The West African country of Côte D’Ivoire is proud to mark the international launch of its IT and biotech park on the outskirts of Abidjan. This new free trade zone –- the Village of Information Technology & Biotechnology (viTib) –- will be dedicated to both small and large enterprises involved in the ICT and biotechnology sectors and will be opened in the first quarter of 2006.

On October 30, 2004 Côte D’Ivoire’s parliament passed legislation needed to open the country to foreign investment. The IT and Biotechnology Free Trade Zone Law also makes provision for the sale of at least 51% of the shares of viTib to international investors. The project has been classified as a priority project. It is being run by a High Commissioner and the Minister of Economy and Finance under the direct responsibility of the President.

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Bohoun Bouabre, Minister of Economy and Finance

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Laurent Gbagbo, President

The park will be served by a state-of-the-art communications infrastructure, including high-speed data transfer via optical fibre cables and satellite, as well as video conferencing services. The facilities will be specially tailored to meet the needs of the IT and biotechnology manufacturing sectors, including associated areas of research, value-added services and training.

The government has already chosen the site for the country’s new high-tech park at Grand Bassam, a prime tourist area on the coast 30 minutes by car from the capital, Abidjan. In addition to a dedicated human resources and training centre –- focused on language skills, management, and ICT and biotech skills –- designs for the complex include an incubation centre for business start-ups, a computer centre, business centre, conference centre, international exhibition centre, shopping mall, a hotel and apartments, and a sports and leisure centre.

Vincent Kragbe, the president’s adviser and commissioner responsible for the project, says: “Our government fully recognises the need to create jobs for the thousands of graduates that leave university each year. We also need to diversify our economy – which is mainly based on agriculture – and attract foreign investment into the country. That’s why we are opening our economy to investors.”

The country is highly dependent on cocoa markets, producing around 45% of the world’s supply. It is also one of the region’s largest energy producers and has one of Africa’s largest and most efficient petroleum refineries on the continent.

The government has prioritised investment in IT and biotechnology as one weapon in its fight against poverty. “We want to increase and develop the human capacities of Ivorians in terms of life expectancy, GNP per capita and access to education,” says Mr Kragbe. “We’re well aware of the positive impact viTib will have on the country’s economy and social welfare. All partners will be treated with special care, no matter which area they choose to invest in, whether taking equity in viTib, building infrastructure through build-operate-transfer or build-operate-own concessions, providing long-term loans, or whether they are relocating research, manufacturing or other value-added services.”

Potential local investors include the port authority of Abidjan, oil and gas exploration company Petroci, the oil refinery company SIR, the national lottery Lonaci, the board of Cocoa and Coffee BCC, as well as specialist investment funds targeted at the commodity sector and for job training.

Project support

The project has already received international backing. “So far, we’ve been very pleased with the high level of support we have had from our international partners, PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Indian software group, STPI,” says the president’s adviser. PricewaterhouseCoopers helped prepare the project appraisal, while IT specialists from Software Technology Parks of India – a leader in their field –- provided expert technical consultation.

Phase one of the project will provide the main infrastructure for the first occupants, including the park’s headquarters, office buildings, training school and accommodation, communication infrastructure and main transportation links.

When operational, viTib will play a vital role in the entire region’s development, as a flagship business hub for the African and international ICT and biotechnology markets.

By investing in viTib, Côte D’Ivoire’s government has agreed to support sectors such as the development and manufacturing of ICT equipment and biotech products. But viTib also offers opportunities for investment in electronic commerce, telecommunications, media, high-speed internet and data communication services as well as warehousing,distribution and logistics services associated with the ICT and biotech sectors.

By investing in high-tech skills, the government hopes to reduce the country’s dependence on global commodity prices. Co-operation between the national and foreign universities and training institutes will support an intensive English language institute and an institute responsible for professional training in ICT and biotechnology skills. These in turn will support multinational and small and medium-sized business.

Business hub

Abidjan’s international schools, universities and professional colleges have already helped to make it a financial and business hub for western Africa. The country has one of the 10 strongest economies in Africa, which between them account for 75% of the continent’s GDP. On its own, it accounts for 40% of the West African Economic and Monetary Union. The country’s banking system – including 16 banks, 30 insurance companies and seven special financial institutions – is the biggest in West Africa by financial transactions.

The country’s capital is also well connected, within the region and internationally, by air, sea, road and rail. Its three airports serve 25 international airline companies and the port of Abidjan is the leading port in the region, with 13 million tonnes of cargo handled each year.

The prioritisation of foreign investment is partly in recognition of the international interdependence of Côte D’Ivoire’s economy. Having identified FDI as being of major importance in economic development, the government has changed its laws to welcome foreign partners into its territory.

Recent changes to the country’s regulations have given Côte D’Ivoire one of the most attractive investment climates in the world. Investors in the free trade zone are exempted from all duties on imports and exports of products and services, pay no income tax for the first five years and 1% on annual revenues thereafter with provision for rebates of up to 50% based on local employment and reinvestment. Foreign and local investors are also exempt from VAT on electricity, water and petroleum consumption, protected by law from nationalisation, and have no restrictions on ownership.

If you are interested in becoming a partner, contact:

High Commissioner, Vincent Kragbe, c/o the president’s office

phone: +22520314803

mobile: +225 07055525

fax: +22520314387

e-mail: gkragbe@africaonline.co.ci