The country has a wide spectrum of possibilities on its different economic sectors. From your point of you, which would be the sector that can be considered as a priority on the country’s development agenda?
The priority right now must be the services sectors. With global value addition Mauritius is aspiring to take advantage of opportunities. We have faced difficulties brought in by the global financial crisis, but we have been able to reinvent ourselves. In the tourism sector, for example, we have been very apt to have a reality check and a reassessment to look at upcoming markets where the opportunities are; like China, India, or Turkey. Now we venture to go east, to India and China to make up for the drop in the number of people from the already acquired market. We make sure that we go to high net-worth tourism constantly upgrading our market and the quality of our product.
Besides, we also look towards Africa which is becoming the hinterland. One of the constraints to build market into the African continent is the connectivity. With the relaxation of visa, things are becoming easier. We have seen a huge increase in the number of tourists that are coming to Mauritius for several reason; firstly due to the markets that we are capturing, secondly because of our ability to make the prices more competitive and thirdly because we are identifying the new high net-worth of tourists.
With the new airport terminal, we made it possible for many private jets to land in Mauritius. We have reinvented ourselves not only in the tourism sector but also in the ICT Sector. Thanks to these kinds of actions, we are becoming the place for regional headquarters of many regional and multinational companies. We are really positioning ourselves as a gateway between Asia and Africa.
The financial sector has enables us to widen the opportunities for young bright talent. We want to transform Mauritius into a hub with excellent reputation. That is why we are training our people, moving from generic to specialist in different fields of the financial services sector and also looking forward to tie our stock exchange with others, in Djerba, Bombay or Deli. We also want people to take employment in Mauritius to fill the gaps, enabling us to raise the profile of our people. It’s a global world and we must benefit of globalization taking advantage of the added values.
We also count with an emerging sector which is the Ocean Economy. We are preparing a road map; we are coming up with a master plan to look at the full potential of the ocean as a new economic pillar. This is the lifeblood of the country. Most of the countries which have raw materials will have to come through the route between Australia and Brazil. So they will have to pass by Mauritius. The effect on the port activities will be phenomenal.
We are right now also putting in place an international arbitration center, which is a permanent arbitration court, based on the same model as the London Court of Arbitration.
Mauritius Government main concern is to develop the economic sectors and eliminate poverty, however, this can only be done through foreign direct investment, and exploding the country´s main advantages (historic, political, and cultural ties with different countries to be part of the world economy). How do you ensure, as Minister of Foreign affairs, a good relationship with other countries?
Mauritius is a melting pot but it’s a small island developing state which constantly enhances its unity in diversity. If we have been able to be so successful it is first of all thanks to our cultural heritage and how we have been able to leverage this cultural heritage to put economic diplomacy in the first front.
The policy of the government is to privilege the long term gains instead of the short time ones. That is what we did in the past with sugar cane, for example. This policy has enabled us to reinvent ourselves, constantly building new pillars and widen the economic base. Thanks to that, our pillars are very strong today.
Our ancestral values have enabled us to leverage our case, vis-à-vis our reliable and too ambitious friends, to obtain what we call fair trade. For example, we are making the most of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) to export our product to the US. We are about to conclude a fully economic partnership agreement through an Eastern and Southern African Group with the European Union. We believe in solidarity of the member group but also in geometrical approach. We have to look at the specificities of other countries that are slowly coming on board.
The other major factor of our success is this good relationship between the private and the public sector. This has been essential to consolidate our success.
Mauritius and The United State have a bilateral trade and investment framework agreement, what does the Northern American market represents to Mauritius? What has been the outcome of this agreement?
We are yet to conclude this bilateral investment treaty. We are in the process of negotiation. We have a trade and investment framework agreement and we have also concluded Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA)to ensure the transparency and the compatibility in the spec of business activities for offshore companies in our low tax jurisdiction.
The Northern American market is a remunerated market for the export of our textile and this is also good for the employment which enables us constantly to go up markets. With the sales of our manufacturing product to the US, we stayed ahead of the curve and looked beyond AGOA. Maybe in the years to come there will be a reciprocal trade but because those preferences are being extended to other LDCs, we are moving into countries like Vietnam, Bangladesh and India. And at the same time, we are looking towards Africa for purchasing other raw materials.
We want to attract investment into Mauritius by inviting those managers who are setting up their funds to incorporate those funds in Mauritius. I’m sure that many of USA Investors will probably work closely with the African Banks of Development to forward investments into bankable projects in the African continent to capture new markets. Africa is a hinterland with so many bankable projects. America and Europe have to join their forces together for massive investments into Africa, like road infrastructures, air connectivity, ICT, also we have a phenomenal potential in the ocean.
The next pole of growth and investment is Africa. The manufacturing sector for example will be shifted from China into Africa. Work force will be skilled because China is investing massively in research and development. The cost of production is becoming high in Asia, so Africa will be the next pole of development and this is where Mauritius positions itself as a hub. Whether you want to relax, to set up with your family or to benefit from a low taxation, Mauritius can offer you all of that.
What we need is to go for BIT because for us that means investment, with all the extended facilities and the double taxation agreements, US companies have everything to gain by incorporating their company in Mauritius. The advantages are enormous starting from double taxation facilities and the ease to set up a company.
Mauritius was elected in Nov 2013 to the UNESCO Executive Board for the term 2013-2017. What is the impact it will reflect to the country’s activities and on international affairs?
I feel really sad that America has scaled down its activities on UNESCO and deprived this organization of their main source of funds. Because of that, the UNESCO had to cut down in many of their activities, which affect a lot, others employees and countries.
UNESCO has been a tremendous help in several fields. UNESCO works with the government on specific issues and there are using new techniques to empower our people at an early age with the new system of education, here in Mauritius.
Mauritius is working closely with several countries like France, one of the initiatives of the French government is to enable young student to use visuals as an instrument of education. This is also a policy highly encouraged by the UNESCO.
Looking back at your professional career we find a long experience on the public sector but you also worked as Medical Practitioner in New Zealand. What are you more proud of all these years?
What I learned from New Zealand is to never remain down under. If today New Zealand is a role model this is largely because they moved from a central government to the politics of liberalization with all the paraphernalia of transparency and accountability. And at the same time, they embrace the inclusive processes. I think we all have a lot to learn from New Zealand.
Secondly, the importance and relevance of the clustering approach. From a country with limited resources, we are becoming today, a shinning example by showing that accountability, transparency and fiscal responsibility are all about. It’s always a learning process, you can learn from everything and this is a never ending process. That is the way our government is processing.
To conclude this interview Your Excellency, our readers are more interested on the leaders we interview than on the company or institution itself. In that context, what message would you like to send to our worldwide readers of HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW?
Since Harvard Business Review has a wide circulation and reaches out those we can’t reach, I would invite them to come to Mauritius. Not because paradise was model after our island, according to Marc Twain, but because this is a country where there is a harmonious blending among all communities with a spirit of unity and diversity. We are an emerging young nation aspiring to become the star of the Indian Ocean.