Trade Minister Rosa Escorcio Pacaviria de Matos tells how Angola has become more welcoming to foreign investors and what sectors are being given priority by the government.
In your opinion, how can Angola encourage investors to invest with confidence?
At the moment, in Angola, we have a democratic government and a country that has been becoming increasingly globalized, ready to welcome any foreign investor with open arms. I can say that today they can invest with confidence, as long as they establish the right partnerships, with the right people and companies, at the right time. There are some investors who think that all they need to do is come to Angola and everything will be very easy. My advice would be to start by investigating the type of investment they want to make, learn about Angolan legislation—which is actually quite favorable—and find a suitable partner for their investment.
We have various sectors for investment in Angola. After all, we cannot forget that this was a country ravaged by war.
The areas that the government defined as priorities for investment are education, managerial staff training in the various fields of knowledge as well as technical-vocational training so that we may rise to the challenges presented by the economic diversification that is a goal for the country. Today, we still have to use the help of expatriates to fill that skilled labor deficit.
For investors, an important area of investment may be related to trade, because we are currently building logistic structures to support commercial activity; we have agricultural production already in place and plenty of arable land, which means we have the conditions for achieving self-sufficiency in food.
On the other hand, we feel that we must implement some mechanisms for protecting our internal production, because we are receiving, at the Ministry, 30,000 requests per month for product import permits.
We have import monopoly groups in Angola; we have an import monopoly in wheat flour, rice, sugar, etcetera, and we want to invert this framework of dependence. Therefore, we are inviting investors to make their investments in key areas of local production. As I already mentioned, we have arable land, so there are reasons why we cannot produce wheat and other products that can be produced here.
We must create an internal production capacity; the distribution infrastructures and railroads for freight are being created. Note that we are part of the SADC (Southern Africa Development Community) and, therefore, want to be included in this economic integration. We must join the free trade zone and, at the moment, we are creating the conditions for the country to join.
To that end, we are preparing a roadmap for joining the free trade area. Out of the 14 SADC countries, only three—Angola, DRC and Swaziland—are yet to join, but the latter two are already a few steps ahead of us. We may possibly join the area in 2015.
Tell us about Angola´s trade relations with the United States. Are they limited solely to oil exports?
With regard to trade with the United States, I can tell you that we have solid relations, although our main calling card has been oil. It is true that the United States has really opened up to the African market, but if the African market does not work together, the continent will not be as competitive for the American market. It is true that for the United States, Angola exports only petroleum, but we are creating the capacities so that we can export other products—one of those conditions has to do with the certification and labeling of our products. We created the National Institute for Exports precisely so that it can take charge of certification and promotion of our exports.
In addition to oil, we are also exporting diamonds and other minerals, and we think that, with the liberalization of the market and with the increase of domestic production, we can progress toward increasing our trade balance.
The banking and finance sector has been working hard to turn all of this restructuring into a reality. What is the State doing to facilitate and operate with commercial banks to benefit entrepreneurship?
We are currently working with the banking sector because business people have told us about several concerns they have, including financial support and the Angolan State’s guarantees for the fulfillment of that mission. The other concern has to do with surface rights for the construction of infrastructure, as well as with the facilitation of building permits. We are working with the banking sector so that it can support the business people that are going to be included in this commercial expansion program.
We created what we call agricultural production corridors, and there are already four of them operating. Each corridor has four productive provinces and other non-productive ones, to create a kind of balance. There is a program for the purchase of farmers’ agricultural products, called PAPAGRO, which has the goal of continuously purchasing the excess production from farmers, co-ops and associations and taking them to the major consumption centers through the Logistics and Distribution Centers. The agricultural products are sold to Rural Logistics Agents through a contract to supply these products to large and medium-sized markets, small stores, hospitals, daycare centers, old-age homes and schools within their area of influence. This way, more jobs are created and the struggle against poverty is strengthened.
We are conducting a survey to identify the illegal foreign labor force in Angola, especially in the area of commerce, so that we can replace them with Angolan workers.
In this specific segment, what are the major priorities of the government?
Our major priorities are agriculture and the manufacturing industry.
Please tell us a bit about the role of women in Angola and your own role as a woman at the head of the Ministry of Trade. Could you mention any program aimed at supporting and strengthening the contribution of women to the economic life of Angola?
Coming to this sector was a great challenge for me. I am a person who enjoys a challenge, and I have always enjoyed working in the field, getting my hands dirty. This has been the profile of the activities that I have been performing until now. I know the whole national territory and I know the daily life of peasant women.
Your question is a good one because many heads of household in Angola are women, and it should be noted that Angolan families can be quite large.
With regard to support programs for women in Angola, for some rural municipalities where there is not a lot of food diversity, we created a card subsidized by the State for the purchase of staple products (including medicines in drugstores) for families whose head of the household are women.
We also created community kitchens, where the cost of a meal is very low, to make it easier for low-income people, and we have women working and managing those kitchens. We have yet another program aimed at women, which is the program for the construction of agricultural greenhouses for the germination of farm products, where they buy the plants already as seedlings, instead of seed. We provide all the technical support to that program.
We also have the school snack program, with a decentralized budget for each municipality, where women are again in charge of making the snacks.
Apart from being the Minister of Trade, I am also a consumer, and therefore I feel the responsibility of watching over and protecting our population, so that we may have healthy food going from the farm fields to the consumer’s plate.