FRESH AIR

UAE, Dubai 2013 | TRANSPORT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ambassador José Armando Duarte, President & CEO of the Cape Verde Investment Promotion Agency, on the country's plans to become an air transportation hub and a prime place for investment in the tourism sector.

How has your experience in France helped you in your role to transform Cape Verde into a tourist destination and hub?

I was an ambassador to France for eight years, and at the same time I was a multi-lateral ambassador to UNESCO. I also represented Cape Verde in the development committee at the OECD. It was a very interesting experience because Paris is an important diplomatic city, where almost all of the world's countries are represented. It is a large diplomatic forum, and it was rewarding because being in Paris provides cultural, social, and diplomatic rewards. From France, I participated mostly in PR activity and gained experience. As an ambassador in France, there is always a lot of PR to do: contacts, conferences, and dossiers. Dubai is a center of international trade and investment and it is a very important travel hub, connecting all parts of the world. It connects the strong arm of the Emirates. We came here to gain experience and knowledge and contact prospective investors for the same model we want to build in Cape Verde. It is a small archipelago with 10 islands that has turned to services. We want to be a service platform in the mid-Atlantic part of the world. We are one hour from the west coast of Africa, three hours from Brazil, three-and-a-half hours from Portugal and Spain, and six hours from the US. We want to take advantage of our strategic location to build a service platform for the region. That is why one of the objectives is to create an aerial hub. That is what has brought us to Dubai; to begin to approach prospective investors and build an important aerial hub for passengers and cargo. We want to position ourselves as a financial center that can attract investment.

What is it about Cape Verde that is attractive?

Tourism is the main attraction. We have natural conditions that accommodate several segments of tourism, such as beautiful beaches and a mountainous landscape. We have a very interesting tourism package offer that is already presenting tourism as the main sector for the government. Tourism represents almost 25% of the nation's GDP, and we definitely want to transform Cape Verde into a tourism destination. The sector is already consolidated and that is the future of Cape Verde. The country enjoys year-round warm and sunny weather, and is therefore an all-year holiday destination. The cultural diversity and harmony of the islands make Cape Verde a unique place in the world. It is also known for its social peace and political and economic stability. Its steady economic growth over recent years coupled with social cohesion and prosperity ensure Cape Verde's continuing development.

“The cultural diversity and harmony of the islands make Cape Verde a unique place in the world."

What steps are you taking to attract more investment?

We are working to brand the country. It is unwise to market the country worldwide without a brand. We believe that in the next couple of months we will have our brand, and then we will begin to sell the country worldwide. In this part of the world, we have much work to do. We are better known in Europe because our main sources of financing are from there. There is much investment required, but we are confident that we will be better known in a few years. In view of the importance of foreign investment as a source of sustenance for economic growth, the government of Cape Verde has taken a series of policy measures to encourage FDI flows into tourism, manufacturing, offshore banking and financial services, IT, communications, and fishing. As far as foreign investors are concerned, Cape Verde offers itself as an attractive destination because of several positive features such as political stability, strategic location, availability of skilled labor, and investment-friendly rules and institutions. After following a sustained growth path over the last three decades based on tourism and international services, Cape Verde is now shifting gears to move toward a higher stage of economic development. Our goal is to consolidate the country's position as a premier regional and international hub. FDI has played an important role in the development of Cape Verde, and will again be decisive when the country is embarking on high value-added, capital intensive, and knowledge-based activities.

How did the partnership with Capital Consulting come about?

The government has been supportive of the project proposed to us by Capital Consulting. Associated with naseba, Capital Consulting is aiming to promote a major air hub initiative in Cape Verde. We are supporting the project and preparing the conditions for its success, but everything depends on a private-public partnership (PPP) down the road. At this point in time, the government has give all of its support to Capital Consulting and naseba to promote the project.

What can an investor from Dubai offer to Cape Verde?

Being in Dubai is a very interesting strategy that will attract private investors. We have already contacted a number of potential partners, and the first reactions have been very positive. Dubai understands our strategy and people are willing to proceed with us until each project is complete. We are still in the first phase of the project, which is to sell the idea of our air hub initiative. It is something that we are promoting, but we want to discuss and find the right strategic partner before marketing it worldwide.

What kind of impact will this project have on the country?

It will have a major impact because it will help us consolidate the service platform that we are seeking to build in the country. We are already developing a maritime hub, and an aerial edition will complement our ongoing work. Everything in the country will be better positioned strategically in our part of the world. This work will also create jobs. At this point in time, we are beginning to promote and present the overall strategy. Another strategy we are interested in is the development of the IT sector.

What are your plans for the medium term?

In six months' time, we will be able to structure the first phase. This is a long-term project that will require at least 15-30 years of work to reach its final stage. We are creating the conditions and working to attract the right investors to join the project.

Are there any partners you have in mind?

We are not ready to discuss any specific partners because we are still working on the first phase of our strategy. However, we are in negotiations with several prospective interested parties. The project has attracted interest from people in the UAE and Europe, where we already have strategic partnerships with major groups that are interested. It is also possible that Cape Verde could become part of a strategic and economic platform for Singaporean companies for business in the mid-Atlantic region, particularly in West Africa. Singaporean companies are most welcomed because there are numerous opportunities in tourism and leisure, aquaculture, and transatlantic maritime services such as port management, bunkering, and transshipment. There are also opportunities for a strategic partnership in developing synergies on air and maritime traffic and economically profitable activities and operations.

How do you describe Cape Verde to potential investors?

Clearly, Cape Verde is a country with attractive investment incentives and a strategic location. There is also investor protection and safety with good market access. In addition to this safe, secure, stable and profitable business environment, the developed financial service sector in the country is yet another attractive facet of our country. Our workforce is skilled and available for new projects and challenging work, and the institutional support offered by the government has been streamlined to be a “one-stop shop" for investors.

© The Business Year - May 2013