FAO Quotables

"But being right, even morally right, isn't everything. It is also important to be competent, to be consistent, and to be knowledgeable. It's important for your soldiers and diplomats to speak the language of the people you want to influence. It's important to understand the ethnic and tribal divisions of the place you hope to assist."
-Anne Applebaum

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Canary Islands: Gateway to Africa?

Interesting article on the possibilities that lie within the Canary Islands...I need to research this a little more.

U.S. Firms Should Invest in Canary Islands to Reach Africa, President Says

Washington, DC — In Europe, the Canary Islands may be best known as a nearby vacation spot with idyllic climate. Americans may have heard in history class that the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus provisioned and repaired his three ships in the Canaries before setting off on the journey that led him to Cuba. In Africa, the islands have been a popular transition point for those trying to enter Europe clandestinely to better their economic standing. The strategic location and its classification as an autonomous region of Spain, as well as an 'outermost region' of the European Union, are advantages. These attributes can be leveraged to boost engagement with Africa and with the United States, according to Paulino Rivero Baute, who has been president of the Canary Islands since 2007. During an interview at the offices of the Corporate Council on Africa following an address to CCA members, President Rivero outlined how U.S. companies that might be reluctant to tackle Africa's infrastructural and legal framework challenges can instead invest through his homeland.

Most of our readers probably know little about your home territory. Give us a snapshot.
The Canary Islands are situated 100 kilometers from the [west] African coast and 1,500 kilometers from Europe. I would also point out that it is the last territory between Europe and Africa to have access to the United States - and that's why the Canary Islands was so very important to Columbus's discovery of America.
President Paulino Rivero of the Canary Islands with Ambassador Robert Perry, vice president of the Corporate Council on Africa.
Because we are part of Spain, we have special status in Europe, along with other islands such as La Reunion, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Madeira and others. We have made great strides with regard to the wellbeing of our people, a population of two million. In the last 15 years the standard of living has made great strides. We have reached approximately the average income per capita of Spain, and we are getting close to the average income in Europe. We have wonderful infrastructure with regard to ports and airports, and we offer the services that are needed in the 21st century.
You are here speaking to U.S. companies. What are the opportunities for doing business in the Canary Islands?
The Canary Islands during the last 25 years have developed a very solid tourism sector. We welcome 12 million tourists a year. We are one of the most important tourism destinations in the world. There are other business opportunities in the local market. However, the real potential lies in Africa; in other words, using the Canary Islands as a safe platform to invest and do business in Africa.
How does that work?
The archipelago is geographically located in Africa even though its population may have European roots and has always oriented towards Europe. The Canary Islands enjoy a preferential relationship, a privileged relationship, with western Africa. Currently we have 200 companies doing business on the western coast of Africa, and also those of us from the Canary Islands are very well looked upon by Africans.
The U.S. government invests its own resources on the African continent and invests in co-operation and development because it is a way to generate security. Why is it that U.S. companies have not aligned their objectives with this co-operation and development policy? If we ask U.S. business people why they are not investing in Africa currently, they will tell you, first of all, there is legal uncertainty on the African continent and that the African continent does not offer the necessary airport and port infrastructures for easy transportation. They will also mention that human capital is severely limited and that health services, for example, are either non-existent or deficient. These obstacles are hindering U.S business people from investing in Africa. That's where the Canary Islands come in: we have an advantageous geographic position and we are looked kindly upon in Africa.
So you would like to see more partnerships between U.S companies and Canary Islands companies engaging in Africa?
Yes, we see this in two ways actually. First of all, we believe that U.S companies will take advantage of the tax benefits and incentives that the Canary Islands offer, so that they can actually establish a base there, for example preparing their products or preparing technology in order to invest in Africa.
It's also possible that U.S. businesses could establish partnerships with businesses from the Canary Islands that are already operating in Africa, although it may be too presumptuous to think that a large multinational company would want to have a partnership with a small business from the Canary Islands. They probably would be most interested in using the Canary Islands for the tax incentives and the legal certainties of our system.
You said 200 Canary Islands companies are operating in Africa. Can you give some examples?
Currently the Canary Island businesses that are most involved in Africa are those that have to do with tourism, construction and services, specifically. Other sectors also offer great opportunities, such as the water sector – anything to do with desalination, purification, the use of water – and the clean energy and technology sectors.
Tourism dominates your economy?
Heretofore, the most important economic sectors have been construction and tourism. However, we understand that we need to diversify. We have very limited physical territory on the islands, and so the construction sector cannot really continue as it did in the past. We are betting on the water sector, the clean energy sector and also trying to develop the Canary Islands as this logistical platform towards Africa.
We are considered a benchmark in these sectors in all of Europe because of the need we have had for desalination plants on the island since the 1970s and the need for clean energy. Interestingly enough, water and clean energy are two of the most important policies that need to be developed in Africa.
With your proximity to Africa, do you get involved in political issues affecting nearby states – ongoing tension between Morocco and Western Sahara, for example?
We try to manage with tact, prudence and responsibility. We have positive relationships with both parties, the Moroccans and the Polisario Front. We believe that managing with responsibility means compliance with UN resolutions.
How are you affected by problems in your region such as piracy and drug trafficking?
What has really impacted us in recent years is human trafficking, which, of course, is a tragic problem, clandestine human trafficking conducted by mafias. The problem of illegal immigration reached its peak some three or four years ago, with all these people dying at sea. It was, in my opinion, these deaths which finally coalesced European attention and brought it towards Africa.
First of all, the European Union deployed controls throughout the mid-Atlantic – that was very helpful – and then furthermore the EU (European Union) attempted to seek commitments from the African countries of origin of the majority of these illegal immigrants, and they got a commitment that these countries would put into place stricter border controls. I frankly believe that the policy with regard to illegal immigration is development, co-operation and well-being. We can't just use law enforcement to staunch this human flow, so we need to develop Africa and also offer a standard of living to Africans whereby they will want to stay in their own countries.
With regard to piracy, our region is actually calm in that regard. There is a problem in drug trafficking. We are at a crossroads because of our geographical position and, of course, we pay a great deal of attention towards this.

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