Sierra Leone launches trade hopes with mango juice
By Simon Akam
NEWTON, Sierra Leone (Reuters) - West Africa's first tax-exempt economic zone has opened in Sierra Leone, aiming to produce the impoverished country's first significant value-added exports since the end of its civil war nine years ago.
The First Step Economic Opportunity Zone provides its tenants with duty- and tax-exempt status for any goods or capital equipment they import, along with a three-year tax holiday.
Fruit juice concentrate producer Africa Felix, the first tenant at the 54-acre site at Newton, an hour's drive from the capital Freetown, will begin output next week.
"We as a government strongly believe that the private sector is the engine of growth," Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma told the opening ceremony on Thursday.
"Soon people all over Europe and the U.S. will be able to taste Sierra Leone's superior fruit," he added, standing close by a newly constructed hangar-size factory building in a large expanse of newly cleared bush.
After Koroma came to power in 2007 he promised to run his country "like a business".
Nine years after the end of hostilities in Sierra Leone, the country is widely considered a successful example of international intervention to secure peace. In February the last U.N. peacekeepers finally left.
However, Sierra Leone remains one of the world's poorest nations, despite increasing interest from international investors focusing on its lavish natural resources, which include diamonds, iron ore, rutile and bauxite. Continued...