Interview: Pankaj Patel
How can trade and business interactions be increased between India and Côte d’Ivoire?
PANKAJ PATEL: Côte d’Ivoire is India’s third-largest partner in West Africa with total trade between the two countries reaching around $970m in 2015-16. Furthermore, Côte d’Ivoire’s economic performance has been impressive over the past four years, with robust GDP growth resulting in a decline in poverty and a controlled fiscal and external balance. In recent years, trade between the two countries has been increasing and opportunities can be explored in sectors such as industry and manufacturing, mining and minerals, hydrocarbons, agriculture and food processing.
Indeed, the government has been eager to strengthen bilateral relations with India and has declared India a focus country, emphasising cooperation particularly in the fields of ICT, agriculture, mining and infrastructure. In recent years, a number of Indian enterprises have established businesses in Côte d’Ivoire, making the Indian presence one of the largest in terms of foreign direct investment. Several Indian companies are currently engaged in mining exploration activities for iron, manganese and gold. There are also a large number of small and medium-sized Indian businesses involved in trading cashews, timber and commodities. In addition, there are companies in manufacturing, ICT, agro-processing and so on. Also, many large Indian pharmaceutical companies have intensified their operations in Côte d’Ivoire; several of these opened or expanded their offices in Abidjan in 2013-14, with the objective of covering West African, and particularly francophone, countries. Therefore, opportunities for increasing investment flows and financing are widely available.
While Côte d’Ivoire presents an array of opportunities for trade and investment, it has its share of challenges. These are mainly the high cost associated with transport and logistics, the shortage of skilled personnel, insufficient market information, limited use of the English language and the uncertainty of legal protections. Côte d’Ivoire would need to work extensively on improving its business climate to attract investors, creating an environment for fair and ethical practices, and continuing to reduce poverty, thereby enhancing the purchasing power of its people.
There is also a need to create a common platform to strengthen ties and communication between the private sectors of the two countries. The recent visit of the president of India to Côte d’Ivoire underlines the importance of the country to the Indian government and the opening of a representative office of the Export-Import Bank of India in Abidjan will also facilitate greater interaction and opportunities between the two business communities.
What lessons can be learned from the experience of India’s agricultural sector?
PATEL: Most of the problems faced by Côte d’Ivoire are also common to what is largely found elsewhere in Africa’s agriculture sector – low productivity, severe food insecurity, low farm wages, and a decline in exports caused by low investment flows into infrastructure and services. India can support Côte d’Ivoire in the development of agricultural infrastructure, irrigation methods and other farming practices so it can reach its full trade potential. Our food-processing industry is one of the fastest-growing business models in India and it contributes significantly to our GDP.
Key lessons for Côte d’Ivoire include government grants for setting up food parks and cold chain infrastructure; developing research and development facilities in food technology research; investing in technical capacity development in production, processing and equipment maintenance; stricter packaging and food safety standards; liberalising investment policies, such as a tax holiday for five years; and lastly, building platforms, nationally and internationally, to encouraging technology transfer and improve credit facilities.
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