Minister Addresses African Diaspora Business ForumDepartment of Foreign Affairs and Trade - 25/4/14
Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to welcome you all here today for this special session on Business and the African Diaspora. Today’s event is part of a consultation process that I have initiated with the African Diaspora on areas which I know are of importance to you.
A few months ago we met here to discuss the various opportunities for volunteering. Today, we will discuss opportunities for the African Diaspora to play a more strategic role in building business links between your own countries and Ireland.
I wish to acknowledge the strong partnership between my Department and the African Ambassadors who have turned up today to support this event.
I have already met with many of today’s privates sector participants in person, to discuss business opportunities over the last three years since the launch of the Africa Strategy.
The Africa Strategy for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was launched by the Tánaiste in 2011. The Strategy provides a comprehensive framework for the development and management of Ireland’s official engagement with Africa. It recognises that our relations with African countries are becoming more multi-faceted, encompassing political, economic and development cooperation aspects, and that exchanges in areas such as trade, investment and people-to-people links will increase in the future.
Africa is home to six of the ten fastest growing economies in the world, 50% of Africans will live in cities by 2030 representing a consumer market for local and imported food. The Irish dairy industry is targeting Africa as an export market for over 50% of projected growth once milk quotas are lifted in 2015. Irish companies in the ICT, financial services and telecommunications sectors are already involved in African markets.
Overall total exports to Africa have increased, from a low base, over the period of the Africa Strategy. Merchandise exports increased 27% from €1051 million in 2010 to €1336 million in 2012.
I now wish to take a moment to outline a number of discrete initiatives which are underway as part of the Africa Strategy.
The Africa Ireland Economic Forum is co-hosted by my Department, the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School and the African Ambassadors. The Forum is held each autumn and includes a keynote address from an Tánaiste, as well as prominent business leaders from Africa. The third Forum in 2013, attracted over 200 Irish business delegates as well as representatives from 22 African nations. It is the largest Africa trade focused event in Ireland.
The agenda for the 2014 Forum will be discussed with the African Ambassadors next week. We already have indications of interest from Francophone countries in Africa to attend the Forum for the first time. We warmly welcome this interest as we will look at opportunities to build relations with new markets across Africa.
The Africa Agri-Food Development Fund was established in 2012 with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine. The AADF has been instrumental in generating interest in African markets for export and investment by Irelands Agribusiness companies. A number of projects are currently being assessed for financial support in Ethiopia and Uganda.
I am also pleased to confirm that the negotiation of a Double Taxation Agreement with Botswana has been completed and should be signed in the near future. We are also in the process of negotiating similar agreements with Ghana, and Ethiopia. A long standing Agreement with Zambia will also be updated. I would like to acknowledge the close cooperation with the Revenue Commissioners on these matters.
I have also participated in Trade visits and Trade Missions to South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana. Some of these visits have involved Enterprise Ireland and I was very pleased to open their first Africa office in Johannesburg in 2013. We will shortly hear from George Kiely from Enterprise Ireland on their plans for future engagement in Africa.
Breiffini Kennedy will make a presentation on the work of Bord Bia, including very valuable market assessments of the potential of increasing the export of agri-food exports to Africa. An Bord Bia recently finalised their own Africa Strategy and appointed an Africa officer who has visited Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia and South Africa in recent months.
Another exciting initiative includes our partnership with IBEC for the “Winning Business in Africa” report outlining opportunities for Irish companies to tender for major projects funded by International Financial Institutions. I have recently approved a second phase to support Irish engineering companies win a larger share of European Development Fund contracts in Africa.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I have travelled extensively to many of your countries across Africa in my role as Minister for Trade and Development.
In some countries, the so called fragile states, the relationship with Ireland is largely a development one but one where trade can grow once political and economic stability improves. In other countries, such as Nigeria and South Africa, we will focus on trade rather than development. In this regard, the private sector will play an increasingly important role in the development of a country.
Access to dignified work with the guarantee of a weekly wage can dramatically change not only the welfare of the employed but also of their family and in the case of Africa of their extended family also.
Sustained economic growth will result in more jobs and demand for new and improved services. Many of these services will come from foreign companies and Irish based companies can also play their part.
Many Irish companies already play a growing part in the development of Africa. In South Africa, Enterprise Ireland companies employ over 13,000 people. Irish companies employ over 15,000 in West Africa and a significant number in other parts of the continent.
I also wish to acknowledge the many positive initiatives which the private sector is leading on. I have visited Irish companies who are actively involved in the promotion of local supply chains to generate increasing benefits to the local population. While this is good trade practice, it is also good development.
Those of you, who have been involved in the annual Africa Ireland Economic Forum, will appreciate the scale of interest amongst Irish companies in the growing market opportunities in Africa.
You will also equally appreciate the growing level of interest amongst African countries in attracting Irish business to your countries.
This business and trade will be beneficial to all parties. While I already noted that our exports to Africa are rising year on year, we also need to discuss how to increase imports from your countries too.
I have proposed this special meeting to explore, in some depth, how you - the African diaspora, can play a stronger role in facilitating business and trade between Ireland and your countries.
I look forward to the remarks from Ambassador Anas Khales from Morocco who is the Dean of the African Diplomatic Corps. The African Ambassadors are partners in everything we do to build stronger economic ties. Since the Africa Strategy was launched in 2011, Ministers from Morocco, Lesotho, Ethiopia, South Africa and Mozambique have travelled to Ireland to participate in events related to stronger bilateral ties.
The President of Mozambique will visit Ireland in June and I know that his itinerary will include engagements on trade and business.
As I mentioned earlier, I have also asked both Enterprise Ireland and An Bord Bia to provide us with an update on their current activities and future plans for Africa. Both state agencies have engaged closely with my Department since the Launch of the Africa Strategy.
The main objective of today’s event is to try to define a new way to work together so we can use the existing networks more productively. I know from meeting with many of you that there are a number of small start up initiatives already in place with the objective of facilitating business links between Ireland and Africa.
It is however a challenge for Irish business to navigate between the various groups and to determine who can provide the best linkages and networks for their particular interests.
While it is not realistic to form one diaspora group, it is feasible to co-ordinate better together. This will be better for you and certainly easier for business.
One approach might be the development of a more coordinated umbrella structure that can act as the point of first reference for enquiries and can help guide Irish business to particular groups who may be organised or specialising in a particular country or even in a particular sector such as energy for example. This might be supported by some form of business directory of the different diaspora groups and the countries and sectors where they specialise.
Such an arrangement will attract more business enquiries.
As I already mentioned, the annual Africa Ireland Economic Forum is now established as the showcase event for business between Ireland and Africa. It is an initiative which flows from the Africa Strategy and one that is proven and effective.
I would also propose that we would consider an umbrella structure to co-ordinate trade missions particularly into Ireland as well as various other initiatives and trade events. This is particularly important if we are to sustain the interest of the business sector in Ireland.
So, in closing, closer co-operation will help everybody. It should empower diaspora groups to help build links back to Africa, it will help in bringing more business to Africa, more investment and we hope more jobs and economic growth.