Interview: Emmanuel Esmel Essis
Compared to the government’s expectation, how has foreign direct investment evolved?
EMMANUEL ESMEL ESSIS: Our country has come a long way over the last decade, and the government now aims to record levels of investment similar to those of emerging countries. Côte d’Ivoire’s investment rate is expected to rise from 13.7% of GDP in 2012 to 23.5% in 2015. Within the National Development Plan (NDP) budget of CFA11trn (€16.5bn), private investment is expected to represent at least 60% of total investment over the period 2012-15. Most economic indicators are positive; for instance, the country successfully returned to the international debt capital markets by issuing a $500m eurobond in mid-2014. Credit agency Moody’s has assigned a rating of “B1” to the government, demonstrating growing confidence in our market.
Which sectors have most potential for investment?
ESSIS: Originally we had high hopes for the mining sector, but due to a lack of experience the return on investment was overestimated. Mining projects take at least four to five years to mature. On the regulatory side, implementation of the new mining code has also taken more time than it should have.
The NDP’s strategy is continuously being amended and updated, in response to the country’s needs. Our focus has now slightly shifted towards agro-industry. Indeed, agriculture remains at the heart of the Ivorian economy, especially commodities like cocoa and cashew. This is where the most potential for investment was identified. However, we need to reverse the trend in terms of exportation of raw commodities, against local creation of value-added products. The secondary sector must be developed, especially agro-industrial activities. Already, French investor Cémoi is investing in a chocolate factory with a yearly production capacity of 5000 tonnes. It is a good start, and we are keen to see more products “made in Côte d’Ivoire”. Cashew production is also part of our DNA – in 2014 production is expected to reach 700,000 tonnes, while in India, one of the world’s leading cashew producers, annual production is just 1.2m tonnes.
What more can be done to reduce unemployment?
ESSIS: Unemployment is a global issue. Even in the most sophisticated and structured economies, the job market is tight. In Côte d’Ivoire the solution to reversing the unemployment curve is self-employment. We are in need of plumbers, carpenters, technicians and so on. Efforts must be made to enhance vocational training and train the youth in general, but it is also about encouraging entrepreneurship in traditional businesses. Therefore, business creation is being facilitated with the help of tools like the one-stop shop.
In addition, the Ministry of Trade has launched the Phoenix Programme, which aims to help local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The goal is to have 100,000-120,000 SMEs with strong credentials by 2020. The Phoenix Programme addresses the issue of access to public procurement by easing the process and lowering requirements for SMEs.
By definition, an SME cannot generate more than CFA1bn (€1.5m) in turnover or have more than 200 employees, so it is difficult for them to compete with multinationals when bidding for public contracts.
What are the next steps in terms of improving ease of doing business and business creation?
ESSIS: In 2013, 2775 companies were created in total. At the end of December 2014, there were already 6487 newly created companies. So the one-stop shop is functioning well as more and more companies are being established. The next step is to follow up – we want to know how well these companies are performing in terms of profitability, job creation and so on. It is time to focus on quality rather than quantity. Also, in 2015 people will be able to create a business through an online procedure. A unique ID number will be assigned to each individual. This will improve the process and will shorten the time it takes to create a business.
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