President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Ladies and gentlemen, friends,
I am delighted to welcome the heads of state who currently chair Africa’s main regional organisations.
I also welcome the heads of these associations’ executives bodies. You represent the whole spectrum of organisations and structures operating on the continent: the African Union (AU), the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, the East African Community, the Arab Maghreb Union, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the Economic Community of Central African States, the Economic Community of West African States, and the African Export-Import Bank. This is a solid line-up that speaks for itself.
As for Russia, our country is a proactive contributor to regional integration projects across the vast Eurasian space. The Eurasian Economic Union is probably the key structure where Russia participates alongside our friendly neighbouring countries. Its purpose is to build single markets for goods, services, capital and labour. It is for this reason that we decided that it would be important to discuss the prospects of cooperation between the Eurasian Union and Africa’s integration bodies. This primarily refers to the African Union which has been following a similar path with the creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area.
Head of the Eurasian Economic Commission Board Mikhail Myasnikovich will share his thoughts and proposals in this regard. As for me, I would like to note that of all the regional organisations, the African Union is Russia’s main partner. We support it in its multifaceted efforts to ensure peace and stability and promote political and economic integration.
Today we will approve a major joint Russia–African Union action plan until 2026. This comprehensive document was drafted pursuant to the 2019 Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the Russian Federation and the African Union Commission on the basic principles of their relations and cooperation. It focuses on intensifying contacts on peace and security and resolving crises.
In addition, we believe that the creation of a new permanent dialogue mechanism for consultations on such urgent issues as countering terrorism and extremism and ensuring food, information and environmental security could be a meaningful addition to Russia–African Union instruments of interaction.
And, of course, I want to mention that Russia supports the African Union's participation in the G20 as a full member. We talked about this today. We expect that the G20 will reach a decision on this matter, including with our support, at the summit in New Delhi in September. Objectively, this decision would reflect the constantly growing role of the African continent and its leading regional structures in international affairs.
Naturally, we are ready to develop effective interaction with other African regional organisations that are represented at our meeting. We support close foreign policy coordination and cooperation with them in countering modern challenges and threats, including terrorism, extremism and organised crime, implementing mutually beneficial trade and economic initiatives and cooperation in promoting development.
We are convinced that such multifaceted partnership is a substantial addition to bilateral ties and contacts with our African friends and fully meets the interests of our states, facilitating the sustainable economic growth and prosperity of both Russia and Africa.
Of course, during this working breakfast we will be very happy to listen to the leaders of Africa’s regional organisations. I hope our meeting and conversations will be productive.
And now I am delighted to give the floor to the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Mr Moussa Faki Mahamat.
Thank you for our attention.
Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat (retranslated): Your Excellency, Mr President of the Russian Federation!
Heads of State, dear colleagues!
Leaders of regional economic organisations!
I would like to thank Mr President Putin on our collective behalf for organising this most timely event – meeting with the leaders of international African organisations at the Russia-Africa Summit.
In October 2019, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding on our partnership with the Foreign Minister of Russia. It speaks of peace, stability and socio-economic development.
Despite the terrible COVID-19 pandemic, we continued exchanging views and documents with the Foreign Ministry of Russia with a view to specifying the provisions of this memorandum and mapping out a plan of action.
I think this summit will allow us to specify additional points and finalise the drafting of an action plan, as the President of the Russian Federation emphasised today, until 2026.
In the African Union, we have the African Economic Commission that operates over the entire continent and eight regional organisations on which the African Union relies.
Africa has adopted a plan of action until 2063. The main goals are integration, prosperity and peace.
As for integration, we are now working with regional economic communities because we know that our countries cannot fully develop individually.
Mr President, your country serves as an example. Russia was an enormous empire, then there was the Soviet Union and today Russia is a federation or a unifying structure. This is the same philosophy as we have in the African Union. The Organisation of African Unity was established 60 years ago. It was replaced by the African Union that has 55 member-countries today.
As for the development of the African continent, we have enormous natural and human resources. Despite the grievous times of our history – slavery and colonisation, it is important for the African Union to ensure that both our human and natural resources are used for the advancement of our countries. To achieve this, we must work inside our organisation and within our partnerships that are important both for our continent and for our partners.
The President of the Russian Federation said today in the morning that Africa’s relations with Russia, and earlier with the Soviet Union, were very advanced. The Soviet Union supported the struggle of the African countries first against colonialism and later against apartheid. And, of course, the Soviet Union helped to give education to thousands of specialists, men and women, in different economic areas, and they continue working in Africa. So we have a good foundation for building a modern partnership.
Infrastructure is a priority for our continent. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi who is present here worked a great deal on this issue. Africa has an area of 30 million square kilometres and a population of 1.5 billion but we are a kind of an enclave in the world – we have few roads and railways, we are short of airports and the like. In theory, we have created today the world’s biggest free trade area, but we must physically unite our countries and join our regions for the best use of Africa’s resources. This is the largest project of our continent. Infrastructure and energy are essential for development.
Russia is an industrial country with vast experience in energy, railways and automobile transport. I think today our partnership has not yet reached a level worthy of Russia and African nations. We must step up our efforts in this area.
I am not referring to development assistance. We know how that went on our continent. We need investment, we need mutual interest and we need movement to meet each other halfway. I believe the leaders of all African nations are ready for such a partnership, to work together under jointly drafted plans that will be implemented strictly according to schedule.
We talked at length about agriculture and food security today. Africa accounts for 60 percent of the planet’s undeveloped arable lands. We have a lot of water and forest but despite this we are not self-sufficient in food. This is very strange and very sad. Today, our goal is not to import things but to organise the transfer of technology to Africa. This technology exists and there are fields where cooperation suggests itself.
As for human resources, I already spoke about education and healthcare, so thank you for speaking about this earlier today, in particular, about training skilled workers.
I told Foreign Minister Lavrov when I was here in the autumn of 2021 that the majority of specialists in my country, particularly in physics and mathematics, were taught by Russian physics, chemistry and mathematics teachers. It is impossible to train an engineer if you are not good at physics and mathematics, as they serve as a foundation of new technologies. Incidentally, it is important to train teachers in this field who will pass these technical skills on to students.
Finally, regarding security, I want to say that today, alas, Africa has become a place where all sorts of extremists and terrorists are active – be it in the north, in the Sahel, in the Horn of Africa area, in the Great Lakes area or even in Mozambique. Acts of terror and attacks by terrorist groups are a serious challenge to us. Considering this, we must beef up our forces.
Everyone is talking today about African brigades in the east, in the south and so on – our combined forces. However, it is important to train and upgrade them.
For 60 year now, UN missions have been at work on our territory, but this is expensive and not very convenient. We raised this issue at the UN Security Council but it is still up in the air. So we are trying to resolve security issues with support from our friends and on our own. I believe Russia will play a significant role in this.
Mr President, Your Excellency, colleagues, I tried to outline the main areas of our cooperation. Hopefully, my colleagues will also speak about this.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.
I always take pleasure and interest in what Mr Mahamat says, because he always manages to touch on the most vital topics in vivid detail.
Please, I have already introduced my colleague, Mr Myasnikovich, Chairman of the Eurasian Economic Commission Board, to you.
Please, go ahead.
Chairman of the Eurasian Economic Commission Board Mikhail Myasnikovich: Mr President of the Russian Federation,
First of all, I would like to thank the Russian Federation for organising the second Russia–Africa summit and forum at the very highest level. We believe this is an important and necessary event.
Here is what I would like to note.
First, Eurasia and Africa’s integration association have similar guidelines for the development of integration processes, which is important, and they are stated in our policy documents. First of all, I would like to talk about the Eurasian Economic Union Strategy until 2025 and Africa’s Agenda 2063: internal unity, improving the well-being of people and the competitiveness of the member states’ economies. It has already been mentioned that in order to achieve these goals, our Eurasian Economic Union really, I would like to emphasise this, really ensures the freedom of movement of goods, services, capital and labour.
President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin made a proposal to supplement this list with the fifth freedom: freedom of knowledge, which we believe is very relevant in this situation as my colleague also said.
Let me briefly speak about the Eurasian Economic Union. It is developing successfully. Despite difficult conditions, last year a record level of exports was reached: 21 percent in foreign trade and 14 percent in mutual trade. This year, mutual trade has added another 17 percent. The expected growth of the Union’s economy in 2023 is over 2 percent, according to expert estimates.
The internal market of the Eurasian Economic Union fully covers its need for grain, meat, dairy and sugar with its own production. At the same time, for example in 2022, the Union members exported tens of millions of tonnes of grain, 590,000 tonnes of sugar, 460,000 tonnes of meat and meat products, and 100,000 tonnes of milk and dairy products.
I say this because potential opportunities for trade with our African colleagues are good both for food and industrial products.
Second, there is reason to accelerate progress in cooperation; the necessary foundations have been laid. We have a documented relationship with the African Union and COMESA, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, and documents are being prepared with the East African Community and the Economic Community of Central African States. But practical measures are needed. Therefore, at the final stage, colleagues, I would like to report that we are in talks with Egypt to create a free trade zone. By the way, the Eurasian Economic Commission, whose Board I head, has scheduled talks in Moscow on August 14. This is the sixth round of negotiations on this issue.
Why do I focus on these practical matters? The EAEU member states consider comprehensive cooperation with Egypt a key to the development of partnerships with African countries in general. There is certain infrastructure, as was discussed at the plenary meeting today: the Russian industrial zone in Egypt. We know there are plans to seriously develop it.
This is why in this situation we would like to ask you, colleagues, that the integration associations of Africa give, perhaps, additional positive signals for their businesses to work more actively with the Eurasian Economic Union. In turn, our business circles have received such recommendations.
Third, in 2022 the EAEU’s trade with African countries increased by 3.5 percent. This is not a big number, considering our potential. But owing to the measures we are taking, we have achieved 15.5 percent growth in the first half of the year, or first four months, to be precise. These are good figures and we should keep moving at the same pace. So I would like to thank our African partners for this.
We see prospects for developing economic relations in one more area and I will talk about it in more detail. This is joint implementation of specific projects. Yes, indeed today the companies of the Russian Federation are building a nuclear power plant in Egypt (Rosatom), developing oil and gas deposits in Western Africa (LUKOIL) and producing bauxite and alumina (RUSAL). A special company is manufacturing Belarusian tractors in the Republic of South Africa. A Belarus-Egypt joint venture is producing cargo vehicles in Egypt.
I think the implementation of a joint agricultural programme between Belarus and Zimbabwe is a very interesting project. Last year, they had the biggest wheat harvest in 50 years, which practically meets this country’s needs for this crop.
We are planning to scale up positive examples of our cooperation. EAEU companies have the capacity to build up supplies of machines, tractors, trucks and municipal service vehicles, as well as high-tech equipment for producing and processing mineral resources, as the previous speaker said. This is a very big niche. Exports are insignificant for the time being, but it is possible to build them up.
I would like to emphasise that we are talking not just about trade but also about technology transfers – creation of localised production capacities, training of specialists, implementation of research and education programmes, and exports of the latest in ICT. This means organising work for the entire technological cycle. We have relevant technology and experience in carrying out joint projects in our Union.
Therefore, we believe this approach will make it possible to enhance the efficiency of the African economy and create new high-skill jobs, thereby fulfilling a social function. But we must certainly have stronger incentives for project cooperation.
To study this issue, we suggest establishing a Eurasian business mission to African countries under the aegis of the Eurasian Economic Commission and the Business Council of the EAEU (chaired this year by the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs headed by Mr Alexander Shokhin). Once it is completed we can draft a joint project under the working name “Eurasian Technology. Common Future.”
We would like to ask you, Mr President and our African partners to support this proposal. We are ready to work with our African friends also on other projects for the sake of fair and successful future.
Thank you for your attention.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much, Mr Myasnikovich.