Interview with Emmanuel Essis, General Manager of CEPICI (Investment Promotion Centre of Côte d'Ivoire)
One of the main objectives you have defined is to put Côte d’Ivoire, in the first rank of the world economy, in terms of doing business and creating an environment that is attractive and competitive. That’s one objective that you declared last year. So how do you want to achieve that?
First of all, we have to point out that we start with a vision. It’s very important, before establishing any plan, or any action, to have a vision. Our head of state has a vision to make our country a major economy by 2020. Starting from this vision, we establish strategy and an action plan to meet this vision. A vision is a willingness. A vision is hard. It is an engagement with governments to move to this vision. So I think this is the main, important issue to the government involved. The entire government, including the head of state, needs to go with this vision.
Secondly, we have our enormous economic potential, in terms of infrastructure, agriculture and industry. We have what we need to achieve this goal. Thirdly, we have people. And last, we have our track record of the last two years. We have some milestones. We are in a good place. So, all this is important to me when I talk to investors, to be able to say that Côte d'Ivoire is back. Côte d'Ivoire is ready to receive them.
To be emergent we must be industrialized. Our first priority is to become industrialized, to move from an agricultural economy to an industrialized one. We are a top producer of cocoa globally, but only 30% is transformed locally. We are the world’s second biggest producer of cashew nuts, but only 1% is processed locally. We should aim to process more locally.
You mention the milestones. I’d like to know what they are. It’s true that you’ve had very interesting investment volume. In 2012, it was 219 billion francs. In 2013 you reached 514 billion francs. What is the goal for this year? It is almost a doubling of investment volume or about 35% each year. What are you expecting this year and what are the milestones? And how are you achieving that?
The first milestone is GDP growth. In the last years we have achieved almost 10% GDP growth, 9.8% in 2012 and 9.1% in 2013. The expectation this year is 10%. And secondly for the first time in the history of our country, we have been recognized at B level by both Fitch and Moody’s. This is a good point for international investors to note. Thirdly, we belong to the Top Ten Reformers, in the world. This is a good signal; it shows the will of the government to improve the business environment. And, when you look at the investments, you will see that FDIs grow at about 30%. And you will see that the investment volume is steadily growing. That means an investment level of almost a billion dollars. That is a good sign. The results show that we are on a good track. We could say that is the second part of our business plan. The first part of our plan is from 2012 to 2015, the second part will be from 2015 to 2020. We are evaluating the first part of the plan now. In January, we will issue the second part of the plan. We are looking at all the sectors, in order to grow, to fight poverty, unemployment and to reach the vision of our head of state to be a major country in 2020.
Can you tell us about the Guichet Unique, the One Stop Shop, initiative? You have said in interviews that one can create a company here in 24 hours by just paying 15,000 francs. Can you give us more details on this and the other tools you are using to make an attractive business environment?
The rationale behind this is that the head of state wants investors to be able to have all the services they need in one place, to take decisions and go ahead. He does not want them going from point to point, have long wait times or procedures and increased costs. So we establish a one stop service desk for many services. The first service is starting a company. In 24 hours you can have all the papers. If it’s a limited company, you need 15,000 CFA and your company will be created. Second, you want to have the benefit of the investment code. The government gives you 21 days to have the documentation issued. The third service concerns land. If you need land to establish your business, we offer those services too. We also have a service that helps you with all the information and documentation needed to establish your business. The spirit behind all these services is to provide the best and shortest route to establishing a business. As of the end of September, almost 5,000 businesses have been created at the one stop desk, compared to last year when it was about 3,000. It’s another milestone; it shows that our President is right. The one stop desk takes care of investors, both local and international.
What are your priorities in relation to sectors? What kind of investment do you want to attract here?
Our priorities match the vision. To be emergent we must be industrialized. Our first priority is to become industrialized, to move from an agricultural economy to an industrialized one. We are a top producer of cocoa globally, but only 30% is transformed locally. We are the world’s second biggest producer of cashew nuts, but only 1% is processed locally. We should aim to process more locally. Our second priority is infrastructure - infrastructure in terms of energy, water, roads, railways and ICT. All the infrastructure should be available to encourage business here. Along with this, there are services like tourism. We should develop hotels, a tourism network and related services. When I talk of infrastructure, I mean not just the things I mentioned but all the basic services required to create and run a company, from telephones, to electricity, to water, to roads, to ICT.
What are your major challenges?
Our major challenge is to make this economy more attractive. We already have the natural resources, petroleum, mines. We have the agricultural resources. We have people. But how to make investors come to our country. So the major challenge is to improve our business environment. So we need to make reforms. It’s a very exciting job we do because every day we have to identify where we can improve the process, where we can improve the procedures. We are looking to shorten the procedures, simplify them and create more transparency. It should be clear and easy for the investor to set up here, without a long drawn process. So the most important thing for us is creating a good business environment. I think we are on the same track with the Prime Minister. He personally cares about these reforms. If you discuss it with him you will see that he is very passionate about this issue. Making reforms is the most important issue. We have solution for all the other issues. Making reforms is the most difficult because it involves people. It’s people and procedures. People are not machinery so it’s more challenging.
To conclude the interview, I would like you to address two things. First, people’s view right now of the region, of West Africa, is confused and scared, because of the Ebola outbreak. I know Côte d'Ivoire is not affected, but neighboring countries are. I would like your message on that. Second, I’d like to hear your vision, not just for now, but for the future. What do you want the country to be and what is your perspective on how things will be in three years’ time, in the medium term let’s say?
First of all, I think economists and everyone else agree that Africa is the future of the world. This is a fact and you cannot change it. Starting from there, Côte d'Ivoire is Africa. In the West African region we are in second place, after Nigeria, and Nigeria is a big country. But, we have some challenges to face. One is our political and democratic issues. We are dealing with it. Second is the Ebola issue. It is important to me and I take this opportunity to express my solidarity with the countries that are suffering from it. But I don’t think it is a long-term issue. It will not change this trend of economic growth and the incoming investments. We are free of it, so we don’t talk about Ebola. A company doesn’t make a decision based on a short term issue like this. Because in ten years we won’t be talking about Ebola, we’ll be talking of other issues. And lastly, businesses in Côte d'Ivoire should look at the 300 million consumers in West Africa, 100 million consumers in the UEMOA Region. We are the leaders in the region and we are taking back our leadership. I can assure investors that this country will play a bigger role in our sub-region, even Africa. You never know. When I compare the resources and assets of other countries in the region, I’d say that Côte d'Ivoire is in the top five in business potential. Talking about business, not politics, not democracy, the business potential here is great. Big companies need to expand to survive. We have the potential for that. I would like to tell these businesses, “come to Côte d'Ivoire and you will see profits”.
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