By: Mathieu Mandeng
In the current complex and challenging circumstances that are testing the resilience of our economies and its foundations, I believe Mauritius remains in a unique position to create a partnership for shared prosperity with African countries. Mauritius is leveraging its unique selling proposition of being the only investment grade international financial centre “ IFC” in sub Saharan Africa to drive trade and investment in mainland Africa.
An IFC is fundamentally a response to the complexity, inefficiency and hardship of doing business in mainland by leveraging the five factors of competitiveness that are business environment, financial sector development, infrastructure, human capital and reputation. A quick health check shows that Mauritius that now ranks 13th globally in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business is a conducive jurisdiction that upholds the rule of law with the UK Privy Council as the ultimate court of appeal. Mauritius has a high transparency index, the 3rd in Africa and ranks number one in the Mo Ibrahim Index of good governance. The Financial Services sector is well developed and highly regulated while allowing free flow of capital; total bank assets as a percentage of GDP is more than 300% and banking penetration rate is 90%. The infrastructure that includes digital, transport and energy is world class and keeps developing with the recent construction of the light metro. Human capital is highly skilled and bilingual, able to serve both anglophone and francophone Africa. The country is therefore playing on its key strengths as a centre of excellence, leveraging its solid regulatory and legal framework as well as its reputation to provide a unified platform to direct investments into key projects that can relaunch the Continent’s fragilized economies.
The country developed itself by creating markets outside of its insularity, diversifying its economic model from a monocrop economy, the sugar industry, back in 1968 with a GDP per capita of around USD 200 to a high-income country with a GNI per capita of USD 12,740 in 2019 for a threshold of USD 12,535, according to the World Bank report released on July 1st, 2020. The industrialization process in the 70s and 80s and the rapid growth of the hospitality industry in the 80s and 90s, the development of financial services in the 90s and ICT and professional services more recently, have all contributed to its success. Today the sugar industry only represents 2% of the GDP compared to financial services, that is nearing 13% of GDP, aiming at doubling its contribution within the next ten years.
The Mauritian global business sector has been a key contributor to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) flows in India over the past fifteen years backed by solid bilateral relationship and investment agreements. India received more than USD 300 billion in terms of FDI, a third of which went through Mauritius, contributing directly and indirectly to India’s economic and industrial development. With financial flows come also the invisible flows such as expertise, technology, know-how, training, etc. The renegotiation of the bilateral agreements a few years back offered Mauritius the opportunity to reinvent its model that was too heavily reliant on India. The country is now looking towards mainland Africa to migrate best practice, building on its experience to channel funds, skills and expertise. With a high literacy rate and a number of talents that are bilingual, Mauritius can export its human resources to contribute to the development of sectors such as financial services on the Continent. Tourism and Sugar are the other mature industries that have generated a number of talents with the depth and expertise that can help these sectors develop in Africa.
A concrete example to illustrate how Mauritius is driving this agenda, is the creation of the Mauritius Africa Fund in 2014 worth Rs 500 million (USD13m), to develop “Special Economic Zones”, with pioneering countries that include Ivory Coast, Senegal, Ghana and Madagascar. In doing so, Mauritius is asserting its ability to manage the risks associated with issues related to lack of good governance, conducive business environment, poor infrastructure and lack of regional integration that are key challenges when investing into the Continent. Mauritius is taking advantage of its share of development in Africa, where the growth is driven by the three “Cs” that are “commodities”, “consumption” and “corridors”. And the latter is a powerful lever as we are describing here the emerging corridors, that are facilitating trade and investment coming from Asia, Turkey and Brazil. As for the first corridor, Mauritius, through its agreements with India, in the case of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and Partnership Agreement (CECPA), and China, with the FTA (Free Trade Agreement), but also the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) has a fundamental role to play in facilitating trade and investment between Asia and Africa, and within Africa. These avenues of collaboration and growth can help both Mauritius and mainland Africa navigate the aftermath of this pandemic resiliently.
With its unique selling proposition of being the only global bank bullish on the African with a presence of more than 18 years in Mauritius, Standard Chartered is leveraging its unique coverage of the Continent and its global products suit to deliver high value-added solutions to network clients. The case in point is the Regional Treasury Centre (RTC) value proposition that provides solutions for liquidity management, procurement and shared service centres to clients managing their regional operations out of their regional office in Mauritius.
As Africa embarks on its own industrialization journey to create value derived from the abundance of minerals and other resources, it would be beneficial for the Continent to engage in diversifying its economies. The current crisis offers an opportunity to accelerate this key agenda for its sustainable development. Mauritius can play a strategic and catalytic role in this process by creating the right conditions for investors to access the opportunities that arise. While the unprecedent COVID-19 crisis has heavily disturbed the global value chains and presents real challenges to African nations that need to balance the act of preserving the health of populations and relaunching their economic development, this is the right opportunity for them to cast away the overdependence on commodities’ exportations and overreliance on imported manufactured products by diversifying their economies. And Mauritius is uniquely placed to develop win-win solutions in a partnership for shared prosperity with mainland Africa by leveraging its experience and key differentiating capabilities.