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Africa’s No. 3 Cotton Producer Plots Textile Hub Based on Buyers’ Needs

Africa’s No. 3 cotton producer is considering entering the textile manufacturing business.

Valérie Vencatachellum, Ivory Coast’s country head at the U.K. non-profit Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI), outlined the West African nation’s advantages at Texworld New York City’s virtual winter conference Wednesday.

West Africa—also home to Burkina Faso and Mali, two others of the continent’s largest cotton producers—represents 5 percent of world cotton production and 15 percent of exports, Vencatachellum said. On Ivory Coast’s eastern border, Ghana possesses a manufacturing base with private sector-led industrial parks and has launched a $200 million job and skills program to train workers for local textile and apparel industry. A little further away in Senegal, the minister of economy is proactively engaging with textile and apparel investors and refining support policies, including the establishment of a dedicated export zone.

Vencatachellum also highlighted the region’s geographic benefits. According to TBI analysis, West Africa’s proximity to the U.S and Europe gives it a 10-day speed advantage compared to other regions in Africa.

“The region is really gearing itself up to be a strong player in the global industry and it is actually at the moment starting to reach out to global investors who might want to reconfigure their supply chain by setting foot in West Africa,” Vencatachellum said.

Given broad trends toward sustainability within the textile and apparel industry, Vencatachellum said West Africa presents a compelling advantage. “It provides the opportunity, and there’s a strong desire from this area of the world, to be the next frontier for a very different type of industry that will allow vertical integration based on the production of cotton, and potentially of organic fibers,” she said.

Unlike two of the region’s other prolific cotton producers Burkina Faso and Mali, Ivory Coast is located on the water, giving it a “very strong advantage to kind of anchor a budding industry in the region,” Vencatachellum said. Cotton fiber production in the country reached 990,000 bales in the 2019/2020 market year, according to a report from the United States Department of Agriculture.

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In 2018, Ivory Coast introduced a new investment scheme to target foreign investment. During the operation phase, this setup will give a 50 percent tax holiday over five years for businesses in Abidjan and neighboring towns; a 100 percent tax holiday over five years plus 50 percent over five other years in big regional cities; and a 100 percent tax holiday over 10 years and 75 percent over five other years in smaller cities. Between 2014 and 2019, foreign direct investment in the country climbed at a compound annual growth rate of 14.9 percent.

Plans for setting up a textile manufacturing hub in Ivory Coast are “extremely conceptual,” Vencatachellum said. “What we are looking at is to identify what are the needs of buyers… and shape the industry with regards to that.” Ivory Coast’s next steps, she added, will be based on the interest of suppliers that come and invest in the country. Without any large-scale fabric production currently taking place in the country, she said Ivory Coast’s government is “extremely open,” but maintains “a strong interest” in organic fibers.

“What the government here is looking to do is to set up the infrastructure that will allow you to just come and set up your factory according to your needs,” Vencatachellum said. “But the main question currently is this positioning in terms of best-in-class and really sustainable processes and infrastructure, eco-industrial parks, processing of wastewater, etc.”

Currently, Vencatachellum said the country is working on a feasibility study looking into building an industrial park. If everything goes well, she estimated it could be ready in about 18 months to two years.