Interview: Emmanuel Esmel Essis

What are Côte d’Ivoire’s comparative advantages?

EMMANUEL ESMEL ESSIS: Côte d’Ivoire has always had economic weight in the region and was an emerging country in the 1970s. With strong GDP growth, it was an El Dorado for investors thanks to the government’s economic policy, and became the heavyweight in the UEMOA area, with 40% of regional GDP. The country then regressed during 10 years of crisis, and there is much to be done and legislation to be updated. Nevertheless, underpinning infrastructure and agriculture are well established. Abidjan is also West Africa’s main transport hub, with the most extensive road network in UEMOA. The city has plans for a Lagos-Abidjan highway and rail links to Burkina Faso, and excellent port access.

Has the One-Stop Shop aided the business climate?

ESSIS: The One-Stop Shop enables entrepreneurs to complete company creation procedures in one place by bringing together the four necessary administrative branches: the relevant fiscal authorities, the Commercial Court, the social security administration and the Ministry of Commerce.

There is only one form to fill in, and submitting a file takes 15 minutes, assuming everything is in order and properly completed. Entrepreneurs only have contact with the front office and none whatsoever with the back office, thereby reducing certain temptations, and the withdrawal procedure is made very clear.

The impact is that the timeframe has been reduced from 24 days to up to one day. The cost has also been reduced to CFA182,400 (€274), from over CFA600,000 (€900) previously for private limited companies with a registered capital of CFA1m (€1500).

Although the cost of starting a business still remains high, the government is working to reduce it further so that it does not discourage entrepreneurial initiative. Moreover, this new code also encourages initiative by providing one or two years of exonerations for small and medium-sized enterprises, as these businesses make up the fabric of a dynamic economy.

Are there any exonerations in the Investment Code?

ESSIS: The 2012 Investment Code differs from the 1995 Code in that responsibility is conferred upon the CEPICI to receive and manage related applications. There is a deadline of 21 days in which to emit an answer, without which the applicant automatically receives the requested exoneration.

There are two categories of advantages. First, there is a declaration regime to import with exonerations of 40-50% of Customs duties and 100% of value-added tax at Customs, and provides the beneficiary with a two-year period in which to complete its investment under these conditions. An answer is provided within 48 hours. Secondly, the investment agreement regime, on top of Customs exemptions, provides exemptions on earning taxes, patents and land taxes for five, eight or 15 years. A five-year exemption can be provided for Zone A (Abidjan) and an eight-year exemption is available for Zone B (cities of over 60,000 people) and Zone C (areas with less than 60,000 inhabitants). The overall goal is to spread development across the country. The One-Stop Shop has to decide within two days whether an application is in order, with participation from assigned fiscal and Customs officers, and must give an answer within 21 days overall. In the first half of 2013 CFA340bn (€510m) was mobilised, approaching our objective of CFA500bn (€750m) for the year.

What types of private partners are needed for the National Development Plan?

ESSIS: The objective is to raise CFA11trn (€16.5bn) in 2012-15 to upgrade all areas of activity. Around 54% of this total is expected to come from the private sector. The government is looking for partners that have the necessary expertise, management capacity and wherewithal to manage build-operate-transfer, buildoperate or build projects. There are initiatives under way to encourage public-private partnerships, and the government can rely on the experience of existing and past partnerships to guide the way forward.