Interview: Prime Minister Daniel Kablan Duncan

What sort of participation in the economy is expected from the private sector?

DANIEL KABLAN DUNCAN: The 2012-15 National Development Plan (NDP) is estimated to cost $22bn, and the government’s objective is that 60% of this, or $13bn, should be financed by the private sector. The Ivorian government wants to cooperate with the best companies out there; there is no room for mediocrity in our economic development. But one cannot attract private investment without creating a friendly business environment. To that end, many reforms have been carried out, and there is still more work to be done.

How much of a priority are capital inflows for farms?

DUNCAN: Agriculture is not a sector in which foreign investors usually have a particular interest. Yet Côte d’Ivoire is an agriculture-based economy, and as such needs massive investments. Within the NDP, the National Agricultural Investment programme was budgeted at $4bn, and there are currently seven international firms set to contribute to the growth of various cash crops like cacao, rubber and palm oil. In an effort to become self-sufficient with food, investments are also needed in subsistence farming, such as for rice.

The plan is to set up large industrial plantations surrounded by artisanal ones, on a human scale but with high production volumes. In this way, industrials will be able to buy crops from local small and medium-sized farms. Through technology transfer, the programme will help install sustainable irrigation systems, and focus on intensive agriculture rather than extensive. Overall, yields and productivity per hectare will be increased.

How can South-South trade contribute to Côte d’Ivoire’s economic development?

DUNCAN: Because of its common history with Europe, Côte d’Ivoire has traditionally had easy access to this market, and vice versa. In its foreign trade, Côte d’Ivoire used to export a lot of commodities like cacao, coffee and cotton, and import industrial equipment like machinery, tools and vehicles. In time, however, we have benefited from globalisation and diversified our trading partners, including with emerging countries. First, we have intensified regional trades with our neighbours from the Economic Community of West African States. The idea is to capitalise on proximity. For instance, in Côte d’Ivoire we see more and more Nigerian investors in sectors like banking and construction.

Second, we have built strong ties with Latin American and Asian countries. Already in the 1980s, there were two Brazilian banks in Côte d’Ivoire – Banco do Brasil and Banco Real – and VARIG, the first Brazilian national airline, was operating flights between Rio de Janeiro and Abidjan. For some years now, we are replicating the same kind of relationships with countries like South Korea and China, which today represents 6% of total trade. South-South cooperation is important, and will become increasingly so in coming years.

There is no exclusivity in trade. The late President Felix Houphouët-Boigny used to say that Côte d’Ivoire was “enemy of no one and a friend to all”. That remains our motto in economics and politics.

What are the main constraints on trade between North and West Africa?

DUNCAN: Most urgently, we need to improve transport infrastructure. There is a lack of railways and roads linking North and West Africa, and while there is functioning infrastructure on the maritime front, regularity is often a problem. Another constraint is finance. Compared to Asian countries, which invest massively through concessional loans, North African countries give little financial support to West Africa, partly because they are themselves in need of external financing. Lastly, while West Africa currently benefits from North Africa’s expertise in sectors like tourism, agriculture and health, relations are not as diversified as they should be. Western countries may be generally more advanced and provide more expertise, yet the proximity of North and West Africa simplifies trade and expertise sharing.