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“China is a great partner of Cape Verde”

Nelson Moura

The Chinese community is “well integrated” and is an important part of Cape Verde’s business fabric, says to PLATAFORMA the mayor of Sal Island, Júlio Lopes

Júlio Lopes, Mayor of Sal Island, tells PLATAFORMA how the Chinese business community has made an important contribution to tourism and urban development.

“Sal Island is a special place in Cape Verde. It is the most cosmopolitan of all the islands. We have dozens of nationalities from all countries, and the Chinese are part of this great mosaic that makes up Sal Island. We have hundreds of well-integrated Chinese people. Most of them work in the commercial area, ”he says.

With a large population immigrating from other islands, local authorities have been investing more in building social facilities, including schools and housing, with some projects including partnerships with Chinese municipal authorities.

“The city of Sanya in Hainan, for example, financed a major project, an athletics track in the island’s capital, Espargos. Thanks to this investment, Ilha do Sal is currently the island with the most athletics champions in Cape Verde. We would like to negotiate with the Sanya authorities for further funding for a runway in the city of Santa Maria […], the second largest on the island.”

Chinese community is “a big help”

The Chinese community also plays an important role in ensuring access to essential goods at affordable prices, on an island where almost all food is imported and where the minimum wage is around 20,000 escudos (200 euros).

“Cape Verde has a dry tropical climate, sometimes desert. At the food level, almost 80 percent of the products are imported. Clothing and other products are also generally imported, with the Chinese being important as they occupy this business area. They bring low-priced products, which is a big help for lower-income residents,” he explains.

“That’s why the community is important for Sal Island and Cape Verde […]. They create a shopping center, they buy retail goods together, with each store then selling.”

In the city of Santa Maria, where most of the hotels and the best-known beaches of the island are concentrated, you can find several Chinese stores and stores, with residents more used to going to Supermercado Chen or Armazém Amizade than to the historic Municipal Market. for your daily shopping.

Shopkeeper Liu, from the Liu general store, tells our newspaper that, despite being from Henan, in central China, most of the businessmen on the island come from the southern provinces of China, attracted by the trade opportunities in Africa western.

Lopes says that the Chinese business community is also investing in other areas, namely in the fishing and real estate sector, including holiday homes, hotels and leisure. For example, she mentions that the biggest disco on the island is a Chinese investment.

“In Cape Verde there is complete commercial freedom, people can invest wherever they want, whether Chinese, European or Cape Verdean. There are no constraints in any area. We, as public authorities, are here to create a good ecosystem for national or foreign investment. We want greater investment in crucial areas, however, as you know, trade does not imply investment. But we want investments that bring added value. Chinese investors and traders are fully supported by the authorities in expanding their activities. The local environment is conducive to investment.”

In 2022, trade between China and Cape Verde reached US$9.4 million, a growth of 30 percent compared to 2021. China is currently the third largest exporter to the country, after Portugal and Spain.

Tourism to be developed

Despite its reduced 180 square kilometers and a population of just 20,000 inhabitants, Sal Island, in Cape Verde, has seen considerable tourism development, attracting more than half of the volume of tourists that visit the country annually. Making good use of its white sandy beaches, this semi-desert island has seen resorts and tourist hotels spring up like mushrooms over the last five to ten years.

Completed resorts or those under construction are visible when crossing the reduced extension of the island, 570 kilometers from the African continent. “China is a great partner of Cape Verde in several areas. We have a new Chinese ambassador in Cape Verde and we’ll see if that support continues. It would also be good to have more Chinese visiting Sal Island not only for business but also for tourism. The journey is long, but if they come, they will surely love it”, he predicts.

The island currently has more than 20 large-scale resorts, many of them five-star. Amílcar Cabral International Airport – currently the largest and most international in Cape Verde – receives daily flights from major European cities.

“With the increasing promotion of Cape Verde abroad and European tourists discovering our country as a destination, there is considerable growth in the sector. In 2022, for example, the tourist flow surpassed the values of 2019”, he emphasizes, adding that the data for 2023 point to “an excellent year”.

Almost 836 thousand tourists visited the archipelago last year, according to data from the National Institute of Statistics, with Sal Island leading the demand, with 61.8 percent of total entries.

With the tourism sector accounting for almost 25 percent of the archipelago’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Cape Verde’s economy was severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We believe that in the coming years these flows will grow even more. Much of this growth can be attributed to the construction of a hotel by the RIU Group, an international hotel group that built a hotel in the middle of the pandemic. One would expect the works to stop, but on the contrary they continued and completed the project. This property is now consistently close to 100 percent occupancy.”

The RIU Group – a Spanish hotel chain with six properties on the archipelago, three on Sal – has invested around 37 million euros in the restructuring of its properties on Sal Island: Riu Palace and Club Hotel Riu Funaná.

“I think it’s an important sign that a group the size of RIU counts so much in Cape Verde and in tourism on Sal Island. This investment had a major impact on the tourist flow to the island and Cape Verde. It is one of the largest hotels that this group has at an international level”, he stresses.

“Sal is very well placed internationally, we have many five-star hotels of international quality that can rival any other international destination. We have a Hilton, Riu group hotels, and Meliá hotels”.

The island’s airport currently has daily flights with Portugal operated by TAP, which connect the island to Lisbon, Porto, and multiple European cities.

“I would say that 10 percent of our tourists come from Portugal, with flights from Lisbon and Porto. However, 70 percent of our tourists come from England, so we have many daily flights there. We also have many flights to Germany, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy. And we get flights from Poland, Denmark, Norway and the Czech Republic. Almost all of Europe has direct flights to Sal Island.

The mayor – who has led the island’s council since 2016 – is making efforts to establish connections with the United States, to make the island accessible to American tourists and Cape Verdean immigrants, with negotiations to establish charter flights with Boston and New York. According to Lopes, Sal Island has benefited from a very open attitude from the authorities to business and to removing barriers and constraints to tourism. The President of the Republic of Cape Verde, José Maria Neves, recently said that he was satisfied with the post-pandemic recovery of Sal Island, but that the rapid development of the island’s tourism sector also brought great challenges.

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