China’s image of a non-ethical partner has endured in the minds of many Africans, as often flashed.
Having enjoyed years of cooperation, and recently spent time with senior government officials and investors in Beijing, I can confirm that nothing is further from the truth. In fact, things have been evolving for the better.
As part of a major state visit at the invitation of President Xi Jinping, a Gabonese delegation travelled to China. The visit highlighted the increasingly important diplomatic and economic relationship, dating back to 1974, and also our enthusiasm and readiness to do business with China.
Increasing Africa’s political and economic relationships with China is, I believe, an agenda the whole continent should see as a priority. This relationship is very much two-way and it is clear to me that the People’s Republic of China has every intention to deepen their understanding of Africa.
Today, China is Gabon's first key partner. It has become the third largest supplier of goods to Gabon, representing 10 per cent of our total imports; and our most significant customer, representing 20 per cent of our total exports with mainly crude oil, manganese and sawn wood. Gabon currently hosts 30 Chinese companies and China has become a dynamic business partner in the wood processing, mining and infrastructure sectors.
Thanks to our growing partnership, President Ali Bongo Ondimba held meetings with Chinese officials, business leaders during the recent visit; and convened a China-Gabon Business Forum in Beijing. This brought investment opportunities to the foreground with a clear message: we want to attract more Chinese investments in Gabon and double our trade volume in the next 5 years.
The ultimate plan is a public investment and reform program to transform our country into a diversified emerging market economy by 2025, based on three pillars: ‘Green Gabon’, ‘Industrial Gabon’ and ‘Services Gabon’.
Gabon’s recent economic performance has been robust, especially in the non-oil sectors like mining, wood processing, agriculture and construction. They have helped boost real gross domestic product of the non-oil sectors (GDP) to 7 per cent in last few years and reduce our dependence to market fluctuations.
Through the ‘Emerging Gabon 2025’ plan, Gabon’s diversification strategy is being matched with the constant improvement of the business environment with very attractive and competitive incentives to foreign investors, as well as a qualified workforce. In order to improve the investors’ experience, Gabon’s National Agency for Investment Promotion (ANPI) has been created to be a one-stop shop, facilitating meetings, business developments and know-how.
China’s increasing investments in Gabon is their recognition that our country has an array of national assets conducive to a dynamic investment and a thriving business climate.
Business leaders in Beijing were eager to hear about the attractiveness of the country’s business environment – which is rated by the World Economic Forum as the 18th best macro-economy in the world. They listened closely as we set out the huge untapped potential of Africa’s largest rainforest, with huge reserves of iron ore, manganese, diamond, niobium and rare earth as well as world-class infrastructure and economic zones through projects financed by the African Development Bank.
I believe the reason they were so intent to hear more is not as part of a cynical plot to exploit African resources as many may think; but instead because many Chinese business people are inclined to know more about the opportunities to collaborate and discover the tremendous potential Africa has to offer.
It is also crucial to mention that Gabon is strategically positioned to be a natural regional hub that investors have an opportunity to benefit from economy of scale. Gabon is a gateway to several markets, including the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). In a land of one billion citizens, access to more than 600 million potential consumers is appealing.
Our delegation also stressed to our Chinese hosts that Gabon is an active member of all pan-African and world trade organisations. As such, the country has endorsed many bilateral and multilateral trade agreements, including Non Double Taxation Agreements (NDTA), of which China is a signatory, particularly useful for long-term investors and entrepreneurs entering the Gabonese and Central African markets.
China has become a shining example of the possibilities of rapid economic development, lifting 700 million people out of poverty during 30 years of reforming Government.
Now, a successful global player, China has an international investment outlook from which we should take advantage to accelerate our development plans, create jobs and generate growth. Gabon is eager to further strengthen political and economic ties with China and hope to see this replicated across the continent.
The writer is the Gabonese Minister of Investments Promotion.