libya become best of friends in business

Alistair Dawber
Wednesday 16 June 2010 00:00 BST

Business ties between Britain and Libya have developed at great speed since the oil-rich North African nation came in from the diplomatic cold.

The thawing of relations has led to a surge in trade, with Libyan now considered a major business partner for a number of well-known British companies. Indeed, several families of the victims of the Lockerbie atrocity argued last year that the release of the bomber, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, was linked to improving business ties, rather than because Megrahi was dying of cancer. He is still alive.

According to UK Trade and Investment, the government body that promotes trade between Britain and other countries, British exports to Libya were worth £423m in 2009 – 51 per cent more than in 2008. The organisation says "many well-known companies are active in the Libyan market", including Marks & Spencer and Rentokil. The Libya British Business Council, which encourages trade between the two nations, lists Barclays, HSBC, BP and the law firm Denton Wilde Sapte among its council members.

BP, for example, and its Libyan partner, Libya Investment Corp, signed a $900m deal to develop onshore and offshore projects in May 2007.

Michael Lacey, the managing partner in Denton Wilde Sapte's Cairo office, said many industries were looking to expand in Libya. "They are all there: construction, airlines, hotels, banks and oil and gas. If British companies are not already in Libya, they are certainly dipping their toes in the water," he added. "Over the past few years it has become clear this is an economy that people want to be associated with."

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