With several projects underway and its Nkok zone*, ranked in 2020 as the best SEZ in the world for the timber industry, Gabon is setting an example. In this interview, conducted during her participation in the webinar on SEZs organized by IPEMED, AEZO and La Verticale AME, Minister Carmen NDAOT highlights the most illustrative points of this performance.
Interview with Mr. Alfred MIGNOT, AfricaPresse.Paris (APP)
@alfredmignot | @africa_presse.
APP – Madam Minister, what do you think are the advantages of SEZs?
S. E. Carmen NDAOT – First of all, a clear advantage is logistical, by facilitating the flow between the production and consumption centers. We can also say that investors will record productivity gains and therefore be more competitive, thanks to the economies of scale achieved, with the development of an economic fabric on promising sectors, linked in particular to the comparative advantages of countries and demand that is manifested at the global level.
In the specific case of Gabon, we should mention the success of our Nkok* special economic zone, the first one we have created. It is located 27 km from the capital Libreville, and its creation is the result of the vision of the President of the Republic, Head of State, His Excellency Ali Bongo Ondimba.
This SEZ represents a concrete response to the challenges of developing industries that contribute to the diversification of the economy beyond the oil sector, through the growing supply of products with very high added value, mainly in the wood industry, for which Nkok was awarded in 2020 best SEZ in the world in its category, by the Global Free Zone Awards of the Financial Times.
This success led the Head of State to decide to create a second special economic zone, also dedicated to the timber industry, which has already begun to host its first industrial unit. In addition, five other special economic zones dedicated to the development of agriculture are currently under construction.
APP – Five SEZs under construction at the same time, that’s a strong acceleration! What do you think are the main parameters that have made the Nkok zone a success?
S. E. Carmen NDAOT – First of all, it is the vision of the Head of State to diversify the economy by developing other sectors than oil, and particularly the wood sector, because we are a country with an enormous forestry potential.
This forward-looking vision has also allowed us to be resilient during the various crises, including the oil crisis that we have experienced in recent years. And then, of course, these areas are platforms precisely equipped with infrastructure designed to facilitate industrial activities.
These assets offered by these economic zones have led to the great success of Nkok in the timber sector, but also to the best industrial parks in Central Africa. SEZs are now a model that we hope will be emulated.
APP – With regard to the question put forward in the Report on SEZs, which served as a basis for the seminar, and co-produced by IPEMED, AEZO and La Verticale AME Foundation, on Euro-African cooperation to co-construct a model more suited to African expectations, what would your expectations be?
S. E. Carmen NDAOT – I would first like to point out that we now have some sixteen different nationalities within our Nkok economic zone, which shows that Gabon is committed to diversifying its partners.
Of course, our special zones are conducive to hosting European economic actors, and moreover we are already developing strong cooperation with the European Union in several areas of activity, such as fisheries, the environment, etc.
As far as the economic zones are concerned, our expectations can be summed up in a threefold challenge : to contribute to the acceleration of industrial development through the enhancement of local resources; to promote technology transfer; to ensure a knock-on effect on the rest of the economy with the creation of jobs in a sustainable development process.
These are our expectations with regard to these economic zones which are intended to be international. We are therefore open today to any type of partnership within these zones.
APP – Madam Minister, according to recent data from the World Bank, Gabon had a GDP per capita of 7,000 dollars at the beginning of 2021, thus becoming the richest country on the continent… How do you explain this strong progress of the country?
S. E. Carmen NDAOT – Precisely, as I have already mentioned, this indicator truly reflects the effects of the reforms undertaken by the Head of State, over the last ten years, to build the resilience of our economy by diversifying the sources of growth, in order to get out of dependence on oil.
These reforms of the timber sector, as well as of the extractive industries, now require the local processing of raw materials before their export. This systematically and resiliently increases national wealth from these sectors.
These good results will continue to grow, as we have been engaged since last January in the Transformation Acceleration Plan, TAP, which is being implemented and will bear fruit as early as 2023, with more embellishments for our economy.
* Nkok, first SEZ in the world to be certified carbon neutral – The day after this interview, the Nkok Special Economic Zone, already ranked in 2020 as the best special economic zone in the world in the timber sector by the prestigious institution Foreign Direct Investment Magazine, has just obtained ISO 14064-1 certification for its greenhouse gas emissions reduction policy. It is the first industrial zone in the world to be certified carbon neutral.