Exclusive interview with Alfred MIGNOT, AfricaPresse.Paris (APP)
@alfredmignot | @africa_presse.
APP – Mr. Commissioner, what is your approach to the role of special economic zones in the development of Africa, and particularly in your region of ECOWAS, which has several?
Tèi KONZI – Indeed, for more than thirty years, countries in our ECOWAS region have been hosting special economic zones, mainly free zones, but also many other related regimes.
Today, our idea on free zones in West Africa, particularly at the ECOWAS level, is that this economic and customs regime should be anchored to the economic environment in which they are established. This is really one of the fundamental pillars.
Secondly, these special economic zones must help us to finally transfer the technologies that have been talked about for a very long time. This debate goes back to the 1980s, well before the relocation of European companies to Asia, which contributed, in part, to creating economic miracles in this region …
So, free trade zones and all the other special economic zones could be the niche, if not the vector, that would lead us, progressively, through the training of the local workforce, to develop a certain technological professionalism to enable us to take charge of ourselves. For the installation of companies is one thing, but offering the right level of qualification to the local workforce is another, and this is an extremely important element.
Thirdly, in terms of the tax and customs regime, we believe that the special economic zones, in addition to creating jobs, should also allow for better mobilization of budgetary revenues for the benefit of the States; given that these companies also produce for the domestic market, this increases the taxable income, all of which is favorable to taxation.
This is the brief vision we have of this issue of SEZs. And since all ECOWAS countries are members of the African continental free trade area, we also believe that West Africa is ready to integrate the FTAA with its special economic zones, but in a very appropriate arrangement.
The sub-regional vocation of the Adétikopé industrial platform.
APP – In September, your country Togo, member of ECOWAS, inaugurated the industrial platform of Adétikopé (PIA). Does it have any particularities compared to the previous achievements of the last years?
Tèi KONZI – One of the essential criteria for the success of special economic zones is the principle of geographical grouping. This is what has just been achieved in Togo; by deciding to circumscribe a zone dedicated to industrial activities, the PIA looks like a promising project and breeding ground.
It will be an extremely important lever, because the industrial platform of Adétikopé is part of the fundamental elements of the National Development Plan in Togo. And so, this area is intended to host industrial units that will produce both for the domestic market and for export, will be in rapid connection with the Autonomous Port of Lome, the only deep water port on the West African coast.
This PIA has already hosted industrial facilities, and this will continue, which will allow, from this area, not only to create many jobs for young people, but also, through the export of goods, to serve more countries in the Hinterland, Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali. This platform has a sub-regional vocation and is one of the levers of the profound economic reform that has been underway in Togo for several years now.
APP – This platform was designed with Indo-Singaporean operators. What was the specificity of this platform, compared to what you know of the experience of cooperation, for example, with the Chinese or with the Europeans?
Tèi KONZI – The Singaporean operator OLAM International, to which you refer, has already proven itself in several places on the continent. The cooperation with this operator, for example in the field of cotton and others, has proved to be very fruitful. And it was one of the first to respond to the authorities’ call for tenders. But on this particular issue, I think that the authorities in Togo will be able to enlighten you with more complete information… We cite this example to illustrate the willingness of the authorities in the region to move towards a substantial change in the economies of their countries.
“We believe that with Europe, we have assets “.
APP – Does this idea, which is at the heart of the ZESS Report, of co-constructing special economic zones between Europe and Africa as a vector for accelerating industrial cooperation for the development of Africa, seem relevant to you?
Tèi KONZI – In reality, the notion of special economic zones encompasses a number of regimes that are similar while presenting many nuances that differentiate them. But the fundamental objective common to SEZs is first and foremost the creation of jobs.
Today, we want SEZs to be anchored in the local economy. Knowing that we are in West Africa practically a granary of agricultural and mining raw materials, we should better appreciate the fact that industrialists set up here to transform these raw materials for export or for domestic consumption.
Whether the SEZs are with Europe, China or America, we want at least these two objectives to be safeguarded: diversification of the regional economy through the promotion of regional value chains, and job creation.
Also, as I said earlier, we must promote the emergence of a pool of skilled workers and technicians in the field of technology through vocational and practical training.
Today, we believe that with Europe, we have assets. The first is the historical asset. Africa and Europe have known each other well for a long time. Europeans were the first to draw our maps, so if the two continents decide to cooperate, to create joint ventures in the framework of SEZs, I think there is no reason to doubt the success of such a project.
Now, we have to hope that it will happen quickly because we need to create jobs, and quickly!
*Tèi KONZI, is ECOWAS Commissioner in charge of the Trade, Customs Union, Internal Taxation and Free Movement of Persons Department.