Angola: How Angola Is Transforming Its Economy Through Commerce

A conversation with Amadeu de Jesus Leitão Nunes, Angola's Secretary of State for Commerce

In an interview with Africa Renewal's Kingsley Ighobor in Luanda, Angola's capital, Amadeu de Jesus Leitão Nunes discusses his country's agricultural projects, its successful partnership with the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the European Union (EU) to promote economic development, its support for women and youth entrepreneurs, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), and more. Here are excerpts of their conversation.

Amadeu de Jesus Leitão Nunes The first question is straightforward: Is Angola ready for business?

Angola has been ready for business for a long time. If we analyze the history of Angola before independence, trade was very prosperous, so prosperous that Angola imported only supposed superfluous products. We were very self-sufficient in terms of food.

Where would you like Angola's economy to be?

Our short-term ambition is not to depend so much on oil exports. We want to diversify the economy.

That means increasing production for almost all goods, not just primary ones. We must increase agricultural production to feed our population and accelerate our country's industrialization. We need to increase production also for export, with added value in processing.

Which primary products do you want to focus on?

These are cereals, like corn, rice, beans, and animal protein--eggs and chicken. That is why we have major programmes like

  • PLANAGÃO, for promoting grain production in agriculture for cereals,
  • PLANOAPESCA, for promoting fisheries, and
  • PLANOAPECUÁRIA, for promoting and developing livestock.

Does the government's programme for agriculture support the private sector?

In these three major programmes, the state and the private sector are in alignment. The private sector's involvement is fundamental within the institutional framework of the state.

Naturally, arable lands belong to the state, and the state gives concessions for these lands to private entities, especially for agriculture purposes.

Do you have incentives such as financing guarantees for the private sector?

Yes, there are significant incentives. For programmes that we need to develop, banks like the Banco Nacional de Angola [Angola's central bank] are providing incentives such as financing with lower interest rates than those offered by commercial banks.

For essential products, we are lowering the Value Added Tax, from 14 per cent to 5 per cent.

These initiatives support the private sector.

Where are the key export destinations, and what products?

Excluding oil, Angola is exporting fruits, especially bananas, pineapples, and avocados. Our exports go to neighbouring countries like Congo, and to Europe and China.

Entrepreneurs, artists, trade facilitators and others speak glowingly of the Train for Trade II programme. Why do you think the government's partnership with UNCTAD and the EU has been effective thus far?

First, the Train for Trade II programme builds on the positive outcomes of the Train for Trade I.

Second, the project structure has been good. As you know, we have seven different components to this project, and this relationship works well. Our Ministry [Ministry of Industry and Commerce] has the institutional political responsibility to liaise with the other institutions involved, and they have accepted our role as the coordinating ministry

Lastly, we are fortunate to have an UNCTAD representative in Angola who helps create consensus, has a proactive attitude, and knows how to engage and talk with other institutions.

The programme ends in December. What's next?

In a meeting with the EU, we expressed our interest in and willingness to continue the programme. We would indeed like the programme to continue even if we need to look for other sources of funding.

The new EU Ambassador just presented her credentials. We will meet with her and present our proposal to continue the programme.

Many of the programmes' young beneficiaries look to the government to make doing business easy. Other experts, within the government and from UNCTAD, have made recommendations on this issue. Are you committed to facilitating the adoption of their recommendations?

Yes. We have many programmes supporting new entrepreneurs. The Ministry of Economy and Planning coordinates these mechanisms. Other ministries also contribute significantly to entrepreneurship.

Also, the National Institute of Support for Micro, Small and Medium-Sized Companies (INAPEM) has a platform that brings together all the institutions working to promote entrepreneurship.

Finally, the Ministry of Economy and Planning has organized one or two startup forums with great success. They had about 300 startups, and they hope to have 1,500 startups in next year's forum.

Are you making any plans to take advantage of the AfCFTA, which will allow the free flow of goods and people and eliminate most tariffs on goods?

We are working with the UN Economic Commission for Africa on a national strategy for implementing the AfCFTA. We think that by May or June of 2024, we will have it.

I always say that, in Africa, we are competitors because most of the goods we produce in Angola are the same as those of Namibia, Zambia, or Congo. So, we need to seek complementarity -- offering goods and services that complement those of our neighbors. That's why I asked ECA to analyze our strategy for complementary mechanisms that we can set up with our neighbours.

Think of transportation. South Africa has an automobile industry, but the country doesn't make all the parts of the car. Likewise, the parts of an Airbus aircraft come from various places-- the engine may be from England, the wings from Germany, the seats from Portugal or Spain-- and then the assembling is done in Toulouse, France. This is a necessary complementarity.

Conceptually, some tout the AfCFTA as a transformative project, one that will create millions of jobs and turn Africa around. What do you think?

Based on my experience and my knowledge of such matters in Europe where I studied, the AfCFTA is our aspiration; it will succeed only with serious political commitment from our countries.

Without such commitment, AfCFTA is just another instrument, and each country can do business in its own way. There was such commitment in Europe. The countries managed to develop the EU to where it is now.

Are you very hopeful about its success?

I have hope, but I tell my colleagues [fellow trade ministers] that success requires continuing dialogue, explanation, and consent of the people. We can have a super-structure like the AfCFTA, but we must truly involve our people--entrepreneurs, businesses, the private sector, students, and academia.

Often with our programmes, we don't pull everyone together, meaning we can't be inclusive. So, if we can achieve inclusiveness, then we can move forward.

Women constitute about 70 percent of informal cross-border traders in Africa. How is the government supporting women traders?

Yes, women carry out a large percentage of informal trade. We have a programme, financed by the EU, to convert the informal economy into the formal economy. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Family, and Women Promotion is fully involved in this programme.

In Bailundo, a village in Huambo, we met with a group of women who were applying what they had learned been taught by the University in Huambo to their honey production business. They could use a little support from the government.

Honey production has increased across the country. Every part of the country -- Huambo, Cuando Cubango, Moxico and so on -- has honey. When we go to local trade fairs, we see a lot of honey, and it's quality honey.

A gentleman keeps calling me, saying, "I don't know how I'm going to sell my honey. I don't even have a car to transport my honey. I'm going to lose the honey. The honey will spoil." Imagine people like him all over the country!

So, we need to work on certification and everything else that adds value. Also, Train for Trade II has a honey programme, and I think we should explore it more vigorously.

From what you know about the Angolan industrial base, commerce, trade, and development, where do you see this country in the next five years?

The government is working to improve the living conditions of citizens. We are all working towards achieving food security. I am confident that we can significantly reduce our dependence on imports for some goods, increase production in many other goods, and ensure food security.

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