Full-Text-Interview-with-H.E.-Sylvestre-Kouassi-Bile
Shown above is a bird’s eye view of Abidjan, the economic capital of Cote d’Ivoire. Photo courtesy of Cote d’Ivoire Embassy in Seoul

Cote d’Ivoire ambassador hopes brisk bilateral trades

The Korea News Plus recently had an interview with H.E. Sylvestre Kouassi Bile, Cote d’Ivoire Amb. to the Republic of Korea on the occasion of the Cote d’Ivoire Republic Day, which falls on August 7 this year. The following is the full text of the interview. _ ED.

Q: First of all, how are the policies of current Cote d’Ivoire President Alassane Ouattara as to overcome COVID-19 crisis as well as for Cote d’Ivoire’s economic vision in terms of the middle and long-term prospect and perspective?

A: The Ivorian authorities have succeeded in effectively containing the spread of the coronavirus thanks to a combination of the following measures: The application of lessons from experience in the fight against the Ebola epidemic, this was based on the principles of the speed of action, transparency, and border control.

Thanks to border controls, Cote d’Ivoire has not experienced any cases of Ebola, although some of its neighboring countries had some cases.

Massive investment in the public health system, transparent sharing of information, and fostering civic awareness. The closing of borders, schools, places of leisure like nightclubs especially a great awareness on the respect of the barrier measures and massive screening.

As part of the resumption of flights, the government issued a decree to institute a declaration form for travel by air, compulsory for all travelers from/to Cote d’Ivoire, and adopted practical arrangements which require a series of conditions to be respected by passengers, Ivorian airport officials and by airline companies.

Moreover, since the advent of vaccines, the government continues to vaccinate the population. To this end, several quantities of vaccines have been ordered by the government, which wishes to achieve herd immunity towards the end of the year 2021.

 

Q: In that regard, how is Cote d’Ivoire’s role & responsibility shift for protecting such pandemic in terms of the entire African continent’s coordination?

A: At the regional level, from January 2020, Cote d’Ivoire within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has been involved in the development of a regional plan for response to COVID-19.

Several objectives have been set, including the massive production of masks, the harmonization of the management of places of worship, or the strengthening of the West African Health Organization (WAHO) with the African centers for the control and prevention of diseases (AFRICA CDC).

In this sense, on March 26, 2021, on the occasion of the 22nd ordinary session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), held by videoconference on March 25, 2021, Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara called on its member states to continue efforts to slow the advance of COVID-19 in West Africa.

 

Q: How does Your Excellency assess bilateral coordination between Korea and Cote d’Ivoire, in particular in terms of the pandemic era in consideration of vaccine supply cooperation & mutual recent travel bubble exchange etc., to name just a few?

A: I have visited, on Thursday June 04, 2020, the factory of Korean company SARAMS in Hanam, Gyeonggi Province. This factory manufactures sterilizers that prevent the spread of coronavirus in a room.

This very practical sterilizer for hospitals and administrative centers purifies the air by negative pressure and prevents the circulation of the virus in a closed room.

SARAMS, the designer of this sterilizer, plans to set up a manufacturing unit for this product in Cote d’Ivoire.

This sterilizer could effectively contribute to the fight against the spread of the coronavirus disease pandemic in the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire.

We also appreciate the role of the Korean government by contributing millions of dollars to the COVAX initiative with WAHO by providing vaccines, not only to Cote d’Ivoire and African states but to other developing countries globally.

Furthermore, the volume of trade between Korea and Cote d’Ivoire nearly doubled from $120 million in 2012 to $230 million in 2015.

The outlook is good, and we believe bilateral trade will continue to grow over the years to come, and we hope to double this volume in the near future.

Development of relations, especially the growth of economic cooperation and trade between different countries of the world, is considered very, very important these days, and in this respect, Cote d’Ivoire has been in good hands judging from the figures of the bilateral economic relations.

Korean companies are gaining popularity in Cote d’Ivoire. Their presence in my country is remarkable by their proven expertise in the areas where they are already involved, such as power plants construction, roads infrastructures, digital economy, and eventually construction of hydroelectric dams and bridges.

Korean companies such as Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), Halla CorporationSamsung C&T, Jaewon Industrial, and Dongsan Engineering are actively engaged in the promotion of economic cooperation between Korea and Cote d’Ivoire.

 

Q: Compared with other African neighboring countries, how can be Cote d’Ivoire ‘s location & its geographic significance explained in terms of its investment advantage & merits for Korean investors who are eager to penetrate into the entire African market and last but not least to penetrate into EU region?

A: The Ivorian economy has long been one of the most prosperous in Africa. After the post-electoral crisis of 2010-2011, the country returned to rapid growth, even experiencing one of the strongest growths in the world between 2012-2019, from around 8.2 percent on average.

This allows the country to confirm its status as an engine of regional economic growth and the richest country by its strategic location in the heart of West Africa.

Cote d’Ivoire continues to have an important economic weight for the West African sub-region: it represents 39 percent of the asset’s supply and contributes nearly 32 percent to the GDP of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), according to 2013 statistics from the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO).

Cote d’Ivoire, with its strong economic assets, is a regional power. It has infrastructures inherited from the two decades of the “Ivorian miracle” (1960-1980): the second port in sub-Saharan Africa, important road network, recently enlarged international airport.

In the agricultural sector, the country is the 1st cocoa producer in the world, with more than 40 percent of the market share. It ranks first in Africa for several other agricultural export products (rubber, cashew nuts, cotton, coffee, palm oil, bananas, pineapples, and cola).

The secondary sector is dominated by crude oil refining, construction, and agri-food processing. The tertiary sector (47 percent of GDP) is strongly dominated by banking activities, transport, distribution, as well as information and communication technologies (ICT), including mobile telephony.

The country is ensuring its energy self-sufficiency thanks to the exploitation for several years of gas and oil fields which have enabled it to export electricity and petroleum products to the sub-region.

After economic growth of 8 percent per year between 2012 and 2019, it stood at 2.3 percent in 2020 despite the global health context and its economic consequences (against 6.7 percent initially forecast by the IMF).

The resilience of the Ivorian economy is partly explained by the relative diversification of its productive fabric, the monetary stability conferred on it by the membership of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), and the importance of support from technical and financial partners.

In addition, as part of the response to COVID-19, the government adopted an economic and social support plan. An economic rebound is expected from 2021, with a growth rate projected at around 6 percent by the IMF.

The National Development Program (PND) for the period 2021-2025 provides for major structural reforms aimed at stimulating sustained growth, driven in particular by the private sector.

 

Q: In terms of mutual complementary economic structure, how are the promising industry areas between the two countries as well as promising investment areas from the perspective of recent investment environment improvement in Cote d’Ivoire?

A: Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) contains all the factors necessary for the development of the industrial sector. Indeed, the country has significant natural resources, a qualified workforce, and the infrastructure (transport, energy, banking system, etc.) necessary for the smooth running of industrial and commercial activity.

The promotion of the private sector is a transversal action, which concerns many ministerial departments, each likely to contribute to the improvement of the business environment, and by this means to favor the emergence of a strong, dynamic, and dynamic private sector competitive. Cote d’Ivoire has a portfolio of highly profitable projects.

These include non-agro-industrial sectors like construction materials, plastic waste recycling unit for the manufacture of packaging, cardboard, and paper recycling unit, paper production unit made from cellulosic waste, recycling unit for used broken glass, and manufacturing unit for hollow and pressed glass.

When it comes to pharmaceutical and para-pharmaceutical sectors, there are a production unit of African perfume extracts “Afriparfum Project,” “South Project” spirulina cultivation and use development unit, Ivorian food fortifiers production unit “Foralivoire Project,” pharmaceutical unit of “Medexip Project” excipients, and mobile unit for extracting essential oils from medicinal plants “Mobilhuile Project.”

As far as the capital goods sector is concerned, there is an industrial production unit for sulfuric acid, the mining sector, improvement of product quality and control of standards, and availability of raw materials in general.

 

Q: Among others, how are the industrial cooperation between Korea and Cote d’Ivoire, and last but not least, how are front-runners Korean large companies & SMEs which spearhead Korea-Cote d’Ivoire economic cooperation in Cote d’Ivoire soil through their investment, joint projects and the third country investment etc.?

A: The Ivorian government gives a central place to industry and the private sector in its national development strategy, which is why it has drawn up a new investment code and created the Business Facilitation Center.

The Ivorian industrial economy remains the leader in terms of relative size and diversification across West Africa. Cote d’Ivoire is the eighth African industrial power. Its industry contributes 27 percent to the national GDP. It is established that its manufacturing sector is the most diversified in the ECOWAS zone.

The strongest industrial growth is recorded mainly in sectors linked to the exploitation and processing of natural resources.

The country has the necessary assets to position itself as an industrial power on a continental scale.

Cote d’Ivoire has the bases and the necessary assets to quickly reposition itself as an industrial power on a continental scale. The country continues to accumulate significant natural and structural comparative advantages.

They are, first of all, a central position in West Africa, secondly, a modern infrastructure base despite underinvestment in recent years, thirdly, a significant mining potential estimated at $800 billion in 2008, and fourthly, the second hydroelectric potential of the region which could lead to an advantageous energy mix at the regional level.

The fifth advantage is the land where 70 percent is arable and fertile, of which only 30 percent are exploited, while the country is already the fifth African agro-industrial exporting power (and this despite all its structural problems of competitiveness); the sixth is the most diversified manufacturing base in the region; and the seventh is the heritage of the most structured public sector in the region (tax collection, institutional structure of the country).

The other three notable advantages are a significant capacity for the integration of immigrant populations (20 percent of the population), an elite who is still well trained, and a world-class agricultural research infrastructure in several sectors.

However, these assets must be methodically developed through the New Industrial Policy to materialize the vision of the emergence of the Ivorian government. This new industrial policy, in line with the PND and the national private sector development plan, cannot be done without Korean expertise.

That is why I wish to encourage and invite Korean companies to take a significant part in sustained industrial growth. Korean companies such as Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), Halla Corporation, Samsung C&T, Jaewon Industrial, Dongsan Engineering, SARAMS, and CK Farm are already working in the industrial sector in Cote d’Ivoire.

 

Q: In considering Your Excellency’s long career diplomat’s experiences which served in Korea since 2012, including long experiences & expertise as Cote d’Ivoire Amb., how does Your Excellency assess about desirable diplomatic development directions between Korea and Cote d’Ivoire in terms of market potentials in the African continent in general and concretely speaking in terms of ODA assistance and sharing experiences about regional development from Korea such as Saemaeul Movement etc.?

A: Korea and Cote d’Ivoire established diplomatic relations on July 23, 1961, as the first country in the African region, and the relations between the two countries have grown by leaps and bounds in the form of ‘Comprehensive and Practical’ relations especially following the official state visit to Korea by President Alassane OUATTARA on October 6 to 9, 2014 for the first time in the history of relations between the two countries.

Among Koreans, Cote d’Ivoire is known to be a central country in West Africa with a land space about one and half times that of the Korean Peninsula and a population of 25 million people. Among Koreans (and perhaps in other countries of the world), Cote d’Ivoire is the largest producer of the raw materials of chocolate loved by the entire world as well as the Korean people and is endowed with various other important agricultural and other natural resources.

And since Korea has extensive experience in the industry, we can guide cooperation in the field of experience sharing and technology transfer to enable the transformation of Ivorian agricultural products.

And cooperation can be strengthened in the sectors of fishery resources, construction of infrastructure, ICT, housing, forestry development, as well as in rural development.

I would also like to salute the Seamaul Undong movement, which has enabled several villages in Cote d’Ivoire to embrace the spirit of mutual aid and especially self-development without the help of the Central State, and this was possible thanks to the support from the Korean NGO Saemaul Globalization Foundation. This development model can certainly help the rapid development of Cote d’Ivoire.

 

Q: Last but not least, peace touches upon travel spots in Cote d’Ivoire for Korean tourists who are eager to explore Cote d’Ivoire sooner or later after the pandemic era by way of mutual travel bubble exchange program, for example.

A: We have diverse attractions: seaside tourism, cultural tourism, and religious tourism. On the coast, tourists can enjoy the beautiful beaches of the Gulf of Guinea, including the Bay of Sirens. In Grand Bassam, a city listed as a UNESCO world heritage, they will discover a colonial town and will enjoy the beach; Assinie resort is not far away; we have the Yamoussoukro Basilica and the Mosk of Kong.

Various national parks in the country will allow Korean tourists to discover the local flora and fauna through the Tai National Park, the Mount Nimba Nature Reserve, the Comoe National Park. The waterfall of Mount Tonkui, the sacred forest of Gbepleu, and its monkeys, the craftsmen of Korhogo, are some of the sites to visit.

The position of Cote d’Ivoire is an asset, centrally located in the heart of West Africa. It is a gateway to that region. The population is affable; their welcoming is great.

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