On 20 May 2011, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs hosted an international discussion forum – African Platform. Such a discussion forum was held in Latvia for the first time, and it took place in conjunction with Africa Day, which is observed on 25 May.
The aim of the discussion was to develop international cooperation and to identify new export markets by familiarising Latvian parliamentarians, current and future exporters, NGOs and other interested parties with opportunitiesfor cooperation with African countries.
The forum was attended by representatives from the public sector, diplomats from African countries accredited to Latvia, members of the European Commission representation in Latvia, Latvian entrepreneurs, experts in diverse spheres, representatives of NGOs, as well as journalists. In his opening address Andris Piebalgs, the EU Commissioner for Development, emphasised the importance of this first international event dedicated to Africa because African countries are developing rapidly, and their political changes are directed towards democracy. The European Union has had a partnership with the African countries since 2007; for Latvia as a new EU member state, this experience is also significant and beneficial. Mohamed Ibn Chamba, Secretary-General of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, also acknowledged the importance of cooperation.
Representatives from Niger, Rwanda, the Republic of South Africa, Ethiopia and Ghana attended this discussion. They emphasised that African countries need to develop infrastructure by building roads, railways and irrigation systems, by introducing information and telecommunication technologies, as well as by establishing and expanding the relevant networks. Education needs to be improved, but that is hindered by an insufficient number of schools. Pressing social problems also must be addressed. Representatives from Africa repeatedly pointed out that the region’s economic indicators are improving (mainly because of an increase in exports and services) and that the situation with regard to combating crime and corruption is becoming more stable.
Problems which so far have hindered successful cooperation between Latvia and the continent of Africa were identified during the discussion. They are mainly the result of the lack of diplomatic missions, a fact that restricts the movement of people among countries. Currently, the visa issuing process is complicated and lengthy; therefore, cooperation partners should consider opening new diplomatic missions or concluding agreements with the diplomatic missions of other EU member states in order to facilitate the movement of people