Liberia is ready to shed its conflicted past and welcome American businesses that want to build up the country and profit in the process, Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai said in Atlanta.
The West African nation of 4 million people, emerging early in the 2000s from a tumultuous civil war, is looking to capitalize on its historical ties with the U.S., a potential source for investment and knowledge that can help create jobs, Mr. Boakai said.
He led a group of high-level government officials to a Liberian investment forum at the Robert Woodruff Library at the Atlanta University Center on March 30.
Mr. Boakai highlighted new legislation and an online registration system that aims to help companies set up a business in less than 48 hours.
Liberia is a relatively easy place to set up a business, taking the No. 35 spot in the World Bank‘s “Doing Business” rankings for that metric. It’s operating the company that presents the problem: Despite improvements, Liberia is still No. 151 out of 183 countries measured.
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, recently elected for another six-year term as president, will continue enacting policies aimed toward improving that ranking and fixing its underlying problems, Mr. Boakai said.
The administration is to foster trade links and entrepreneurship so that the resource-rich country’s growth trickles down to all segments of the population, especially the younger crowd.
Investment capital and skills training are two areas in which Atlanta companies can have the most impact if they commit to Liberia’s growth for the long term, the vice president said.
“Liberia has unfortunately seen a lot of ‘grab-and-go’ investors. This time around we are seeking credible investors who will be partners, true partners with us to create a win-win situation,” he said.
Also visiting Atlanta, Commerce Minister Miata Beysolow echoed the theme of entrepreneurship, noting that Liberia must continue reforming to win foreign business.
“We are fully aware that whether you invest in our country or not depends on, to a large extent, on your assessment of the environment for doing business as well as what we have to offer,” she said. She praised entrepreneurs for their ability to see opportunities where others see challenges.
Liberia has a variety of promising sectors including energy, infrastructure and especially agriculture. Its forest resources include hardwoods like mahogany and rubber-tree plantations. Liberia also offers heritage tours for African American visitors tracing their lineage.
Multinationals including some of the world’s largest oil companies have invested more than $16 billion in Liberia since 2006.
Ms. Beysolow said Liberia seeks to benefit from its own resources as investors work alongside the Liberian workforce to go beyond exporting raw materials and create value-added products like tires and furniture.
A moderator of a panel discussion on business, Wellington VanPelt, asked the audience to envision a Liberia with Delta flights daily (now only two per week), a Firestone tire plant and a Coca-Cola factory instead of just a bottler.
Mr. Van Pelt, business development manager of Liquidator Global LLC, said Americans should make sure not to let fear ruin their shot at profitable investments.
“There’s a conflict in understanding perceived risk versus real risk in doing business, and we also know – the higher the risk, the higher the rewards, and too often with investment opportunities, by the time you get to knowing about that investment, it’s probably too late,” he said.
Mr. Boakai succinctly summed up that statement: “Liberia is open for business. What are you waiting for?”
The Liberian Investment Forum was organized by Cynthia Nash, the honorary consul for the country in Georgia. Other attendees included William Bull, Liberian ambassador to the U.S.; Ciata Bishop, executive director of the National Investment Commission and other leaders from the capital city of Monrovia as well as from Atlanta.
Those interested in joining Ms. Nash and a delegation on a trade mission to Liberia in September should contact her at http://liberianconsulatega.com.