11 May 2012

Togo: U.S. Treasury's Wolin Urges Improvements in Country

Washington — U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin has told lawmakers in the West African country of Togo that improvements in the country's infrastructure, agriculture and business climate would benefit Togo and its neighbors.

In a speech to the Togolese National Assembly May 9, Wolin said improved roads and irrigation systems, more affordable electricity and broader access to information technology are necessary elements for a strong foundation of economic growth. "I also reaffirm our commitment to work with you and other sub-Saharan neighbors, bilaterally and through multilateral channels, to achieve sustainable economic growth," he said.

He pointed to the 100-megawatt Contour Global power plant, the largest electricity investment in Togo's history, as "a major step forward" in Togo's economic growth because the power plant has dramatically increased the availability of electricity. Togo is selling a portion of the electricity to neighboring countries, bringing an added return on its investment and contributing to a regional economy, Wolin said.

With regard to transportation, Wolin said more and better roads are needed, especially for farmers who have trouble getting their crops to market, a situation that blocks Togo's agricultural sector from expanding.

Addressing the needs of farmers in Togo and neighboring countries, Wolin said quality seeds and fertilizer, credit and insurance, and irrigation systems are in short supply, and without them Togo and its neighbors cannot achieve lasting food security and poverty reduction.

Wolin said the United States took the lead several years ago to establish the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program, which is making investments in Togo, Liberia and Sierra Leone among others to help them increase agricultural capacity.

The deputy treasury secretary noted that the Port of Lomé is acquiring a $450 million container terminal, which will make it the only port in West Africa capable of berthing and unloading large container vessels. He said a better road system that links Togo with its landlocked neighbors, Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, will help Togo become a regional trade hub.

The private sector needs to be brought in for Togo to harness its potential for growth and development, and government action is the key to a vibrant business climate, Wolin said.

"Whether evaluating the enforceability of contracts, the requirements for licensing, or the barriers to cross-border trade, what really matters is if the government is playing a facilitative role in the economy -- or if it's throwing up unnecessary roadblocks," he said.

Wolin praised the passage of an investment code in Togo this year as a step to improve the climate for foreign business. He said the code contains clauses important to foreign investors, such as equal treatment between Togolese and foreign investors, the free transfer of capital, respect for property, protection against expropriation and regulations to settle investment disputes.

He said that foreign investors will be watching for transparency and consistency in how the Togolese government and bureaucracy apply the new rules. "If Togo implements reforms such as the new investment code evenly and robustly, you can prove to investors that there are good business opportunities here waiting for them," Wolin said.

The deputy treasury secretary recommended that Togo reduce the role of the government in key sectors of the economy such as banking, phosphate deposits, cotton and telecommunications, so that private investors can come in with new capital, skills and ideas to develop them.

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