Columbia Law School Promotes International Investment in São Tomé
Karl P. Sauvant, executive director of the Vale Columbia Center on Sustainable International Investment, is trying to put the tiny, two-island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe on the investment map.
A decade ago, the West African country discovered it had the potential to produce oil, and the prospect of the financial windfall that could follow made the country’s president, Fradique de Menezes, nervous. With weak infrastructure in place, São Tomé and Príncipe was vulnerable to corruption, political struggles, or violence. To stabilize the islands, de Menezes looked to Columbia.
Since 2003, Professor Jeffrey Sachs, director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, has been working with a diverse team of experts to advise São Tomé and Príncipe on how best to achieve economic growth and sustainable development. A collaboration with the Vale Columbia Center, which is a joint center of Columbia Law School and The Earth Institute, has produced the Investor’s Guide to São Tomé and Príncipe, a prospectus aimed at helping the nation attract foreign direct investment. The joint project unveiled the guide last fall.
“Investment is the basis for economic growth, and that, in turn, is the basis for social development,” Sauvant said. “São Tomé and Príncipe is off the beaten track for most investors. They may well miss out on some interesting opportunities.”
The guide analyzes opportunities for investors in agriculture—cocoa, flowers, and fruits and vegetables for export—as well as in adventure, eco-tourism, fisheries, and petroleum. The country is a stable working democracy with a vibrant multi-party system, one of the highest literacy and life-expectancy rates in sub-Saharan Africa, and no serious ethnic, linguistic, religious, or tribal tensions. It is strategically located in the Gulf of Guinea, the geographic center of the large markets in west and central Africa, and the government is committed to promoting transparency, good governance, and private sector–led growth.
“This is a document that can open many doors for us,” said President de Menezes at a dinner to introduce the guide.
Florizelle B. Liser, the assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa, also attended the dinner and noted that Africa, as a whole, only contributes about 2 percent to world trade. If that amount were increased by just 1 percent, it would generate about $70 billion, which is more than three times the amount of aid the continent receives.
“We’re not saying there is no need for aid, but trade is a much greater economic engine,” Liser said.