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African strategy for Mauritius

Anna Lyudvig
Aug. 29, 2019, 9:13 p.m.

Word count: 1635

Mauritius has forged a reputation as a safe, trusted and competitive financial centre. At the private sector level, Mauritius has been at the forefront of driving quality investments into Africa. AGF’s Anna Lyudvig speaks with Yogesh Gokool, Senior Executive – Head Global Business at AfrAsia Bank to discuss the African strategy of Mauritius, investment opportunities in Sub-Saharan and AfrAsia’s activities on the continent.

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Mauritius has forged a reputation as a safe, trusted and competitive financial centre. At the private sector level, Mauritius has been at the forefront of driving quality investments into Africa. AGF’s Anna Lyudvig speaks with Yogesh Gokool, Senior Executive – Head Global Business at AfrAsia Bank to discuss the African strategy of Mauritius, investment opportunities in Sub-Saharan and AfrAsia’s activities on the continent.

Anna Lyudvig (AL): We talk a lot about the African strategy of Mauritius. But at the end of the day, is this African strategy not just a slogan?

Yogesh Gokool (YG): It should be highlighted that Mauritius enjoys economic, cultural and diplomatic ties with Africa for decades and, even centuries. Mauritius forms part of the Continent. The African strategy for Mauritius is led by both the public and the private sectors and is very much instilled at different levels to become successful. This is not just a slogan. Mauritius has been working towards reinforcing economic collaboration with African states to leverage on the geostrategic position of the Island to drive investment and trade into the Continent.

 The Government has already embarked on several initiatives to cement our relations with most African States, including:

1)      Setting up of Permanent Joint Commissions with South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya & Ghana to explore avenues of cooperation and enhance economic diplomacy namely, by providing the mechanism for promoting trade and investment through the removal of trade barriers, sharing of technology, improving the business environment and formulating necessary structures for common projects.

2)      Development of Special Economic Zones in Senegal, Ghana, Madagascar and Cote d’Ivoire to create a conducive environment for local operators to tap on business opportunities in these countries and develop business corridors.

3)      Signature of bilateral agreements (Double Taxation Treaties & Investment Promotion & Protection Agreements), sectoral agreements in targeted countries and Bilateral Air Services Agreements and Maritime Agreements to enhance both air and sea connectivity with the continent.

4)      With 20 Double Taxation Avoidance Treaties (DTAs) and 23 Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (IPPAs) already signed with African states, Mauritius can offer investors a conducive environment for doing business. In addition, the membership to the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) to promote investment across the continent reinforces the position of Mauritius as a regional hub.

5)      In addition, as a member of regional economic blocs such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and as member of the African Union (AU), Mauritius is constantly playing an active role in enhancing and fostering diplomatic and economic cooperation within African countries.

6)      More recently, to further boost intra-regional African trade and investment, Mauritius supported the Tripartite Agreement between SADC, COMESA and the East African Community. Mauritius was also among the 44 countries out of the 55 Member States of the African Union to have signed the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA).

7)      Promote Mauritius as a trusted international financial jurisdiction.

8)      Promote Mauritius as a regional hub for professional services: financial services, arbitration, education, healthcare, ICT and business services. The emergence of FinTech represents an opportunity for Mauritius and the setting up of the FinTech Association will give the impetus to position Mauritius as a Regional Hub in the industry.

9)      The introduction of 5-year tax holiday for Mauritian companies collaborating with the Mauritius Africa Fund for the development of infrastructure in the Special Economic Zones (SEZ)

The international investing community choose Mauritius as its hub of choice for its Africa-bound operations and investments notably because the Country has established itself as a robust, transparent and reliable business-friendly jurisdiction. This is evident with the growing relevance of the Mauritius International Financial Centre (IFC) in directing Private Equity funds onto the Continent. For the year 2016, total inbound investments in Africa stood at $59bn, out of which nearly 50% went through Mauritius. Besides, more than 450 private equity funds are domiciled in the Mauritius IFC and investing in the African continent. Last year, nearly $30bn investments directed to Africa were structured through Mauritius.

AL: What is your analysis of business opportunities in Africa for Mauritian companies?

YG: Africa is the hinterland for Mauritius. The continent is full of promise and untapped riches. It has approximately 30% of the earth's remaining mineral resources, nearly 60% (over 200 million hectares) of the world available arable land and is home to only 13% of the world population. To that end, the Government is implementing pro-African policies to improve the investment climate and market access conditions to make Mauritius a relevant platform for Africa.

Besides, the establishment of the CFTA will boost trade prospects within the Continent. McKinsey report predicts that spending by African households is expected to reach $1.4trn by 2020. With rapid urbanization, the population living in cities is projected to increase by 50% by 2035, 700 million housing units will be required within the next 30 years. The World Bank estimates the finance gap for Africa to reach its full potential is around $130-180bn annually over the next decade. 

It is evident that there is a lot of business opportunities for Mauritian enterprises in Africa.

AL:  Which sectors offer the best investment opportunities for Mauritian companies on the continent?

YG: Africa’s population is expected to double by 2050 to reach nearly 2 billion, making it one of the largest markets in the world.  People have to eat, drink, have shelter, clothing etc . The Defensive Sectors are therefore a quick win for Mauritian enterprises wanting to expand in Africa.

I personally believe that the five best business opportunities are:

1.       AGRICULTURE

The World Bank forecasts Africa’s agribusiness to be worth $1trn by 2030. 60% of the world’s uncultivated land is in Africa and the agro-processing sector is set to overtake mining and metals in a near future. Technology has revolutionized the agricultural industry in Africa, which has enabled the few market players to produce on a massive scale at reduced cost. Investors in Africa often consider Uganda’s agricultural potential to be the best on the continent. With two rainy seasons per year and the temperature almost always constant, Uganda benefits from multiple crop harvest per year. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the extremely fertile agricultural land of Uganda can feed 200 million people.

2.       POWER AND RENEWABLE ENERGY

A recent study from the World Bank points out that up to 80% of households in Africa still use charcoal and firewood as primary energy source for cooking. Furthermore, in Sub-Saharan Africa, only one out of three people have access to electricity.

Currently, the demand for energy far exceeds the supply of the African continent, hence, we continue to witness a growing appetite in green energy projects.

Investing in the power industry in Africa can prove highly profitable on the long run. The Continent allows for various renewable energy sources to choose from, such as solar and hydro power.

3.       TRANSPORTATION

African cities are growing fast. A publication by the African Development Bank reveals that from 1950 to today, urban residents have increased from 14% to 40%. This number is set to reach 50% by mid-2030. This migration towards urban areas has seen the transportation systems overwhelmed by demand, with growing frustration due to low availability.

4.       LOW-COST EDUCATION

Governments owe to their citizens one of the basic human rights: Proper Education. Being one of the fastest growing populations, Africa has an estimated growth rate of 2.5% per annum. Due to this, the demand for quality education is booming and African governments can no longer meet the growing demand. With poor funding of government-sponsored schools, the African educational system needs to heavily rely on private business as a support.

5.       RETAIL

Year after year, the retail sector is experiencing rapid growth on the African continent, with no signs of slowing down. The rush towards urbanization and the development of payment solutions, such as M-PESA partnering with Paypal, has strongly contributed to this sector’s growth. Consumer differences may vary according to their purchase power and growth rate.

AL: Tell us about your activities on the continent? How do you accompany the Mauritian companies in their African strategy?

YG: AfrAsia Bank maintains an on-the-ground presence via its representative office in Johannesburg, South Africa to deepen its relationships with clients expanding into Africa, Asia and the rest of the world using Mauritius as the gateway for investment. The Bank has Clients globally – from over 140 countries across the world and our bank representatives do travel regularly throughout the African Continent.

The Bank’s activities revolve around Corporate Banking, Global Business Banking, Treasury and Private Banking.  There are more than 450 private equity funds, domiciled in the Mauritius IFC and investing in the African continent.  Last year, nearly $30bn investments directed to Africa were structured through Mauritius. AfrAsia Bank captures a lot of these flows and ensures that the investment risk (transactional & foreign exchange) is well mitigated whilst ensuring that Clients earn an attractive return when their assets are safekept in Mauritius. AfrAsia Bank provides a full cash and securities management solution to all the entities doing cross border transactions with the African continent.

Insofar as Mauritius enterprises doing business in Africa is concerned, the Bank, in addition to the above services, does assist in terms of corporate lending (whenever there is the right risk appetite) for their expansion.  For me, before one starts a new business in Africa (or any new market globally), one needs to understand the culture of the people in that market.  Africa is 54 different countries with diversity which is challenging to understand and AfrAsia Bank does not claim knowing all these countries but, we do have an understanding of some of them and, our Clients leverage on this in terms of finding the right business partners and, avoiding the pitfalls.

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