Gabon Special Economic Zone SA, a joint venture between Republic of Gabon, Olam International – Singapore and Africa Finance Corporation, has developed a timber focused multiproduct SEZ with an investment of about USD 320 Million in Gabon (West Central Africa). Spread over an area of 1126 Ha at a place called NKOK, about 20km from capital city of Libreville, this SEZ is 80% occupied and is ranked as the best woodworking SEZ in Africa.


We at Modern Woodwork are pleased to present an educative Question and Answer session with Jasveer Singh, CEO, Gabon SEZ.


20170414_120115You have about 15 peeling (veneer processing) companies, 2 plywood units, 9 saw mills, 8 furniture manufacturers and 1 wooden flooring unit operational inside SEZ. How are you ensuring wood supply to all these wood processing industries?
Mr. Jasveer Singh: Firstly, Gabon has over 400 wood species and the species and quality of wood required by veneer units, plywood units, saw mills, furniture manufacturers and flooring companies is different so they are not competing with each other for the raw material. Secondly, GSEZ has signed agreement with two big loggers and they are currently supplying about 20,000 cbm logs per month to the SEZ. Similar agreement will be signed with three more logging companies to supply additional 30,000 cbm per month to SEZ based veneer units. Thirdly, there are more than 50 logging companies in Gabon with collectively more than 1,20,00,000 hectares of forest concession from whom the SEZ based industrialists can directly buy logs.


Logistics is equally important in Africa as raw material availability in Forest. Direct access to SEZ from the National Highway-1 is an obvious logistical advantage for bringing raw material from different parts of Gabon which has a good road network.  We also have inside the SEZ a fully operationallog yard with a 1000m long railway siding as well as a 200m long quay with barging facility to bring logs into the SEZ by railway and waterway.


Globally we see that the supply of logs is getting constrained. How are you ensuring that Gabon will not face raw material supply shortage?
Mr. Jasveer Singh: Many countries are facing wood supply issues because they had limited forest cover butdid not follow the Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) system which ensures natural forest regeneration and hence no loss of forest cover. Few countries have wood but have issues in establishing legality and traceability of wood which is a precondition of wood product buyers from many European and American countries. On the other hand Gabon is the second biggest resource base of tropical timber in Africa.  The country has 85% of the land under forest cover and has been following the Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) system of logging for more than 50 years which will ensure uninterrupted log supply formany years to come.Further the forest concession owners undertake 100% sampling while preparing the SFM logging plans which makes it possible for them to provide traceability and legality certificates with all logs supplied and hence all wood products from Gabon meet the qualification criteria of global manufacturers and buyers.


“Industrial approval process and construction is allowed in parallel to save time of investors.
Coordination of all statutory approvals can be done online with the help of dedicated customer relationship manager. There is no need for someone to be physically present in Gabon or to appoint a liaison agency.”


Single Window Clearance Building in Nkok SEZ

Single Window Clearance Building in Nkok SEZ

There are many SEZs worldwide. Africa is also witnessing launch of new SEZs. Which are the key differentiating features of Gabon SEZ that set it apart from other African competitors?
Mr. Jasveer Singh: Gabon SEZ is the biggest wood processing SEZ in the world in terms of size.  It is ranked number one among all SEZs of Africa in terms of quality of infrastructure and facilities forwood working investors.


Following are the three main differentiators:
Single Window Approval System: One spot issuance of license and all necessary clearances is an important feature of the SEZ.We have 17 government departments in one building which is situated inside the SEZ. All approvals typically required to set up and run a unit – Company registration, industry license, work permit, custom exemption, VAT exemption, etc. are all given at one location in a time bound manner and there is no need for an investor to run from one office to another. One of the directors or senior representative of the interested company need to be in Gabon only once for maximum 3 days for land selection and signing of documents and after that follow up and coordination of all statutory approvals can be done online with the help of dedicated customer relationship manager. There is no need for someone to be physically present in Gabon or to appoint a liaison agency.Further, theapproval process and the construction can run in parallel to save time of investors. Eg. One of the veneer units came into production within 5 months from the date of signing of land agreement because all statutory approvals came while the unit was under construction.


Environment Friendly: Gabon SEZ has the project level Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) approval from the Ministry of Environment and Forest of Government of Gabon. Regular environment monitoring is undertaken to comply with the environment norms and industries have to complete rapid EIA study before coming into production. It is mandatory for all logs entering SEZ to have traceability and legality certificates.  No illegal timber processing is allowed in the SEZ because of which the European and American buyers feel safe to get associated with SEZ based units.


Reliable Power: Gabon is a power surplus country and quality power in sufficient quantity is available to units @XAF 60/unit (approximately INR 6.40/unit) all inclusive. There are two planned sources of power for SEZ – One operational 70Megawatt duel fuel (gas/diesel) power plant and another hydroelectric power plant. The units are provided utility connection within 14 daysof submission of connection fee.


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