Benin encourages foreign investment

Updated: 2011-09-20 11:35

By Ding Qingfen (China Daily)

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President of West African country invites Chinese firms to tap market

BEIJING - China's investment in Benin could help Chinese companies tap into the markets in West Africa and some European nations, said Benin's president on Sept 19.

Chinese companies are very welcome to invest in all sectors in Benin, especially in infrastructure, food processing and energy, said Thomas Boni Yayi, president of the western African nation.

As one of the least-developed nations in Africa, Benin has been reliant on agriculture, cotton production and regional trade to grow its economy.

The nation has drafted and carried out a highly competitive long-term strategy, called "Benin 2025", through which it expects to make great strides and hopes to become a competitive African economy by 2025, said Moussiliatou Abou Yai, the nation's director-general of Investment and Development Financing.

To make this happen, Benin plans to attract more foreign investment, she said.

At a Beijing luncheon designed to promote business, Yayi called on Chinese companies to make or add investment in all possible areas, including agriculture, food processing, tourism, energy, infrastructure and fishing, citing the very good commercial returns and development available in the African country.

"Investment in Benin means investment in all the western African nations, and even in many European nations," he said.

The president began his nine-day official visit to China on Sept 12, attending the World Economic Forum in Dalian, Liaoning province.

Through the seaport of Cotonou, Benin has become a major commodity transfer center for western Africa.

The Economic Community of West African States, a regional group of 15 countries, was founded in May 1975 to promote economic and trade integration across the region.

"It's a region that has a population of 300 million, which promotes stable growth and provides huge business opportunities for Chinese companies with investments in Benin," Yayi said.

The county's growth in terms of real output averaged about 4 percent before the global economic recession, but fell to 2.5 percent in 2009 and 3 percent in 2010.

Benin is now placing more focus on tourism, facilitating the development of new food processing systems and agricultural products, and encouraging new information and communication technology.

In the past few years, Benin has increased its partnerships with emerging economies, including India and China.

The partnership with China is by far the biggest in terms of the trade volume and the number of sectors of activity.

"China contributes a large proportion of the foreign direct investment that Benin has absorbed, with that investment mainly going into engineering contract projects and food processing," Yai said.

"Bilateral investment cooperation is becoming closer, and I believe that it will expand to tourism, energy and infrastructure," she added.

While some African nations are experiencing political turbulence, dampening investor confidence, Benin, which has a large consumption market and a comparatively stable political situation, is becoming more appealing, according to Chinese companies.

The country is a major source of cashew imports for many foreign concerns, including China's Genertec International Corp, a State-owned trading company.

However, as the labor costs for processing cashews in Benin are much lower than in China, "we are considering setting up a processing factory. We plan to employ 1,000 local staff", said Wang Zhiyuan, general manager of Genertec's Food Products Department.

However, Wen Jiajun, African market sales manager for the Higer Bus Co Ltd, struck a note of caution, saying that labor-intensive industries and infrastructure are more attractive sectors for Chinese investors at present.

"It is still not good time for auto companies to enter Benin, as local laborers are not qualified to handle technology-related operations," he said.