Interview: Lim Hng Kiang
What are the advantages to investing in resource-rich African markets such as Gabon?
LIM HNG KIANG: The challenging global near-term outlook for resource-based sectors has encouraged governments to intensify their economic diversification efforts. Resource-rich countries such as Gabon can strengthen their industrial bases against downturns in the commodity markets by staying the course towards greater diversification and committing to reinvesting their natural resource revenues into manufacturing, agri-processing and knowledge-based services like ICT and finance. Gabon has announced plans to attract investment to develop other aspects of its economy, creating a window of opportunity for foreign investors. Since 2012 Gabon has embarked on its guiding economic strategy, as laid out in its Emerging Gabon Strategic Plan to process primary materials and be a regional leader in the service industries.
How can Singapore help industrialisation in Africa?
HNG KIANG: Singapore has been sharing its developmental and sectoral experiences with African countries through the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP ) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Since 1992 we have trained over 8500 African government officials and we welcome African governments’ continued participation. We will continue to customise our SCP programmes to better provide useful and relevant technical assistance for our African friends.
The Singapore Cooperation Enterprise (SCE), which is part of Singapore’s trade agency, International Enterprise Singapore, works with many countries to share our experiences in public sector administration and urban development. Singapore has provided master-planning services for urban development, port and industrial development in parts of Africa, including Rwanda, where the SCE and the Singaporean firm Surbana Jurong worked on a master-planning project for the redevelopment of Kigali. In Kenya, the SCE and CrimsonLogic, an e-government solutions firm, have implemented a single electronic window to facilitate trade. Our presence in Africa is modest but we hope to do more. Singaporean companies are also contributing to African countries’ industrialisation journeys through the development of industrial parks. In Tanzania, Hyflux is one of the co-developers of Tanzania’s first private sector-led special economic zone (SEZ), known as Star City. It is expected to create opportunities in manufacturing, creating employment for 100,000 people when completed. In Nigeria, Tolaram is developing an integrated industrial park and port in Lagos. The port is expected to be the largest seaport in the country. In Gabon, Olam International is developing an SEZ focusing on timber and agri-processing.
What impact do SEZs have on the appeal of African countries as investment destinations?
HNG KIANG: SEZs create a business environment in a geographically limited area with special rules, regulations and privileges. From the viewpoint of governments, SEZs are areas in which experimentation can take place, to adjust the suite of regulations, privileges and incentives that would be most effective and attractive to investors. Implementing a more liberal legal and regulatory framework and building better infrastructure in terms of road, power, water and waste management can also be less resource-intensive when compared to a national undertaking. Based on Singapore’s experience, developing successful SEZs requires skilled planning and good coordination between the private and public sectors. If implemented successfully, industrial parks and SEZs can help to attract foreign direct investment, anchor industrial activities, generate employment and promote exports. The success of SEZs depends on a number of other factors, such as connectivity, the availability of educated workers, and the ability of host governments to implement laws and regulations.
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