Algeria - UK Relations

Historical background

Official relations of friendship and co-operation between Algeria and Great Britain began over 400 years ago, with John Tipton being the first English consul posted to Algiers in 1580. He was appointed at the request of London tradesmen who were interested in the North African market. He worked for the Barbary Coast Company, which was established under the reign of Elizabeth I.

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During the latter’s reign, political relations between Algeria and England were based on their mutual hostility towards Catholic Spain. This “strategic alliance” protected English ships from attack by the Barbary fleet and, as a result, trade flourished between the two countries.

When James I succeeded Elizabeth I to the English throne in 1603, and made overtures to Spain, England benefited from this privileged position but its ships came under attack from the Barbary privateers.
A peace treaty was signed in Algiers in 1623. The truce, however, did not last very long. Tensions between the two fleets resurfaced and hundreds of captives were taken to London and Algiers. This state of affairs lasted until 1682, when in April of that year, a peace and trade treaty was signed by both countries. Relations between Algeria and England were without conflict during the 17th century.

When James I refused to renew the commissions of the English privateers, many of the latter rejoined the Regency of Algiers where their experience was appreciated, the most famous English sailors being Ramadan Raïs (formerly Henry Chandler) and Yusuf Raïs (formerly John Ward).

An 18th-century English historian noted that the conditions in which captives were held in Algiers were no worse than in Christian ports. As trading in wines or other alcoholic drinks was forbidden to Muslims, some were even allowed to become inn-keepers. Captives who were doctors and surgeons continued to practise their trade during the Algiers Regency. A certain degree of religious tolerance was also reported by various witnesses.

Numerous British diplomats, writers, historians, businessmen and journalists have resided in Algeria since the 17th century.

Thomas Shaw lived in Algiers from 1720 to 1732. He travelled all over the country, providing much information in his book “Travels or Observations” on its physical geography, climate, crops, fauna, government, army, economy, the traditions of its inhabitants, religion, judicial system, towns and ports, Roman ruins, and so on. James Bruce, the explorer who later found the source of the Nile, explored Algeria’s Roman ruins in 1765 and 1766.

Lady Hester Stanhope, Isabelle Burton and Lady Anne Blunt were among the first British travellers to explore the Algerian desert. The painter William Wylde (1806-1889) spent one year in Algeria in 1833. His books contain exceptional descriptions of Algerian towns immediately after the French invasion.

Wintering in Algiers

In his book “The British in Algiers”, Osman Bencherif points out that the arrival of steamships facilitated the expansion of the British Navy as well as Britain’s contacts with other countries, including colonial Algeria.

At the beginning of the 1880s, numerous British tourists would go to Algiers for the winter because of its mild climate. It was considered an ideal place for tuberculosis patients as, before Dr Robert Koch discovered the tuberculosis bacillus in 1882, the only treatment for this infectious disease was to stay in a warm country.

Several books published in Britain between 1850 and 1866 praised Algiers’s climate and the commodities offered to foreign tourists. It was also reputed for being safe and of a high moral standard.

Wintering usually began in October and ended in May. This trend lasted until the Crash of 1929. English visitors spending the winter in Algiers usually stayed in hotels or rented villas and the very wealthy bought country houses which had been built by Turkish dignitaries. Churches were also built.

Benjamin Bucknall (1833-1895), a British architect who lived in Algeria, helped his compatriots build their own Moorish-style villas on the hills overlooking Algiers. From 1880 to 1890, numerous famous and unknown artists visited Algeria and made a lasting impression on the Algerian countryside and Algerian daily life.

One of the first important projects carried out in colonial Algeria was the construction of the Algiers sea promenade by an English company reputed for its superior technological capabilities.

A Scottish manufacturer discovered Algerian esparto grass in 1865 and was the first to use it to manufacture paper. It was also in western Algeria, in Beni Saf, that another English company was set up to mine and transport great quantities of iron ore. At one time, British importers of Algerian iron ore imported more than a million tons a year.

But unlike the French, Italian, Spanish and Maltese settlers, the British did not put down roots in the country. They made up a colony of seasonal migrants, whose presence was only temporary. The Prince and Princess of Wales paid an official visit to Algiers in 1905, as well as the Prince of Battenberg in 1909 and Rudyard Kipling some time later.

Towards the middle of the 1920s, the town of Biskra (also known as the “Queen of the Zibans”), became a holiday spot for European and English tourists during the winter.

A large part of the action in Robert Hichens’s best-selling novel “The Garden of Allah” (1904) took place in Biskra and contributed to the popularity of Algeria’s oases. André Gide also contributed to their fame with his book “Fruits of the Earth”. The films “The Sheik” and “The Son of the Sheik” starring Rudolph Valentino were also filmed there.

On 8 November 1942, tens of thousands of American and British soldiers disembarked on the coast of Algeria and took control of Algiers, which was at that time under the authority of the Vichy government. The Allied Forces were under the command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. He remained in Algiers for nearly 20 months and set up his headquarters at the Saint George Hotel, where preparations were made for the liberation of Europe.

Lastly, His Majesty King George VI made a six-day visit to Algiers in June 1943.

Post independence relations

After the independence of Algeria on 5 July 1962, relations between Algeria and the UK witnessed new developments. UK will become the first client of Algeria to purchase Liquefied Natural Gas. The first shipment of Algerian liquefied natural gas (LNG) arrived at Canvey Island gas terminal, on the Thames estuary, in October 1964. The contract provided for the delivery of 700,000 tons of LNG a year, in other words, 10% of the gas consumed by British customers.
In the early 1970s when Algeria was embarking on a process of industrial expansion, British companies provided equipment, machinery and technological expertise. Credit lines were made available to Algeria and contracts were given to many British companies. Between 1963 and 1973, the volume of commercial exchanges between the two countries increased tenfold. This development effort was supported by a policy to train Algerian students abroad.

By the 1980s, Great Britain was the second most popular destination, after France, for students to undertake training. At the beginning of the 1990s, Glasgow, Sheffield, Salford, Leeds and Nottingham universities had work programmes with their Algerian counterparts in Blida, Tizi Ouzou, Constantine, Annaba and Oran.

New boost to Algeria - UK relations

With the exception of the historic state visit to Algeria undertaken by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 25-27 October 1980, the long-established relationship between Algeria and the UK had not been sufficiently developed since Algeria gained its independence in 1962. Consequently, a lot of potential co-operation and exchange opportunities had been allowed to pass.

President Bouteflika’s official visit

Fortunately, this was to change significantly, and a crucial turning point came when President Abdelaziz Bouteflika paid an official visit to the UK on 11-12 July 2006. On that occasion, the leaders of the two countries voiced their commitment to give the bilateral relations a greater impetus and effectively laid the necessary foundations for a strong, durable and mutually beneficial relationship. During that visit, four agreements were signed at the Home Office on co-operation in judicial and consular matters.


Visit of Prime Minister David Cameron to Algeria

Prime Minister David Cameron visited Algeria on 30th and 31st of January 2013. This is the first visit ever by a British Premier to Algeria since its independence in 1962.
During his call to Algiers, David Cameron had discussions with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal. These talks were an opportunity to review the cooperation ties between Algeria and the United Kingdom in the political, military and security, economic and cultural fields.
David Cameron’s visit represents an important step in reinforcing the relationship between the two countries which developed very positively during the last few years.

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Bilateral Ministerial Committee

In 2006, a bilateral ministerial committee (the “UK-Algeria Joint Committee on Bilateral Relations”) was established with a view to providing a suitable framework to discuss political, economic, educational, cultural and international issues of common interest. Meeting annually, in Algiers and London on alternate years, the Committee has so far held seven sessions, the latest of which took place in Algiers on 3rd March 2013 and was co-chaired by Mr Abdelkader Messahel, Minister Delegate in Charge of Maghreb and African Affairs, and Mr Alistair Burt, Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Ministerial visits

Recent years have witnessed a growing number of ministerial visits in both directions that have increased the scope of bilateral dialogue and co-operation.

  • Thus, during his visit to Algeria on 26-27 October 2009, the Rt Hon Bob Ainsworth, Secretary of State for Defence, signed a Bilateral Co-operation Agreement in the Field of Defence, which was subsequently ratified and entered into force in 2011.

  • Foreign Secretary William Hague visited Algeria on 18-19 October 2011. During that visit, the first by a British Foreign Secretary since Jack Straw’s in February 2006, he met with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci.
  • H.E. Mourad Medelci, Minister of Foreign Affairs made an official visit to the United Kingdom on 19-22 November 2012. He had bilateral discussions with his British counterpart, H.E William Hague and signed with him two Memoranda of Understanding on political consultations and cultural cooperation.He also met several other British personalities including Lord Jonathan Marland, Minister of Energy and Climate Change, Lord Richard Risby, the Prime Minister’s Envoy for the Economic Partnership with Algeria, Mr Stephen O'Brien, MP and Special Representative of the Prime Minister for the Sahel and a number of Members of the British Parliament.
    During his stay, Mr Medelci officially opened the new building of the Algerian Embassy in central London.
  • Mr Youcef Yousfi, Minister of Energy and Mines led a high-level delegation of officials to the United Kingdom on 15 and 16 April 2013. He met his counterpart, Mr Edward Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

Parliamentary relations

Last but not least, with a view to strengthening further the bilateral parliamentary relations, a UK Parliamentary delegation - led by Lord Risby, and comprising Mr Mark Lancaster MP and Mr Leo Docherty, Director of the Conservative Middle East Council- visited Algeria on 3-6 January 2012. The British delegation met with Mr Abdelkader Bensalah, President of the Council of the Nation (Upper House), Mr Abdelaziz ziari, President of the National People's Assembly (Lower House), and Mr Mourad Medelci, Minister of Foreign Affairs. This visit signaled the resumption of the contacts between the Parliaments of both countries, as well as the re-launch, few weeks later, of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Algeria within the British Parliament.

A group of six British parliamentarians representing different political parties from the Lower House and the House of Lords (All party Group Algeria) have visited Algeria from 26 to 29 April 2013. The delegation was led by the Conservative MP Mark Menzies. It represented an opportunity to strengthen inter-parliamentary dialogue between the two countries. The members of the delegation met with Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal, Mr Abdelkader Bensalah, President of the Council of the Nation, Mr Youcef Yousfi, Minister of Energy and Mines and Mr Abdelaziz Ziari, Minister of Health.

A delegation of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the British Parliament, led by Chairman Richard Ottaway, has visited Algeria on 2-4 June 2013, in the framework of an exploratory mission on the threat of extremism and terrorism in the Northern and Western Africa region.

Economic relations

Trade relations between Algeria and the United Kingdom date back to the second half of the 17th century when the two countries signed a “peace and trade treaty” in 1682. After Algeria reclaimed its independence in 1962, the United Kingdom embarked on developing relations with the country.

Thus, British Gas was the first client of Algeria to purchase LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) in 1964.

In order to ensure a better monitoring of Algerian-British economic relations, the two parties set up a sub-committee to discuss economic, commercial and financial questions under the auspices of the Joint Committee on Bilateral Relations and Issues of Common Interest, established under a memorandum signed on 8 June 2006. To date, the sub-committee has held two sessions, the first in Algiers from 2-4 March 2009 and the second in London on 13 and 14 April 2010.

While energy has been a key area for Algerian-British co-operation over the last two decades as a result of investments from major British petroleum companies (British Petroleum and British Gas) in our country, other sectors are also open to similar partnerships, in particular those concerned with pharmaceutical products, cleaning and cosmetic products, health, finance, information and communication technologies, and space technology.

With 5 billion dollars worth of investments over the last 12 years, British Petroleum (BP) is the largest British investor in Algeria. Its involvement is mainly related to the gas production chain in two large gas projects at In Salah and In Amenas, in partnership with Sonatrach and Statoil Hydro. BP has a 33.15% share in each project.

British Petroleum is also working in partnership with Sonatrach to develop the oilfield at Rhourde El Baguel (REB).

British Gas is actively involved in oil exploration at two Algerian sites:

  1. Hassi Ba Hamou (HBH), where it has operated since 2006 and has a 36.75% share. British Gas has secured an agreement to extend the research period for an additional 2 years, until September 2012.
  2. Guern El Guessa (GEG), where it has operated since 2008 and has a 49% share. After the seismic work, the company has a charge to drill 7 wells during the periode 2011-2012, and to began the phase of research.

In January 2011, the British firm Petrofac secured a 1.2 billion dollars contract to develop In Salah Gas (ISG) in the framework of a project launched by Sonatrach in partnership with Statoil and BP.

As for Algerian state oil and gas enterprise (Sonatrach), it should be noted that in October 2003 Sonatrach signed an agreement with National Grid to supply the United Kingdom with 5 billion cubic metres of gas over 20 years. To this end, a terminal was built on the Isle of Grain in the south-east of England and began operations in July 2005, with a capacity to provide 5.8 billion cubic metres of gas.

In the field of renewable energy, and owing to the visit of the Algerian Minister of Energy and Mines to the United Kingdom, a road map was signed on 25 March 2010 between the two countries on cooperation in the field of renewable energy.

Algeria and the United Kingdom have also established a partnership in space activities with the construction of the first Algerian satellite ALSAT 1A in Great Britain, was launched on 28 November 2002. Cooperation in this area was subsequently given a legal framework through a memorandum of understanding between the Algerian Space Agency (ASAL) and the British National Space Centre (BNSC). Signed on 22 July 2006, this document sets the main objectives of the bilateral space cooperation, namely monitoring space debris and satellites, and using the SAR system for coastal security, territorial surveillance and the monitoring of marine pollution.

In the health sector, the two countries established a cooperative partnership in cardiology following the signing on 21st February 2009 of an agreement between the National Insurance Fund for Salaried Employees and Bupa Cromwell Hospital, London. In accordance with the agreement, British teachers and doctors will share their knowledge at the medical-surgical clinic of Bou-Smaïl for Algerian children with congenital heart diseases.

In addition, two British firms have opened production units in Algeria: Unilever has a site in Oran where it produces personal-care products and GlaxoSmithKline has opened a production unit for antibiotics in Boudouaou, in the department of Boumerdès.

In 2009 the British bank HSBC opened its first branch in Algiers, followed in 2011 by a second branch and in September 2012 a 3rd branch in Oran.

In the trade sector, the volume of Algerian-British trade has increased over the last years, from 600 million pounds in 2005 to 1.05 billion pounds in 2010 (1.7 billion dollars) and 3.36 billion dollars in 2011. In 2012, the Algerian-British trade grew to £ 2, 42 billion i.e. $ 3, 8 billion, that is to say an increase of $ 500 million compared to the year 2011.

Of this amount of £ 2, 42 billion, British imports from Algeria reached £ 2, 06 billion i.e. $ 3, 26 billion, whereas British exports totalled £ 363 million i.e. $ 574 million. The trade balance between Algeria and the United Kingdom is therefore favourable to Algeria with a rising surplus of £ 1, 6 billion i.e. $ 2, 68 billion.

The oil, gas and by-products sector remains the most important part of the Algerian exports to the United Kingdom with the amount of £ 2 billion i.e. $ 3, 2 billion. As regards the Algerian imports from the UK, they mainly consist of machinery, transport equipment (£ 162, 5 million), organic and inorganic chemicals (£ 62 million), industrial products (£ 55, 8 million), food and live animals (£ 39, 4 million) and miscellaneous manufactured products (£ 34, 5 million).

It is important to note that an increasing number of British business people are showing an interest in investing in Algeria, as demonstrated by the increasing business trips to the country from the begining of 2011.

In this respect, it is worth noting the visit made by Lord Howell, Minister of State in charge of Energy and Trade to Algeria from 26 to 28 November 2011 and the two visits made by Lord Marland, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (7-8 February 2012 and 18-19 September 2012).

In September 2012, Lord Richard Risby of Haverhill, was appointed as Prime Minister’s Envoy for the Economic Partnership with Algeria. He visited Algeria on 3-5 December 2012 and 21-25 Mai 2013.

Did you know that the first Algerian coffee shops opened in London in 1887?  One can be found at 52 Old Compton Street, London W1D 4PB and continues to offer its customers teas and coffees from around the world.
The trading of coffee, tea, spices, silk and gold between Algeria and England has flourished for centuries.