Africa’s poverty and low-tech wood processing industries are some of the reasons why wood export figures rank the lowest in the world but one country, Gabon, is working to buck this trend.
Six years ago, the government set up a Special Economic Zone with Olam International, a joint venture project costing $320 million. To encourage investments in the local wood-processing sector, the SEZ made space for a 600-hectare wood-processing industrial zone, Africa’s largest dedicated to timber and wood-based products.
“As the sector develops, Africa needs to move towards value adding. As a result this presents a lot of opportunities for Africa’s wood industry,” said Mr Gaochao Lu, advisor to Gabon Ailong Company and a representative of the L’Union Forestiere des Industrielles Asiatiques du Gabon (UFIAG), an association that promotes timber trade between Gabon and Asia.
Mr Lu was speaking at the Sylva Wood seminar in Shanghai, Asia’s only wood materials show.
Mr Gaochao Lu, advisor to Gabon Ailong Company and a representative of the L’Union Forestiere des Industrielles Asiatiques du Gabon (UFIAG)
From left: Mr Ryan Feng, general manager of Africa Project Shipping Ltd and Mr Jasveer Singh, CEO of Gabon Special Economic Zone
Mr Lu’s comments come as China embarks on a path of strengthening diplomatic ties with Africa in the next three years. The Mainland is Gabon’s largest export market, buying some 100 million cubic metres of wood annually. This figure sometimes doubles in a good year.
Timber is Gabon’s second most important industry. About 1.5 billion cubic metres available for commercial use. Gabon’s vast forests are home to a diversity of species such as rosewood, sandalwood, Okume, ebony, camphor, katus and walnut, valued for use in high-end furniture, flooring, heavy construction and ship-building. Currently round logs is still the main export (90%).
“There are huge business opportunities in Gabon’s wood sector. The SEZ has a lot to offer, such as favourable tax rates. Foreign investors are also allowed to transfer 100% of their funds back home,” said Mr Jasveer Singh, CEO of the Gabon Special Economic Zone.
There is also no cap on the number of work visas issued to foreigners for overseas companies that set up shop in the SEZ.
Furthermore Mr Singh added that with an abundance of natural resources, good logistics hub, stable government and society, as well as a stable source of power supply, Gabon is one of the more business-friendly countries in a continent known for bloody civil wars, poverty and corruption.
“We welcome China to invest in Africa’s wood industry. Our association is happy to offer potential investors and interested parties a platform for service, information and collaboration to encourage trade between both countries,” concluded Mr Lu.
Sylva Wood 2016 will conclude on Wednesday, June 29, at the Shanghai Mart Expo, Shanghai, China.