The Republic of Mauritius is an island nation in the Indian Ocean, about 2,000 kilometres (1,200 km) off the southeast coast of the African continent. It possesses a wide range of natural and man-made attractions, enjoys a tropical climate with clear warm sea waters, attractive beaches, tropical fauna and flora complemented by a multi-ethnic and cultural population that is friendly and welcoming.
These tourism assets are its main strength, especially since they are backed up by well-designed and run hotels, and reliable and operational services and infrastructures. Mauritius is one of the world’s top luxury tourism destinations. Mauritius received the World Leading Island Destination award for the third time and World’s Best Beach at the World Travel Awards in January 2012.
Mauritius is ranked high in terms of economic competitiveness, a friendly investment climate, good governance and a free economy. It has strong and friendly relations with various African and foreign countries. For instance, Mauritius and Russia have good diplomatic relations.
As part of our sustainable efforts to highlight the current Russia’s relations with individual African countries, Kester Kenn Klomegah interviewed the Ambassador of the Republic of Mauritius to the Russian Federation, Indira Savitree Thacoor-Sidaya. She discusses some of the issues on the Russia-Mauritius agenda, expresses satisfaction with the current level of bilateral relations and outlines further steps necessary to be taken to deepen Russia-Mauritius cooperation especially in trade, economic and tourism areas.
What are your Government’s priorities and expectations in the Russian Federation? And most probably in other ex-Soviet republics, do you have the same business agenda?
Our Government’s objectives are to improve investments and trade from Russia and other ex-Soviet republics interested in doing business in Mauritius. We also have a policy of openness and make it easy for eligible foreign investors and talents to work and live in Mauritius.
Foreign Direct Investment: As a small open economy, Mauritius needs foreign direct investments (FDI). Since 2009, Mauritius has been attracting more than $300 million FDI every year. The main sources have remained the traditional markets of UK, France, India and South Africa. Mauritius would wish to attract investors from the Russian Federation to invest in Mauritius and, through Mauritius, into Africa.
From an agricultural base dominated by sugarcane, Mauritius has had a sustained economic growth, diversifying into tourism, textiles and manufacturing, financial services, ICT and seafood processing among others.
The ocean economy is seen as the next driver of our growth, transforming our small island state into a 1.9 km2 Ocean State (www.oceaneconomy.mu). Seven priority areas are identified:
• Seabed exploration for hydrocarbon and minerals
• Fishing, seafood processing and aquaculture
• Deep ocean water applications
• Marine services (including marine finance, marine ICT, marine biotechnology and ship registration)
• Seaport-related activities
• Marine renewable energies
• Ocean knowledge cluster
Mauritius also has a prominent role as the gateway to invest in Africa. Mauritius has the best governance in Africa (1st in Mo Ibrahim’s Index of Governance since its creation), the easiest investment climate (1st in Africa and among Top 20 globally in World Bank’s Doing Business Index), economic freedom (1st in Africa and 8th globally in the Economic Freedom Index of Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal, and the Fraser Institute). With strong hard and soft infrastructure and a reputable international financial centre, Mauritius offers an ideal platform to invest in Africa.
Trade: Through membership to free trade areas such as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and Southern African Development Community (SADC), Mauritius benefits from preferential trade access. In addition, Mauritius is a signatory to AGOA which provides duty free and quota free access for specific products into the US market. We are also in the process of signing an Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU which will provide Mauritian goods with single transformation a duty-free access to the EU.
In addition, Mauritius has a well-developed Freeport where export-oriented Freeport companies benefit from a zero-tax regime for manufactured goods exported to Africa. Taken together, these represent a preferential market access to several hundreds of millions.
Work and Live in Mauritius: Since 2005, Mauritius has carried out an in-depth reform agenda to open the economy and streamline administrative procedures. International businesses can set up in Mauritius within three working days and three categories of foreigners namely investors, self-employed and professionals are allowed to work and live in Mauritius under an occupation permit delivered by the Board of Investment.
Discuss Russia’s economic footprints in Mauritius? Is your Government satisfied with Russia’s investment interest there as compared to other foreign players such as China and India?
Mauritius, which has had record years of attracting FDI from the EU, India and South Africa since 2006, has not witnessed significant flows from Russia. In comparison, Indian and Chinese entrepreneurs have been increasing their investments in Mauritius.
The Mauritius international financial centre, which has successfully attracted funds from India and China, loses to other jurisdictions such as Cyprus, BVI and Bermuda when it comes to Russian global funds. Yet, according to FDI Intelligence, Russians are investing in Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Seychelles and South Africa. Mauritius could be used as the platform for these investments.
Trade between Russia and Mauritius is also not very significant compared to neighboring India or China. Imports from Russia are principally manufactured goods and chemical products. There is no export from Mauritius to Russia per se. While tourism from Russia is improving, there is still a large untapped potential with less than 2% of tourists visiting Mauritius coming from the Russian Federation.
How does Mauritius also plan to engage Russia? How do you view possible trade exchanges between Russia and Mauritius now that some economic opportunities have opened for African countries to trade (export products) here?
Mauritius will need to conduct trade and investment promotion activities in Russia. Already, the Board of Investment (BOI), the national investment promotion agency is planning a mission next October. The Mauritius Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) has also been present regularly and has held meetings with its counterparts. A MoU was signed some years back between the MCCI and The Russian Chamber Of Commerce. It needs to be rekindled, reactivated….and so forth.
Finally, Enterprise Mauritius, responsible for the promotion of Mauritian exports, has Russian business community on its agenda. A MoU has already been prepared between our countries in the fishing sector.
How is Mauritius tourism business developing in Russia? Are the tourism numbers increasing compared to the previous years and what strategies would you like to adopt to further popularize your country’s recreational destinations?
Russian tourists have increased over the last three years with high occupancy rates in high-end luxury hotel such as St Regis and Four Seasons. But, I believe we still have to increase our efforts with a more aggressive marketing strategy to succeed in our goals because, it is sad to say that many Russians do not know much about this beautiful little island called Mavrici, in Russian language. More importantly, Russian visitors to Mauritius do not require visa prior to entering Mauritius.
To further promote Mauritius as a tourism destination in Russia, I led a delegation of 16 well known Russian Tour Operators, including the Vice President of RUTI (Russian Union Of Travel Industry), Mr Barzykin,Yuriy Aleksandrovich to my country. This tour was sponsored by the MTPA (Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority) and the Emirates Russia.
A MoU in the tourism sector is also being prepared, with emphasis on cultural tourism, by the Ministry of Culture, also responsible for tourism, following two important meetings between myself and the Deputy Minister, Ms. Alla Manilova, (to be signed very soon with my country.) I have also had discussions with the General Director of Transaero, Mrs Olga Pleshkova, a couple of times in view of having more frequent direct flights to Mauritius. For the time being, Transaero is operating only during peak seasons (December to May).
In the meantime, I wish to thank the wonderful team from Aviareps, the organization that officially represents MTPA, in Russia (Mr Robert Obolgogiani, Ms Ekaterina Lenkova and Ms Victoria Mukranova) for their sustainable efforts towards promoting Mauritius as a tourism destination for the Russians. I also wish to thank the President of RUTI, Mr Shpilko Sergey Pavlovich and Mr Yuriy Schegolkov for their engagement to promote my country in the Russian Federation.