Asia and Africa can do more together: Grace Fu

Potential for greater cooperation in economic areas and to tackle threats

AS THE two fastest-growing regions in the world, Asia and Africa hold much potential for greater economic cooperation, Second Minister for Foreign Affairs Grace Fu said yesterday.

Both saw growth of more than 5 per cent last year and Singapore, like other countries, has responded to the opportunities offered by the transformation in Africa, she told foreign ministers from countries on the two continents.

The Singapore Business Federation led 14 trade missions to Africa in the past four years, and International Enterprise Singapore has opened two commercial centres in Accra, Ghana and Johannesburg, South Africa.

"This reflects our businesses' optimism in Africa's long-term outlook," she said.

But Ms Fu told the Asian-African Ministerial Meeting in Jakarta that the collaboration can be blown off course by such major challenges as terrorism, piracy and climate change.

Both sides can do more together to overcome these threats, she said.

Terror attacks such as those on the Garissa University College in Kenya by Al-Shabab militants this month that killed 147, and on the Bardo Museum in Tunisia which killed 19 last month, had horrified the global community, she added.

Violent groups are also using social media to spread their ideologies, and countries can cooperate and share their experiences on counter-terrorism, she said.

As for piracy, Ms Fu said it "affects vital trade flows both for individual nations and for the global economy as a whole".

The major international sea lanes straddle both continents and this scourge threatens seafarers' safety and increases shipping costs, she noted.

Ms Fu also called for greater cooperation to tackle climate change, saying: "With episodes of extreme weather occurring at increased frequency, all countries need to build up their capacity to cope with it."

The ministerial meeting is part of a series of events marking the 60th anniversary of the 1955 Asia-Africa conference in Bandung that was attended by newly independent countries then.

Business leaders from both regions will attend the Asian-African Business Summit today, and Indonesia plans to propose the setting up of a business council to improve trade and investment cooperation between their key business players.

Government leaders from both sides will then meet in Jakarta tomorrow.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, who chaired yesterday's meeting, said cooperation across both regions had to be stepped up at a time when conflict and instability are continuing, and intolerance and inequality are rising.

Ms Retno also said that Indonesia, as incoming chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association, would promote cooperation in maritime connectivity to "shorten the distance between Asia and Africa".

Yesterday, Ms Fu also met Madagascar Foreign Minister Beatrice Atallah. They discussed further cooperation in trade and maritime issues between their two countries, said Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

zakirh@sph.com.sg