OBG talks to Jean-Louis Billon, Minister of Commerce, Craft and Small and Medium-Sized Enterprise (SME) Promotion

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Jean-Louis Billon, Minister of Commerce, Craft and Small and Medium-Sized Enterprise (SME) Promotion

 Interview: Jean-Louis Billon

What can be done to support local SME growth?

JEAN-LOUIS BILLON: In Côte d’Ivoire, SMEs account for 80% of companies and 23% of modern jobs, and contribute 18% to the GDP. Unfortunately, over the last few years, we have observed a decrease in the number of SMEs as a result of successive crises.

In order to efficiently promote SMEs and allow them to properly drive growth and development, the reforms under way aim to establish a legal, institutional and fiscal environment that incentivises SMEs while taking into account their strengths and weaknesses through appropriate measures of support and help. Specifically, an appropriate institutional framework for the promotion of SMEs will be established, similar to the Small Business Administration in the US, as well as financing mechanisms and measures for SMEs to promote their access to public tenders by imposing sub-contracting ratios on large companies.

As regards the legal and institutional framework, the ministry has undertaken the elaboration of four laws regarding the orientation, promotion and development of SMEs; easing and venture capital; and business angels; and the establishment of a guarantee fund of CFA10bn (€15m) in the 2012-15 National Development Plan. The ministry has also undertaken three major initiatives to develop the crafts sector, namely the elaboration of a Crafts Code; the preparation of a law on the social protection of artisans; and the reinvigoration of the Crafts Promotion Support Fund.

How can competition law be strengthened?

BILLON: Competition law is vital for market economies. For our country, the stakes of modernising our competition law are two-fold. First, extra-territorial issues in the fight against anti-competition practices have to be dealt with as we harmonise our legal and regulatory framework with that of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (Union Economique et Monétaire Ouest Africaine, UEMOA). This reform will enable increased efficiency in the fight against anti-competition practices. Secondly, modernising competition laws demands that we regulate new practices that might otherwise impact the efforts of the authorities to ensure healthy competition. These notably include para-commercialism and informal sales that offer products or services in an anarchical way. This also touches on unfair competition that has been constituting a veritable drag on the growth of the formal economy.

To what extent can special economic zones (SEZs) contribute to economic growth?

BILLON: Our country already has SEZ experience. An SEZ for Biotechnology and Information and Communications Technology (Zone Franche de la Biotechnologie et des Technologies de l'Information, ZBTIC) has been created and is endowed with a special Customs and tax regime. The ZBTIC offers advantages to all national and foreign investors who set up in the Global Village for IT and Biotechnology in Grand-Bassam in order to pursue business related to biotechnology and information and communication technology (ICT). This project will allow for Côte d’Ivoire to bridge the digital divide and facilitate its entry into the global economy by integrating into the global value chain in the biotechnology and ICT sectors. An additional measure is the free regime for the fisheries products processing industry, which offers, on the basis of a licence, advantages to any local or foreign companies operating in the sector, which is one of the most dynamic in Ivoirian industry.

How can administrative procedures be simplified for importers and exporters?

BILLON: We have made reforms in the implementation framework of the World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business” trans-border trade component. On July 1, 2013, we launched the Single Window for Foreign Trade, a major reform that facilitates external trade procedures. This single window will enable the accomplishment of formalities online and the single submission of all documents necessary for import, all at one entry point.

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