The Government of Ireland agreed to raise our ODA by almost €110 million next year, in comparison with the amounts announced this time last year. This will be our biggest increase since 2006 and is a first credible step on the road to meeting our target of 0.7% of Gross National Income going towards ODA by 2030.
Later this year, I will unveil Ireland’s new international development cooperation policy, the product of extensive international and domestic consultations which have only concluded in recent days. This policy will guide us in our increased expenditure over the coming years. Already, agriculture, gender equality and the role of the private sector are strong emerging themes for the policy. And as our ODA budget expands, there will be more opportunities to support the Irish private sector to invest and build businesses in Africa. Because we know that development cooperation is only one thread in the increasingly intricate fabric of our relations with Africa. In many ways, it is bringing our trade to new and unprecedented levels which will have the greatest impact.
For Ireland, agri-business development has been an integral part of our economic development and transformation story. Over a few decades, Ireland has grown from predominantly small scale subsistence farming, exporting primary production, to a sophisticated producer of high-end, value-added food. Over €1 billion worth of Irish food and drink is exported every month. Over the last 7 years, our agri-food exports have increased by 56%, mainly driven by non-EU trade.
I am very conscious that the potential for agriculture to transform African economies is enormous. And, done well, agriculture and agri-business can help give people rewarding and dignified lives in the countryside, ensuring that pressures on growing cities are alleviated.
Sub-Saharan Africa will need to create 18 million jobs each year until 2035 to accommodate its growing population, in particular young people and women. A significant number of these jobs will be created in agriculture and agri-business.
Ireland has technology in agri-business that we are ready and able to share. Africa is seeking to modernise its agricultural sector and enhance productivity. The potential for knowledge and skills transfer through private sector partnerships is considerable.
We are making a concerted effort to boost women’s entrepreneurship by removing obstacles to women’s participation in the labour force and providing support to women to start their own businesses. But our ambition does not stop there, we want to see our business women engage in export markets and think about investing in new business partnerships in Africa.
In certain respects, Africa is leading the way in relation to female entrepreneurship with 26% of the female adult population engaged in early-stage entrepreneurial activity. Nonetheless, social and financial barriers to female entrepreneurship remain in place, most notable inadequate access to finance. A number of women entrepreneurs are here today, actively seeking business partnerships and undoubtedly interested in the experience of Irish women in business.
Ireland is well on the way to becoming a member of the African Development Bank and I look forward to deepening our cooperation with the Bank in the coming year. It plays a crucial role in financing the infrastructure necessary to enable the modernisation and transformation of the economies on the continent.
At a time when Brexit dominates much of our news coverage of the EU, it is good to remind our audience of the important role Ireland’s membership of the European Union has played in our development. It is very positive to see a similar commitment to regional integration in Africa.
More recently, I was very heartened by the decision of the 55 members of the Africa Union to create the Continental Free Trade Agreement involving a commitment to cut tariffs and facilitate the free movement of people and goods. When the CFTA comes into force, it will create the largest free trade zone since the creation of the World Trade Organisation in 1995. And regional integration has the potential to dramatically boost intra-African trade.
As one of the world’s most open economies, free trade has been good for Ireland. Indeed, we can chart our economic development against the gradual opening of our markets, beginning with a free trade agreement with the UK in the 1960s, then joining the EU in the 1970s, which evolved into the Single Market and then Ireland’s membership of the WTO – indeed, the negotiations of the global agreement that led to the WTO were led by a great Irishman, the late Peter Sutherland.
That journey – with many obstacles on its road - led us to where we are today, a dynamic economy which is creating jobs at a faster rate than ever. A gateway into Europe and, we hope, a European gateway into Africa.
In this context, the President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, spoke last month of his ambition for a new 'Africa - Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs.' He set out an ambitious EU programme to encourage more private investment in Africa, the success of which would be judged by the number of jobs created. He set a target of 10 million African jobs over the next five years. Ireland is determined to play its part in helping African countries achieve this goal.
We start from a good place - the EU is Africa's main trading partner, accounting for 36% of Africa's trade in goods. The EU remains the world's most open market to African exports. We must commit to better regional integration between Europe and Africa, as we work to meet the challenges together in an increasingly inter-connected world. And in a context, also, where European companies are the biggest foreign investors in Africa.
This is not surprising - Africa and Europe are neighbours. Dakar is closer to Dublin than Galway is to Gallipoli. What is good for one of us must be good for both. This sentiment has been reinforced in my meetings with African leaders as we campaign for a seat on the UN Security Council for 2021 and 2022. The Irish emphasis on partnership is well-received in many of the countries where you live and work.
For similar reasons, it is important that we get right the framework for EU cooperation with Africa, and also Caribbean and Pacific states: improved structures will allow us to make progress on shared objectives. Ireland is determined to play a leading role in shaping how these negotiations advance.
The European Union and its Member States are collectively the world’s biggest providers of development assistance, providing almost 60% of global assistance at time when development cooperation is evolving. But while traditional assistance remains essential, it needs to be complemented with other tools and sources of finance if the Sustainable Development Goals are to be achieved. That is why we need new partnerships. We need to mobilise private resources and find innovative financing models that work. The EU External Investment Plan is, we hope, going to lead the way. The aim is to crowd in private investors, where viable business proposals meet social needs, and where limited public funds can attract private money.
As we innovate along these lines, we can take encouragement from our own very positive experience with the Africa Agri-Food Development Programme. I have a particular fondness for this programme, having launched it when I was Minister for Agriculture and Food in 2012. The Programme aims to develop partnerships between the Irish Agri-Food Sector and African companies to support sustainable inclusive growth. Over €2 million has been invested to support that aim to date.
I am delighted to announce an expansion of the programme to cover Botswana, Cóte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Namibia and Rwanda. I am also pleased to launch the next round of funding. I believe the Africa Agri-Food Development Programme has potential to develop in an innovative manner, building on past success while being more ambitious in its scope.
Ireland wants to be more prominent in supporting programmes and mechanisms that stimulate private sector activity, and provide opportunities for women and others who struggle to succeed without appropriate supports.
Already, Irish Embassies in Africa are working with host governments to support an enabling environment for the private sector. Ireland’s transformation story, both our mistakes and our innovations, provides a fertile ground for those developing public policy in Africa today. Our Embassies have the local knowledge and the networks to support Irish businesses expanding into Africa.
In closing, let me underline how important our relationship with Africa is, politically, economically and culturally through people-to-people links.
By Simon Coveney
Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) of Ireland