London — Britain's traders, shut out of Rhodesia for 14 years because of economic sanctions, are mounting a low-key but comprehensive return to what promises to be one of Africa's most lucrative markets.
hey are undertaking a series of exploratory missions to Salisbury and other main business centers to test the waters, as one entrepreneur put it, in preparation for a deeper plunge later in 1980.
With sanctions lifted and two-way trade thus legal again, one team -from the Institute of Directors -is already in Rhodesia. Within the next week a group of businessmen representing the powerful Confederation of British Industries (CBI) will head for Salisbury with the aim of making a realistic assessment of future trade prospects.
Today Britain's Department of Trade believes exports of l100 million ($200 million) a year may be possible, given political stability in Rhodesia and astute business methods by London-based traders.
In business circles this estimate, which would make Rhodesia Britain's third-largest trading partner in Africa after Nigeria and South Africa, is seen as over-optimistic. Two chief obstacles to reestablishing a firm position in Rhodesia are widely mentioned in the city of London:
*Local ill will-against Britain for her, 14-year sanctions policy.
*Inroads made into Rhodesian markets by traders from such countries as West Germany, France, and Japan who succeeded in finding a way around sanctions.
British Leyland, Ltd., has a vehicle-assembly plant in Rhodesia that has been virtually out of action since 1965. ut it will be hard to find a way back into the car and truck market, as French and Japanese vehicles nowadays prdominate, along with their own servicing chains.
After an interval of nearly 14 years, British airways is resuming direct London-Salisbury service on Jan. 9. this is expected to have a big impact on reforging trading contracts.
the 11-man CBI mission has been given to a mandate to explore prospects and reestablish contacts at the highest level with Rhodesian business concerns. In March or April, a much larger CBI team will carry out a full-scale trade visit.
The exploratory group is headed by a banker, Mr. Daniel Stewart, of the Standard Chartered Bank whose subsidiary the Standard bank, accounts for nearly one-half of all banking business in the country. in company with hundreds of other firms, the Standard until now has been regarded as illegal by Britain.
Apart from leading the CBI reconnaissance team, Mr. Stewart will make contact with Standard Bank executives in Salesbury and prepare the way for a full return to close contacts with London -a move fully approved by the Bank of England.
Mr. Stewart and his colleagues accept that future prospects will depend heavily on the coming elections in Rhodesia and whether or not they produce a stable political situation there.
Unlike some other business executives, Mr. Stewart feels anti-British feeling in Rhodesia is not acute. It was reveled Jan. 1 that in the last year or two he paid three private and unpublicized visits to Salisbury to maintian contact with business interests in the Rhodesian capital.
He found that some nonBritish companies that did business with Rhodesia during the years of UDI tended to overcharge for what they had to sell and to offer less than fair prices for Rhodesian exports of tobacco and chrome