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Trade between Africa and Ireland to reach €24 billion by 2020

Irish Aid, Ireland, MoS Sean Sherlock, Trade, Speech, Africa, 2014

Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends from Ireland, from Africa and from elsewhere.

 

It is a pleasure to join you here this morning for the Africa Ireland Economic Forum. The very high levels of interest shown in this event, both in Ireland and in African countries, are indicative of a very bright future for African-Irish economic relations.

 

To all of you who have journeyed to be with us today, and particularly to those who have made the journey from Africa, we are genuinely delighted that you are with us in Dublin.

 

This Forum began at a time when people across the world were forced to deal with tumultuous economic, social and political change, driven in many cases by financial crises. Ireland was hit hard at this time and we have worked hard to turn our economy around.

 

Ireland is focused on making our place in a global marketplace count at home.  We are not alone in our aspiration to see trade and global relationships deliver domestic economic growth.

 

I do not need to tell you that trade between Africa and the rest of the world is growing at a rapid pace and is set to increase even more dramatically in the coming years.  The story of many African economies in the period since Ireland launched its Africa Strategy and this Forum in 2011 has been very positive.

 

In the words of Dr. Carlos Lopes  - who you have heard here today - the economic rise of Africa is not a mirage.  It is real.  In his annual report this year Dr. Lopes was able to report that Africa's growth was twice the global average in 2013 and today he has spoken to you about the opportunities now arising across Africa.

 

Next week I will accompany our President, Michael D Higgins, to Ethiopia on the first leg of his three-country African visit.  Ireland sees the President’s visit to Ethiopia, Malawi and South Africa as an important opportunity to highlight our strong ties with African countries.  Earlier this month, Ethiopian airlines announced a new scheduled flight from Addis Ababa to Los Angles via Dublin to commence next June.  When I am in Ethiopia I will sign a bilateral Transport Agreement to pave the way for this, the first direct connection to an African air transport hub from Ireland.  This is real progress!

 

During the President's visit next week the UN Africa Hall, where Dr Lopes is based, will be the venue for his keynote speech on “Independence and Inter-Dependence in Africa”.  I find symmetry in the work of Dr. Lopes with my own role in promoting economic growth, including through intra-regional trade.  As Minister for North-South Cooperation I know that sometimes trade with our closest geographical neighbours can be disrupted for historical and political reasons.  The all-island trade promotion body, Inter-Trade Ireland, plays a vital role in encouraging cross-border trade in Ireland.

 

This trade across our border is crucial to economic development on this island and it provides important stepping stones for many companies to first-time export. I am very pleased to have extended our hand of cooperation to our Northern neighbours and that Invest NI is represented here today.  The governments North and South recognize that we must work together to break down barriers to allow for the free flow of trade across our border and that by working together we achieve much more. Intra-African trade also has a major role to play in increasing the strengths of African countries as exporters.

 

We are not alone in examining a transformation agenda for African economies in Dublin.  This conversation is dynamic and is happening wherever stakeholders gather.  Next week the Africa Economic Conference in Addis Ababa will address the theme of ‘Knowledge and Innovation for Africa’s Transformation.’  Science, technology and innovation have been identified by African countries as key pillars for Africa’s development in the post-2015 development agenda.

 

Ireland attaches the highest priority to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  Along with our co-facilitators, Kenya, we will play a pivotal role at the UN in leading the negotiation of new global development goals next year.  We believe that this Post-2015 Agenda should complete the work to eradicate extreme poverty and ensure a transformative framework that will tackle new and emerging global challenges.

 

I am pleased to note that this forum recognises the opportunities for diverse cooperation and partnerships evolving in the Post 2015 process.  We need a more coherent overall approach to international development, including the building of inclusive economic growth in Africa.  This will involve looking at how the capacity of African Economies can be augmented and diversified, to ensure inclusive growth which contributes directly to poverty reduction.

 

In achieving such targets, one question we need to consider is closing the technology and innovation gap.

 

We know the opportunities that open up when this gap is closed.  This morning's discussion is a part of the story of economic development.  Access to and the ability to leverage technology is vital to compete on a global stage.  Today’s young digital community lives in an online and interconnected world which was hardly dreamed of by those in the know 20 years ago.  In another 20 years time the technological vista will once more be unrecognisable.  It is important now that we grasp opportunities and have the vision to see where they can take us.

 

As we do this, Ireland will work to make sure that our strong traditional relationships with African countries are complemented by an increased economic relationship that works to the benefit of all. This does not mean leaving our traditional commitments behind.  It does mean inviting new partners to the table.  We continue to implement our Africa Strategy, which recognises the need for Ireland to look for opportunities to build on our tradition of development cooperation and to develop stronger political and economic links with Africa.  One of the priority areas of the Government’s new international development policy - One World, One Future - is Trade and Economic Growth.

 

In implementing this strategy we will focus not only on increasing trade but also on supporting inclusive economic growth that benefits those who have not yet received any dividends from increased national GDP figures.  Nora Owen will address us shortly on how we face this future and how we can make it work.

 

You have already heard about the Irish business profile across Africa.  Irish companies are investing as well as exporting.  We know that business investments that increase employment bring enormous dividends to local economies.

 

Today we have here an impressive delegation from Nigeria. Nigeria is Ireland's largest goods trading partner and largest export market in sub-Saharan Africa.  Last year total merchandise trade was worth over half a billion euro.  Significant amounts of Ireland’s exports to Nigeria come from Irish indigenous companies.

 

Last year Ireland sent our first trade mission to Nigeria.  I have no doubt that it will be the first of many.  Ireland’s Embassy in Abuja is supporting and will continue to support increased trade and investment between the two countries.  We have a long and strong relationship going back to the early days of independence.  Our then Taoiseach, Seán Lemass, travelled to Nigeria for the events marking Independence in October 1960, and our Embassy in Nigeria was our first Mission established in Africa in 1961.  We look forward to continuing that story.

 

Ireland's merchandise trade with Africa as a whole is also increasing. In the last three years we have seen an increase of 25% in Irish goods exports to sub-Saharan Africa and 27% with the entire continent.  In return we have seen a more than doubling of our imports from sub-Saharan countries and an increase of well over 45% with the entire continent.

 

While these figures show that we are moving in the right direction, I am confident that we can do more to build our mutually beneficial trade and investment relationships.

 

Improving our people-to-people links and encouraging initiatives to enable business links is a vital element in developing this relationship.

 

This year we have invested in our Embassy network across the continent – upgrading our office in Sierra Leone to a full Embassy and reopening our Embassy in Kenya.  We now have eleven Embassies across the continent.

 

Irish Embassies and Ambassadors across the continent are engaging with Irish companies entering markets, selling goods and services, investing in countries and winning tenders.  This activity has ranged across many sectors including, but far from limited to, major energy projects, engineering consultancy, agri-business development and education and learning partnerships.

 

As in other parts of the world, a vital stop for a business entering or already engaged in a market is the local Embassy.  We want you to make contact.  We are interested in hearing from you and working with you and for you.  Our Embassies are developing new initiatives including networking links which you can plus into.

 

Last year our Ambassador to Tanzania, then also accredited to Kenya, was key to the establishment of the Business Ireland Kenya Network.  This network, like its counterparts around the world, will facilitate business to business links among the Irish business community in Kenya, encourage trade between Ireland and Kenya and provide a source of support and advice for Irish companies seeking to enter the Kenyan market. 

 

All of our Embassies are supporting companies directly through making connections, supporting interventions and providing advice on local markets. You have already heard from M-BIRR this morning.  Another Ethiopian success story is Maggrow Auranta, another young company working through the Africa Agri-Food Development Fund to bring new spraying products to Ethiopian agriculture.

 

These are just one or two examples. From Abuja to Pretoria, our Embassies are open for business.

 

We are also increasing links between institutions.  Through connections made between universities in, for example, Tanzania and Uganda, we now have more students studying at post graduate level in Ireland from these countries.

 

Last year, the new Mwangi Scholarship, a partnership between the Department of Foreign Affairs and the UCD School of Business, was announced.  Today there are fourteen students from seven African countries studying here at UCD funded by Irish Aid.  In Irish Universities today we have twenty six students from across the African continent funded through our schemes. These students from Sierra Leone in the West, to South Africa in the South are developing the people to people links that foster strong country to country links.

 

There are also a number of private sector-lead initiatives to increase Irish business profile across Africa.  The Irish Exporters Association yesterday evening launched their Africa Business Forum.

 

The partnership of Geoscience Ireland under the Geological Survey that will lead the Construction session this afternoon brings together companies that as they work together are seeing their profiles strengthen and jobs created at home.

 

With our partners in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the State Agricultural Research Agency, Teagasc, we work across a range of projects with the intention of increasing knowledge-sharing and the engagement of the Irish private sector in African markets.

 

This year the first State visit to Ireland under the Presidency of President Higgins was from Mozambique.  As a part of that visit we held a successful business seminar with a focus on Agri-business and construction.  There is significant interest among Irish companies in increasing trade with and investment in African countries.

 

Enterprise Ireland have recently expanded their office in South Africa and they have increased their presence in Nigeria as they work to develop networks across the continent.

 

This year we have signed or agreed Double Taxation Agreements with Botswana, Zambia and Ethiopia.

 

We continue to recognise the importance of international development aid, and the Government has underscored our commitment to the fight to end poverty and hunger in the recent Budget.  We recognise the huge challenges facing many in Africa, and none are more clear and immediate that the challenge to combat the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.  We are one of a small number of European countries with an Embassy in Sierra Leone.  At the start of the month I travelled myself to Freetown and witnessed at first hand the devastating impact of Ebola.  Our relationships with Sierra Leone and Liberia, two partner countries under Ireland’s development cooperation programme, remain focused on helping them as they try to develop their societies and their economies.  Particularly at the moment, but also long-term post the Ebola crisis, we and others will continue to help and support them as they struggle to gain a proper foothold on the economic ladder. 

 

Nevertheless, along with our partners in Africa, we recognise that this is the time also to think and act beyond aid.  Lasting solutions will arise when countries increase their ability to raise revenue and boost foreign direct investment, integrating into world markets.  Importantly, everyone must share in the benefits that will flow from economic growth.

 

Ireland is not a lone actor on the international stage. We are strong and vocal members of the European Union.  It is worth noting here that the European Union is Africa’s most important international partner.  It is the largest source of Foreign Direct Investment in Africa, the largest donor to African development cooperation programmes and Africa’s largest trading partner.  This implies enormous opportunities, and also enormous responsibilities.

 

We had a positive development in EU-Africa trade relations in July when two Economic Partnership Agreements were initialled with West Africa and Southern Africa.   There was further good news this month when an Economic Partnership Agreement with the East African Community was agreed at Senior Officials’ level.   These Agreements will help the 27 African countries involved to integrate better into the global trading system.   The aim is to increase African exports, stimulate investment and contribute to developing productive capacity with a positive effect on employment.   These Agreements go beyond conventional free trade agreements.   They take account of the socio-economic circumstances of the African countries and include co-operation and assistance to help with implementation of the Agreements.   

 

Increasingly the role of the private sector is being recognised as a driver for sustained growth, building on the economic and development gains in Africa in recent years.  This is not only about the international private sector engaging more in African countries.  It is about African countries encouraging and enabling private sector growth that will benefit country economies and drive inclusive economic growth that provides benefits for entire communities from the poorest up.

Last year the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda released its report setting a clear roadmap for eradicating extreme poverty.  Both this report and the African Union’s common position recommend that the post-2015 goals be driven by major transformative shifts.  One of these shifts is a profound economic transformation to improve livelihoods by harnessing innovation, technology, and the potential of businesses.

 

I am confident that our Forum today will play a modest part in encouraging and helping to achieve this transformation.

 

I am enormously positive and optimistic about Ireland’s partnership with a dynamic and growing Africa.  I believe our relationship with Africa will play a greater role in the future we are building for our country and its people.  I am therefore delighted to be part of this gathering today and look forward to hearing the outcomes from this important Forum.