30 March 2012

Mauritius paves the way for Australian route into Africa

We have previously blogged about Africa’s importance to Australian mining , and the vast amount of resources work going on in the region – but how can you get your foot in the door?

On Monday night we attempted to answer this when our Perth office hosted 50 guests from the mining, legal and accountancy sectors to talk about African investment and why Mauritius could be your gateway into Africa. The seminar included informative and thought-provoking presentations from the Mauritian Board of Investment, Intercontinental Trust Ltd, Stock Exchange of Mauritius, and HSBC Bank (Mauritius) Ltd, each highlighting the opportunities in this region.

Freehills partner, Justin Little, set the scene with an overview of Australian mining companies’ increasing investment in resource-rich African projects and the legal and commercial challenges that these companies face, including: a lack of infrastructure, skills shortage, reporting and compliance issues, political and social instability, the threat of the nationalisation of the mining industry, changes in fiscal regimes and obtaining financing.  Justin’s overall message was “opportunity knocks for those investors who are prepared to tackle and surmount the challenges that mining in Africa poses” but “the potential for elephant-sized discoveries comes with elephant-sized risks”.

Against the backdrop of these challenges, Managing Director of the Mauritian Board of Investment, Ken Poonoosamy, spoke about the attractive business environment that Mauritius – “the star and key of the Indian Ocean” – has to offer and how its economic, political, legal and fiscal regimes create a competitive platform for Australian companies wishing to invest in Africa.

White sandy beaches and pristine azure blue waters aside, why use Mauritius as an international hub for investing into Africa as opposed to another country or investing directly into Africa?  Why would you not, was the resounding answer from CEO of Intercontinental Trust, Ben Lim, who gave insight into the many perceived benefits of using Mauritius, such as its bilateral investment treaties and fourteen double taxation agreements with Africa, its membership of the African Union and regional economic blocs (such as COMESA and SADC), low income and corporation taxes, lack of capital gains tax and relative ease and efficiency of establishing corporate vehicles.  Ben contrasted this with the arguably less attractive option of investing directly into Africa which comes with the burden of high withholding taxes, capital gains tax, high investment risks and no preferential access.

If that was not enough for the audience to start booking their flights, Chief Executive of the Stock Exchange of Mauritius, Sunil Benimadhu, threw into the bargain the possibility for Australian investors to list their companies on Mauritius’s very own Stock Exchange – one which, according to Sunil, offers a cost competitive and stream-lined listing process, while accommodating dual-listing, and trading in various currencies including USD, GBP and the Euro.

Despite the building momentum behind Australian mining companies investing into Africa, the start-up costs of their projects are significant and, so, financing is often the end game for investors.  Participants were therefore pleased to hear from Managing Director of HSBC Mauritius, James Boucher, that the Mauritian banking system has grown over the years to become part of a sophisticated international banking system – one which is becoming increasingly tailored to its foreign mining clients and which covers the full box and dice of business solutions and services, ranging from acquisition, project, export and trade finance, foreign exchange and treasury services to cash management.

We would like to thank our presenters Ken, Ben, Sunil and James for sharing their knowledge and insight into what Mauritius has to offer as a gateway into Africa.

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