Economic ExpertSpeak: Mauritius well positioned to help investors
Sneha Shah, Head of Financial business, Africa for Thomson Reuters, spoke to AfricaMoney on the sidelines of an event hosted by the global information giant and the Financial Markets Association (ACI). (Image: Cecilia Samoisi)
Edited excerpts from an exclusive interview:
What are the factors that spurred Thomson Reuters to intensify its focus on and operations in the African continent?
Thomson Reuters has been present in Africa since 1860 in the media domain and since the 1960s in financial markets in Africa. So, we have a long history on the continent but there is real recognition in the last 3-4 years that we need to focus on helping the continent grow. There has been a strategic shift at the top of the company towards emerging markets. Africa is one of the key markets we are focused on to really build a sustainable business here. Accordingly, we are looking at all the trends around increasing professionalization across the African continent, increased access to funding and increased Foreign Direct Investment. We can see these positive, long-term trends for the continent as auguring a huge growth potential and we believe that, as information services providers, we are in a good place to help fulfil the market’s growing needs. As such, we are investing in market building and capacity building right now.
During the past years, we have been able to note that the Africa rising story is ringing out with increasing strength. According to you, how can the media play an enhanced role in the continent’s economic growth?
I think we have already seen the story changing. Many news publications used to perpetuate a negative narrative of Africa but now they are all talking of Africa rising. So, the continent’s image is certainly changing but the media can definitely do more to cover the positive stories, the economic improvements, the growing entrepreneurship and the innovation that is coming out of Africa. Just look at people like Ashish Thakkar who transformed a small computer trading operation into the pan-African conglomerate that we know of as the Mara Group, and what he continues to achieve at the Mara group, to get a sense of the vibrant entrepreneurship on the continent and how Africans are not waiting anymore for someone else to make it happen for Africa. This is the kind of narrative that the media should speak about more.
The US-Africa leaders’ summit has just taken place in Washington. How do you think this summit will strengthen the partnership between the US and Africa?
The US always has a part to play in Africa’s development but the story has been more focused on development than investment opportunities. The US-Africa summit was for me the clearest sense yet of the United States’ real commitment to partnership and willingness to engage in investing on the continent for the long term. As many as 50 African leaders made it to that summit and it was truly incredible to see the level of attention that the event got in the international press. Of course, it helps that other international trading partners of Africa are ramping up their focus on and investment on the continent.
As one of the first nations in Africa to apply the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), what advantages is Mauritius likely to enjoy vis-à-vis the US government?
It is great that Mauritius was one of the first countries to apply the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. Increasing regulatory compliance is a reality in an increasingly complex world and the more that a country recognises that and does business by complying with these regulations, the better it will be for the economy. So, I think this step speaks very well of Mauritius’ ambitions. In terms of regulators, I think that Mauritius has one of the most innovative and forward-thinking regulators on the African market, and this is just another great example of how they are thinking ahead for the market and how we can work with them. We have, at Thomson Reuters, a number of regulatory and compliance solutions that help organizations adhere to all relevant rules and regulations. We are definitely eager to work with Mauritian banks and regulators to help on the compliance front.
What would be the impact on the African economy if, for whatever unforeseen reason, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which is set to expire on September 30, 2015,is not renewed on time?
While I cannot speak on whether or not it will be renewed, I certainly believe that there is deep interest right now in African growth and endless investment opportunities offered by the continent. I would say that Africa is not dependent on a single Act to grow, but the growth story is unfolding all around us and all the time. When you go to an emerging market like Nigeria and you see that it is now the largest economy in Africa, and you look at all that is happening, it is clear to me that all this is not happening because of one or two Acts or agreements, but that growth is organic at this point and will continue.
The Mauritian government is intensifying its efforts to provide support to investors to tap the African continent, which represents tremendous investment opportunities. In your opinion, what are some key investment opportunities in Africa that Mauritius can help investors to home in on?
If you look at the countries in Africa, most of them have a commodity story to tell on the path to growth as traditionally, it has been about mining and supporting infrastructure in Africa. I believe that commodities will continue to be part of the growth story of Africa for a long time. Mauritius is absolutely well positioned to help with investors who are looking to take advantage of that growth. For example if you are a foreign investor who does not want to be, or does not have the capacity to be based on the continent, working with Mauritian firms that already know the continent quite well and can help them to take advantage of these opportunities is a great way to do it. But, I do think that Africa is increasingly growing in a number of other sectors. You would have noticed a lot more manufacturing activities taking place and a lot more service sectors cropping up, due to greater professionalization of the economies. Mauritius, for instance, is in a really good place because it shifted from being a sugarcane manufacturer to a service-based economy. Accordingly, the island is very well positioned to take advantage of the growth shift in the Africa story.
Finally, what is your outlook on the delivery of critical information in Africa, with special focus on Mauritius?
It is very important these days to disseminate information in the right manner to enable decisions, as the challenge increasingly is that weare flooded with too much information and it is hard to filter out what is relevant and trustworthy. If you try to look at any African economy, there are some areas that still do not have enough data, for instance private company data, but there are other areas that are inundated with data, and you do not know which data is the right set that critical decisions can bebased on. This is where Thomson Reuters play a huge role because what we do is that we provide intelligent information. First of all, we provide trusted data and that is the whole essence of what we do as a company. Thus, certain people automatically know if it is Thomson Reuters’ data, it is something you can act upon. But we also have tools that simplify the information into exactly what we need for a work flow. So, if you are a commodity trader, you do not have to filter through all the data in the world. We give you very specific data as we know what you are looking for, and we know that you are looking at certain prices, certain currencies and we give you exactly what you are looking for when you need it. It is the same thing across all of our asset classes – whether it is foreign exchange, fixed income, commodities, wealth management, or asset management. We are very strong in understanding these deep work flows and how we can help our target audience, and I think that is the future of critical information. It has to be smart and targeted, and it has to make the decision makers’ job easier by giving them exactly what they need, when they need it.