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Opening Remarks at the Africa-Ireland Economic Summit

Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to welcome you today to the first Africa –Ireland Economic Forum. The Forum is the outcome of a long process of consultations between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the African missions accredited to Ireland.

I wish to acknowledge the partnership we have developed with the UCD Michael Smurfit Business School and the leadership of Professor Ciarán hÓgartaigh in particular.

I am particularly pleased to welcome all colleagues who have travelled to join us today. I know that we have a number of non-resident Ambassadors from as well as trade delegations from capitals in Africa.

I am also pleased to welcome partners in our development programme, in particular the organisations Traidlinks, Value Added Africa, the Private Infrastructure Development Group, and the Investment Climate Facility. You are all most welcome to Dublin today.

Historically, Ireland has a strong relationship with Africa.  The objective of the Forum today is to highlight the potential role for greatly enhanced business and economic links with the continent. Our African partners are seeking investors who will drive economic growth, create jobs and reduce – and eventually eliminate - dependency on foreign development aid. This trade will be mutually beneficial to Ireland and Africa and will help ensure that it is based on sound business principles which will sustain over time.

We have invited representatives from Irish businesses who have indicated an interest in Africa. The Forum will involve three speakers followed by a light networking lunch which we hope all participants will be able to attend.

The first speaker, Mr Tunde Olanrewaju, representing McKinsey Global, will outline the findings of their 2010 report Lions on the Move, the progress and potential of African economies. This report, quite correctly, is regarded as a watershed in highlighting the potential of Africa as trading and investment partner.

The second speaker will be the Ambassador of Kenya Catherine Muigai Mwangi.  Ambassador Mwangi is currently the Dean of the Africa Corp and will make a keynote speech on behalf of the accredited Ambassadors to Ireland. The Ambassador will outline the role of the African missions in building stronger business and investment links with the private sector in Ireland. 

The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore will outline our new Africa Strategy. The Strategy responds to a changing Africa and sets out how, we in Ireland will use our existing network of Embassies and offices across the African continent to deepen trade relations with all countries where we have diplomatic relations.

The transfer of certain trade promotion functions from the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is recognition of the role that my Department and our Embassy network have been playing in driving economic recovery.

The transfer gives the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade an enhanced role in trade promotion; it gives the Department responsibility for the management of the new Export Trade Council and for the Joint Economic Commissions which Ireland maintains with a number of countries. The Tánaiste will chair the Trade Council.  The Department will also work ever more closely with Enterprise Ireland, particularly in relation to trade missions.

As Minister with responsibility for Trade and for our Irish Aid programmes I recently visited Malawi and Mozambique. The visit demonstrated to me the very real potential which exists for the right Irish companies and sectors in Africa. We have an excellent reputation in the region. Ireland benefits from reserves of goodwill resulting from Missionary activity there in the last century and built upon through the successes achieved and partnerships built through our Irish aid programme in many countries.

As a provider of quality goods and services to the African population, we can continue to share our knowledge and experience with the continent.  

We have built a great reputation for the quality of our development programmes and projects.  This reputation has been sustained, despite our current difficulties. We can and should recognise the role of our development programme in work we are engaged in to restore and renew Ireland’s reputation internationally.

The relationships we have developed with our African partner countries offer the potential to strengthen economic and commercial links. 

We need to ensure that our links there are used to best effect to promote mutually beneficial trade and investment flows. 

A recent article in The Economist predicts that in the period 2011-2015 Ethiopia, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia which are partner countries for Irish Aid - will be among the world's top ten fastest growing economies.

A number of Irish companies have already recognised the potential.  Our total merchandise trade with Africa last year was €1.7 billion, up from €1.4 billion in 2009. 

However, we need to work in a more systematic and coherent way, including through our diplomatic missions, to realise this potential and to identify opportunities in sectors that offer the best prospects.

I encourage the Irish business community, if you are seeking to enter new markets, to use the Embassy network as a resource. The Embassies, with the assistance of Enterprise Ireland are there to help. We attach the highest importance to assisting where possible the growth of Ireland’s exports and business abroad, and contributing to our economic recovery.

We have already initiated a training programme to build capacity at Embassy level to better analyse business opportunities across Africa. This will continue in the autumn with a second programme to be held in South Africa which will be arranged in close co-operation with Enterprise Ireland.

I want to conclude by confirming that the Forum today marks a new departure in our relationship with the African continent. This new phase will seek to maintain our development programme but also to move well beyond images of under-development, poverty and conflict.  We want to develop a strong, lasting relationship with the countries and people of Africa which recognises the great progress made in the last decade and the truly enormous prospects for economic and trade links over the coming decades.