Thursday, 23 June 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Everyone in the House is acutely conscious of the vulnerability of many African economies in the face of the fallout from the massive increases in the cost of energy and other commodities. What initiatives are Ireland and the EU taking to strengthen the capacity of those countries to withstand this pressure?
The level of economic activity between Ireland and Africa is at an all-time high. In 2021, trade in goods was at a record level of €2.41 billion. Trade in services, also at a record level of more than €4 billion, has been a particular success story, with service exports to Africa up by more than 300% in the ten years to 2020. There was an increase of 8% in Irish agrifood exports to Africa in 2021, which was a remarkably good performance within a difficult international context affected by the Covid pandemic. Ireland is one of the leading global exporters of dairy products to west Africa, while Irish spirits exports to the continent grew by a further 133% in 2021.
The Government's new trade and investment strategy, which tallies directly with the Deputy's question, positions Ireland to expand and diversify our trading relationship with Africa while growing it sustainably. Africa is a large and growing market, offering great potential for increased trade and investment. The Government's Africa strategy prioritises mutually beneficial trade and investment. Last month, the Cabinet discussed progress on its implementation. Action under the strategy has included the opening of a new embassy in Morocco last year, with another to open in Senegal in the coming months. Our State agencies, including Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia and IDA Ireland, have also strengthened their presence in Africa in recent years. Ireland has expanded its footprint in Africa, providing valuable entry points for new trade and investment.
Obviously, trade is an important focus of political engagements in the region. During my visit to Mozambique in May, I saw at first hand the potential for innovative partnerships. I met entrepreneurs in the areas of climate action and sustainability, who are supported by our embassy in Maputo. I also met Irish companies doing business locally in Mozambique. Importantly, the seventh Africa Ireland Economic Forum will take place on 30 June. This is a timely opportunity, coming out of the pandemic, to showcase the significant potential for growth in trade and investment between Ireland and Africa. The forum will bring business leaders from both together to generate new economic links.
As a country that has fairly recently developed from a relatively basic level, the role of foreign direct investment and joint ventures in the Irish domestic market has been absolutely crucial. Is there an effort to build that sort of investment and joint venture with Africa in a way that facilitates the development of its economies? Is the EU conscious of the threat to open trading, and the democratic values that go with it, in the context of the actions of other regimes that are currently taking advantage of difficulties in Africa to enter into long-term investment agreements and tie up commodities in a way that is not in the long-term interests of either those emerging economies or an open free trading model?
We are acutely conscious of what is happening in Africa in terms of some of the investment that is going in there and the way in which it is being delivered, particularly with a tie to trade. Both Ireland and the EU try to focus on developing mutually beneficial relationships with Africa, that is, relationships that focus on the development of economic ties and sustainability, particularly in key areas such as climate on which we can work beneficially with countries. At the heart of our development policy, as it is for our EU partners, is trying to reach those furthest behind and working with them to develop their economies.
There are other countries that engage in relationships with Africa where the trading relationship and aid relationship is not based on that approach. The links are very unfortunate in terms of what is happening. At all points, whether through our membership of the Africa Development Bank Group or the international agencies we work with locally, what we consistently try to do is to ensure our aid, trade and developments relationships are based on working in a particular way that will facilitate the development of the country in question as part of our work.
Questions Nos. 99, 101, 104, 107 and 114 are related and will be taken together. I am informed there is an error in the list in front of me and I must ask the House if Deputy Murnane O'Connor will be allowed to contribute to the discussion on this group as a questioner as opposed to a supplementary questioner. Is that agreed? Agreed. I understand Deputy Ó Cuív is substituting for Deputy Murnane O'Connor.