Interview: Ramzi Omais
How accessible are other ECOWAS member countries for Ivorian exports?
RAMZI OMAIS: Geographically, Côte d’Ivoire benefits from its strategic position, which has been at the forefront of the country’s economic policy for decades. The country’s strong network of roads enables us access to all of the ECOWAS member states, while its port infrastructure gives us entrance to a large number of coastal cities, such as Dakar and Lagos.
However, administrative hurdles at the borders have a negative impact on the volume of trade and commerce in the region. Although the modern technology exists to provide us with easy access to information, such as online forms or geo-tracking tools, their adequate utilisation remains an issue when crossing borders within the Customs union. The fact that the majority of truck drivers are illiterate aggravates the situation, particularly in cases where written documents are required. In this regard, cooperation between regional neighbours should be strengthened, yet integration efforts have not been fully realised.
How can foreign direct investment flows be increased in industrial manufacturing?
OMAIS: In an effort to increase investment in industrial capacity, industrial zones have to be better organised. Today, industrial zones are still heavily dependent on political agendas, and conditions within them diverge little from any other urban area. Several studies from the World Bank have stated that the industrial strategy should be revised to provide more autonomy to industrial zones, yet the call has not been heeded.
Privatising industrial zones and providing a onestop shop for investment, similar to those in France or Germany, would make them more attractive to foreign investors. Currently, many public authorities are involved in the process, such as the Ministries of Construction, Urban planning, Industry and Finance, which makes starting a dialogue tedious and time-consuming.
We should also look at lowering the cost of production inputs, which are affected by the country’s fiscal policy. In this regard, the government has enacted a number of well-placed incentives, yet they have not been properly implemented due to either a lack of communication, understanding or willingness on the part of the delegated authorities.
What are the main challenges facing large industrial complexes in Côte d’Ivoire?
OMAIS: Our primary concern is to ensure the activity of our industrial base. Since 2011 we have been investing heavily in our production capacity due to growing demand, but this level of growth must be sustained in the long term so we can continue making use of our investment. We have recently seen a slowdown in the local market, which we have been able to compensate for through exports, but which could have a negative impact on our ability to meet operational expenses. Therefore, large industrial complexes need less fluctuation in demand and more stability in the market.
Domestic demand for plastic products remains quite weak compared to emerging markets like South Africa, Egypt or Morocco. This means many of our inputs have to be imported. For example, the market for plastic in Côte d’Ivoire amounts to 250,000 tonnes per year, yet the minimum required to benefit from economies of scale is 500,000 tonnes per year. Large sources of energy and petrochemicals are also needed to produce these inputs, which are non-existent in the sub-region.
The issue does not lie only in selling our products but also in receiving payment, which is an issue in most African countries. To some extent, this stems from the fact that decision-making is heavily centralised, with little autonomy given to cities, provinces or departments, leaving them without much control over their budgets, plans and priorities. Maintaining sustainable levels of growth necessitates the proper management of resources, which remains an obstacle in the region.
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