Deputy Prime Minister, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is an honour to be here today at the European Business Summit, alongside such a high level panel from our “twin continents”.

As you know, the relationship between our two continents is as important as ever, but we hopefully enter a new era of even deeper cooperation.

On 12 September 2018, President Juncker, during his State of the Union speech, launched an Africa - Europe Alliance for sustainable investment and jobs, which proposes a paradigm shift for the relation between both continents.

The Africa - Europe Alliance is about building a true and fair partnership focused on mutual economic interest. It aims at boosting investments and creating jobs, in particular for youth.

The Africa - Europe Alliance for sustainable investment and jobs is a wide strategy that builds on a real partnership between the two continents. It is based on a common agenda set by Africans and Europeans working together.

With regard to my own field of competence, namely Agriculture, we have been very active on developing the Alliance in this all important area.  I could not have developed this policy cooperation without working hand in hand with my counterpart and friend, the African Commissioner for Agriculture, Josefa Sacko.

Just two months ago (March 2019) Commissioner Sacko and I published the report of the “Task Force Rural Africa”, a high-level panel of African and European experts we set up together with Commissioner Mimica.

The Task Force was specifically asked to provide advice on how to accelerate the sustainable development of the food and farming sector in Africa through Africa-Europe cooperation.

In the report, three key areas of intervention:

The importance of sustainable land and natural resources management, and climate action.

The need to transform African agriculture by developing competitive and inclusive value chains in the African food industry and food markets.

The relevance of a territorial approach for job creation and income growth in rural areas in Africa.

In its “calls for action”, the Task Force report has laid out “An Agri-food and Rural Agenda” for the “New Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs”, which I recommend you to study.

The Task Force has also emphasised the need to enhance and facilitate dialogue, in the frame of a new partnership between Africa and Europe, at three levels:

Government-to-government, which is already well established.

Business-to-business, and

People-to-people, which we need to make a concerted effort to encourage.

The Task Force is clearly calling for us to do more in enabling a broader connection and collective action between African and European farmers and citizens, business communities and governments, to build on development experiences in the agri-food system.

But we are not referring to more reports and more talk, as already now several Africa-Europe initiatives are under preparation or have already been launched.

The EU-Africa Agribusiness Platform will give a key role to the private sector in bringing about structural transformation in African agri-food markets.

Key areas of discussion for business and investments in value chains are:

The implementation of the EU External Investment Plan (EIP) and its agribusiness window;

The “ABC Fund” launched with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) for strengthening farmers’ organisations; and

The development of protected geographical indications for African agri-food products, to help give them a comparative advantage in the international markets.

The Task Force Rural Africa has acted at a critical moment: Africa is growing in strategic importance in the EU agenda.

For the EU, a strong, stable and prosperous Africa is essential, and a value-creating African agri-food system is central to ensuring food security, rural livelihoods, growth in incomes, employment creation and stability.

Just few months after the launch of the Africa–Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs we move one step forward today in consolidating our partnership in agriculture.

We are currently working on new ideas, either proposed by the Task Force, or already mooted in EU development policy, such as:

Setting up a pilot “Leader Africa” initiative, building on Europe’s own experience since the 1990s in supporting rural development for the revitalising rural areas and creating jobs through a Community-led Local Development approach. Such an initiative would work within the existing initiatives of EU Development Policy supporting decentralisation and local governance in third countries and promoting a territorial approach to development in partner countries.

Developing an Africa Twinning Programme, including Vocational Education Training, aimed at promoting African-European farmer and student exchanges, again in line with similar initiatives through EU cooperation on education and training.

Most importantly, we are working continent to continent on deepening our Agri policy relationship on all levels.

For example, the upcoming 3rd AU EU Agriculture Ministerial Conference in Rome on 21st June, is an excellent opportunity to consolidate political commitment within this agenda and launch a first set of specific initiatives.

After meetings in Noordwijk (The Netherlands) in 2016, and Rome in 2017, AU and EU Agriculture Ministers will again convene on 21 June 2019 on the eve of the biannual FAO Conference in Rome.

The themes of the previous two Conferences were ‘Investing in a Food Secure Future’ and ‘Making Sustainable Agriculture a future for youth in Africa’ respectively.

The Conferences not only led to fruitful exchanges on current issues, they also provided the platform for enhanced cooperation on agriculture and agricultural value chains. The 2017 conference advanced in particular concrete deliverables in the area of agriculture and agrifood that constituted a valuable input for the 5th AU-EU Summit in Abidjan (November 2017).

Taking into account the new Africa Europe Alliance, the recommendations of the TFRA and the agricultural priorities of the Africa Union, as set out in the Malabo Declaration, the theme of the Conference will be around: Promoting sustainable regional agri-food value chains

This theme will allow for due attention to a range of issues including agriculture and agribusinesses, regional integration and trade, standards and food safety, public and private investments, employment and value addition.

Africans and Europeans have a high stake in each other's future and much to gain from cooperation. This is an important opportunity for all of us to show how we are already contributing to agriculture development in Africa and bring in specific proposals for further action.

Need to seize this opportunity! Make a call for Ministers to attend so that they have buy-in and ownership.

The fruitful agriculture cooperation between Europe and Africa should be successfully reflected in the work to be done within the major international fora, such as FAO.

This is why the European Union decided to give full support Ms Catherine Geslain-Laneelle in her application for the post of FAO Director General.

She has been former Under Secretary of State in the French Ministry of Agriculture and former Head of the EU Food Safety Authority (EFSA), with more than 30 years of experience in the food, agricultural, forestry and rural development fields.

She combines extensive expertise in the design and implementation of public policies, a proven leadership capacity of national and intergovernmental organizations, and a recognized ability for international negotiation and cooperation.

And this is also why we call our African partners to give support to such an extremely qualified candidate.