Scottish Secretary David Mundell last night urged Aberdeen to “sell itself around the world” in order to secure its future as the global hub for oil and gas.
The Tory Cabinet minister threw down the gauntlet to British businesses, urging them to take advantage of the emerging Mozambique market.
He said the UK Government could help create opportunities, but stressed it was up to companies to exploit them.
His words were echoed by Aberdeen City Council director Gordon McIntosh, who said now was the time to prepare for moving on once the oil price returns to a more stable position.
The two men are visiting the southern African nation, where huge reserves of natural gas were discovered in the deepwater Rovuma Basin, off the coast of Pemba in 2011.
Their trip is based around driving forward a trading partnership between the port and Aberdeen that could ultimately be worth tens of millions of pounds to the Scottish economy.
The two cities hope to sign a formal memorandum of understanding later this year, underpinned by an action plan.
Funded by £120,000 from the Foreign Office, it will support Pemba develop into a gas hub based on the Aberdeen model.
In turn, there will be opportunities for British companies, particularly those working in the Scottish oil and gas sector, to win new contracts as the market grows.
Speaking to the P&J in Maputo, the Mozambican capital, Mr Mundell said: “Everybody has agreed we want to see Aberdeen remaining as the global energy hub regardless of what happens in the North Sea with the current price issues.
“To do that we have got to take advantage of opportunities around the world. I’m here to demonstrate the UK Government, Scotland and Aberdeen are serious about this.”
But he insisted the onus was also on businesses to look outwards, pointing to the competition from other countries such as Brazil, Italy and the US.
He went on: “If we want to make sure that Aberdeen remains a global hub, we have got to get out there and sell it.That’s what we are doing here – we are selling Aberdeen’s expertise and experience.
“The memorandum of understanding will be hugely significant in terms of creating Aberdeen as a long-term energy centre, not dependent on what is happening in the North Sea.”
Mr Mundell also pointed to the similarities between the north-east of Scotland and Pemba – expected to become one of the world’s largest gas producers within a decade – in terms of the transition from an agricultural and fishing-based economy to one dominated by the energy sector.
Mr McIntosh, who has decades of experience in the industry and is leading on the partnership for ACC, said he had “no doubt” Aberdeen would continue to have its own oil and gas industry for the next 20-30 years.
But he added: “Increasingly Aberdeen will be a base, a hub to service the rest of the world.
“This is the time to prepare for moving on once the oil price eventually gets back into a more stable position, in an upwards position.
“Some 51% of the turnover of Scottish companies now comes from overseas work, not from work in the North Sea, but that can be far, far more.”
Yesterday, Mr Mundell and Mr McIntosh discussed the progress of the project at the British High Commission.
The Scottish secretary then met with business leaders and visited a vocational training centre, before holding talks with Ernesto Tonela, Mozambique’s industry and commerce minister.
They discussed the role Aberdeen can play in sharing its expertise, political instability in Mozambique and protecting Scotch whisky producers from inferior imitations.