George Weah, President of the Republic of Liberia, on how the government is looking to attract investors from the UAE and make it easier to do business in the country spoke to the Gulf news in Dubai, the UAE :
How do you describe the political and economic ties between Liberia and the UAE?
It’s a relationship that’s growing from strength to strength. Since my last visit, there’s been several delegations from the UAE to Liberia exploring investment opportunities and other ways the country can help Liberia. Some of these missions are beginning to yield fruits. So we are happy that we have a special relationship with the government and people of the UAE.
What are you looking to achieve from your participation in Global Business Forum Africa in November?
We are looking to attract investors from the UAE and elsewhere to Liberia. My country has great untapped potential in various sectors, including agriculture and tourism, which are emerging as economically viable options for the country. Recently a reputable organisation that gauges tourist attractions around the world named Liberia as one African country with a huge but virgin ecosystem and pristine beaches that tourists should find extremely exciting. We have to leverage on that in order to make Liberia a tourist destination.
It is a venture with mutual benefits. We are also looking for innovative ways to improve the private sector and the country’s derelict infrastructure as a means of rekindling the overall economy. Putting the young people to work is a vital component of our development drive too.
What is your message to the UAE investors?
Liberia is open for business and we are creating the right environment that makes it seamless for investors to get a head-start. Recently, we reduced some of what have been described as hurdles in the way of starting a business in Liberia. Large-scale corporations too have also been offered incentives for choosing to invest in Liberia. The arable land is vast and untapped. Young people, who make up the bulk of the population, are eager to work.
What are the key sectors that are open for foreign investment? And which ones have promising potential for UAE businesses?
The potential exists in various areas, including agriculture, mining, infrastructure and tourism, among others. We have barely scratched the surface with each of these sectors. But like I said earlier, our tourism sector is beginning to gain international attention. It’s an area where investment can yield enormous return. The agriculture sector too remains largely intact.
What are the incentives that Liberia can provide to UAE investors?
In the past, investors have been offered tax breaks and waivers as a means of lowering their cost of starting a business. These options can be explored on a case-by-case basis. In collaboration with our legislature, we have enacted laws during the last few years which have attracted foreign investors and smoothened their operations. We are therefore open to having UAE investors being offered similar incentives.
What are the recent statistics on investment and trade between Liberia and the UAE?
The aggregate trade between our two nations is still significantly low — available data shows that it hovers under 1 per cent of our GDP. But there’s a vast opportunity now to grow that number.
In addition to the sectors I have already mentioned that are open for investment and trade, the information and communications technology (ICT) sector too is beginning to emerge.
For instance, the Liberian Revenue Authority, which is our government’s leading agency that collects taxes, has embarked on a major drive to automate its platforms in order to be ICT efficient.
In addition to increasing revenue for the government, the associated effect of this will also be an expansion in the number of ICT entrepreneurs. Many young people are already beginning to see the sector as a means of staying in touch with rapidly evolving digital trends globally.
A business relationship in this sector can greatly impact the country in various ways, while yielding returns for investors.
Dubai Chamber has four representative offices in Africa to promote bilateral trade ties. Would you like to see an office for Dubai Chamber in Liberia?
I think it’s a great idea to have Dubai Chamber represented on the continent and this further consolidates trade relationship between the UAE and Africa. And Liberia will love to collaborate in this regard.
A particular focus of my visit earlier this year was to woo investors from the UAE to Liberia — both from the private sector and the government.
I believe Emirati businessmen coming here will quickly realise the unique opportunities we have in our country, so Liberia certainly welcomes the chance to host representatives from the Dubai Chamber in our country.