Commissioner Sacko, Commissioner Mimica, Dear Members of the Task Force,

Good morning. I hope you all had a good night's rest after the lovely meal yesterday. The real work starts now!

We are meeting in the same room where yesterday the two Commissions, the African Union Commission and the European Union Commission met together. This momentum is of particular importance, because we discussed how to translate into concrete action the decisions taken at the 5th Africa-European Union Summit in Abidjan last November.

And the setting up of this Task Force was one the main deliverables of the College to College meeting yesterday. Let me assure you that your work is of major relevance for the Commission. I view the work of this Task Force as bridging the gap between opportunity and reality.

We know that the 21st century holds massive opportunity for Africa. Projected population growth will increase Africa's population to 4,2 billion people by 2100, while the EU population will only reach 600 million.

The growing young African population is a tremendous resource, with significant potential for economic opportunity, business growth and investment from third countries.

And nowhere is this potential stronger than in the agriculture and agri-food sector, which employs up to 75% of the African labour force while representing less than 33% of African GDP.

But the reality needs to catch up to the opportunity. There is a need to create 18 million new jobs every year, but currently only 3 million new jobs are being created.

Given this formidable challenge, we need to speed things up, and this is where the Task Force comes into the picture.

Bridging the gap between opportunity and reality will require us to put the right policies in place. Thankfully, the African Union and the European Union have made real progress in this regard, widening and deepening our dialogue on policy making.

We have enjoyed an excellent cooperation with Commissioner Sacko, particularly in relation to the co-organisation of last July's second AU-EU Agriculture Ministerial Conference. This very successful event was praised by the AUC as the "right way of engagement between the two continents".

There is real wind in the sails of our cooperation at the moment.

We want you, the members of the Task Force, to take this momentum and use it to generate new ideas and proposals for where we go next.

How can we best address the productivity challenge in the African agri-food sector? How can we develop infrastructure and skills? How can we incentivise and increase responsible investment in African agri-business?

These are type of questions we want you to apply your expertise and energy to.

Making these changes happen will require enhancing the partnerships between governments, international partners, agribusiness and the private sector to foster responsible investments and link African farmers to global markets and value chains. All of this is about "partnership". This is why I am very keen on underlying the critical role of Sustainable Development Goal 17 "To revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development".

Let me stress that we also need a "culture of cooperation" at local level: investments will only serve their intended purpose if they are accepted and well-managed on the ground, based on transparent, fair and inclusive resource management.

We need to explore the economic, social and cultural inter-linkages of agriculture with wider society. We need to engage all rural stakeholders by fostering partnership and bottom-up approaches.

This is precisely the mandate of this new Task Force - to bring together African and European expertise to enhance the role of the agri-food and business sector in creating sustainable jobs and growth.

We need to reflect on what we can do better. Besides the fundamental development assistance, how can we better target policy support, foster investment in rural areas and support agribusiness?

There are a few themes of particular importance for me, highlighted at the AU-EU Agriculture Ministerial Meeting of July 2017 and captured in the AU-EU Summit of November, which I intend to advance in the coming months together with Commissioner Sacko, Commissioner Mimica and other fellow commissioners:

The first theme is education: we need to focus on investing in the skills and productive capacity of young people. We must empower young people with the necessary expertise and facilitate their access to technology. And when it comes to job creation, we must do more to support entrepreneurship and self-employment.

The second theme is agri-business: work is already underway to set up an AU- EU Agribusiness Platform to support African entrepreneurs and build capacities to access markets, focusing on young farmers, small holders and family farmers.

The third theme is support for implementing an African GI strategy: geographical indications promote agricultural development, protect local farmers' intellectual property rights, create value added, strengthen farmers' co-operation, develop collective marketing strategies and thereby increase farm income. We should aim to build full African ownership of this strategy.

The fourth theme is digital transformation: new technologies and systems can radically improve agricultural productivity. We should aim to support the connectivity of smallholders to the internet, increase the uptake of advisory services and extend the availability of e-Agriculture solutions.

The fifth theme is research: we should enhance collaborative research and innovation activities between the EU and Africa, including through professional development and mobility opportunities such as the EU's Marie-Curie Actions, ERASMUS+ and other types of Horizon 2020 projects. In addition, we must aim to expand the number of countries involved in the R&I Partnership on Food and Nutrition Security and Sustainable Agriculture and enhance involvement of the private sector.

The overall objective of these five themes is to grow economic development and job creation in agriculture, agri-business and agro-industries.

I believe that the Taskforce is a major opportunity to build on the conclusions of the Abidjan Summit of last November.  I also believe our work should align with the priorities of Agenda 2063 and the Malabo declaration to transform African agriculture.

We count on your insights, your wisdom, and your diverse skill sets.

You are a group of eleven experts with different and complementary profiles, in areas such as agriculture, agri-business, finance, development, research and sustainable production.

5 more meetings are being planned, and we are expecting a report of recommendations to be delivered by the end of this year. 

We have a unique opportunity to show that policy exchange and cooperation in agriculture works and provides for jobs and income opportunities.

I want agriculture to be among the first sectors where we have a successful policy dialogue, with real positive outcomes, between the two continents.

A strong, stable and prosperous Africa is essential for the EU. And by working closely together, we can help to bridge the gap between opportunity and reality. Thank you.