17 February 2022, EU: “Check against delivery”
Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my honour to join Commissioner Sacko, who I would like to thank for kindly opening today’s High Level Panel.
I would also like to thank the services of the African Commission, my own services in the European Commission, and all of the organisations who have contributed to this year’s forum.
The EU Africa Business Forum has become an increasingly important platform for discussions and partnerships, and the fact that we are maintaining this platform, even under the current adverse conditions, is proof of the enduring business relationship between Europe and Africa.
Agriculture is, of course, a sector in which we enjoy a lot of shared business, and a lot of shared priorities.
The aim of today’s discussion is to identify concrete measures that we can use to build our business, and advance our priorities.
With this in mind, I would like to put forward three areas that may act as a foundation for our discussion.
Public-private investment partnerships
Firstly, we are all aware that farming is a largely private sector activity, with high public importance.
Therefore, we need to put public-private partnerships at the core of our approach.
These partnerships can attract investments that unlock the potential of the agri-food sector and rural areas in Africa.
Together, the African Union and European Union have already started work on setting up Agri-business platforms, to boost responsible private investment, promote agri-business twinning, and identify barriers to trading and investing.
The way we invest over the coming years will guide the agricultural sector during the post-COVID recovery, and help us to “build back better”.
African Continental Free Trade Agreement.
The benefits of good investments can be boosted by a good trading environment.
So the second area I will highlight is the importance of regional trade integration for improved food security and sustainability.
The most significant step forward in this direction is the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.
The Agreement addresses a fundamental lesson that we in Europe have learned over the past number of decades: that removing tariffs alone does not guarantee an improved flow of trade.
Trading partners must also harmonise their regulatory environments, thereby providing greater legal certainty for businesses to invest and trade across borders.
Research and innovation
Finally, as we prepare for the challenges of an uncertain future, research and innovation can pave the way forward for our agri-food systems.
Under the Horizon Europe programme, the first ever ‘Africa Initiative’ will support solutions for smart, green, and digital agri-food systems.
We need to discuss how we can capitalise on green solutions: agro-ecological models and profitable green enterprises are among the most exciting, yet largely untapped, areas of opportunity for value-added growth in the agri-food sector.
We also need to discuss digital solutions, how we can harness satellites, devices, networks, and services.
These technologies have great potential to combat diseases and prevent food losses, and can drive fair and inclusive economic growth in African rural areas.
In particular, these technologies should target smallholder farmers’ needs, especially as concerns market access.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I hope that you can draw from the areas I have briefly identified, as you discuss how our agricultural systems should be transformed to be fit for the future.
As you all know, agriculture is one of the oldest, most traditional sectors of the human economy, but it is now caught in the winds of change.
Some of these changes we can control; others, we cannot.
In both cases, we must work together to meet the challenges, and take advantage of the opportunities.
That is why we are committed to the AU EU Rural Transformation Action Agenda.
I am convinced that the actions set out in our Agenda can help us achieve African food systems that are economically-vibrant, environmentally responsible, and capable of providing adequate food security to achieve our goal of ‘Zero Hunger’.
I hope that your discussion today will provide valuable inputs in all of these areas, and strengthen our partnership in the context of the Rural Transformation Agenda, as well as for the upcoming EU-Africa Summit.
In all of these contexts, it is clear that if we follow a common path, we can make greater progress.
In this spirit, I look forward to continuing our good work together, and I wish you a successful and fruitful discussion today.