In Marseille, Algiers keeps an eye on investors

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The commercial port of Marseille, in May 2016.

He apologizes with a laugh: there is no longer Selecto, the famous Algerian cola, in the fridge. Sitting on his shaded terrace, located on the heights of Vitrolles (Bouches-du-Rhône), “RB” – who asks to be cited by his initials – drinks a lemonade with Nazim Sini, delegate of the Marseille region of the Algerian Chamber of commerce and industry in France (CACI) to talk about business and the country.

Since April, the two men have talked a lot: R. B. is considering creating his start-up on the other side of the Mediterranean. This 34-year-old Franco-Algerian, with an influencer look from an Instagram post, is a « personal shopper » : he buys collector’s sneakers for the golden youth of Algiers at a high price. “And the demand is substantial”, he assures. Its margins are colossal: at least 400 euros per pair of sneakers shipped, or four times the Algerian minimum wage.

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For R. B., the closure of the borders, imposed by the Algerian authorities since March 17, 2020 to stem the spread of the coronavirus, has been a godsend. “Algerians cannot move. And as e-payment is not generalized, they call on me, he explains. I asked the CACI for support because I want to formalize the informal and bring my stone to the building. Not a concrete block, but a gravel, that would already be not bad. “

Nazim Sini listens to him attentively. ” My role is to clear the ground and simplify procedures which may seem complex ”, he sums up. He carried out a market study for RB and answered the various questions with pedagogy in order to persuade him to launch his future company in Algeria. “There is an exemption from income tax for start-ups during three years “, he repeats to her. R. B. is sensitive to this argument: taxation is his main concern.

“Economic patriot”

For the rest, it does not matter if Algeria finds itself today in a political impasse or that it is going through an economic crisis with in particular an 80% drop in foreign currency reserves since 2013: “Whatever the situation, there will always be consumers”, pointe R. B.

Nazim Sini’s days are busy: the regional representative goes on appointments by appointment. This 36-year-old Franco-Algerian, son of a diplomat, who defines himself as a “Economic patriot”, has been traveling voluntarily since 2015 in the Marseille region to encourage entrepreneurs from the diaspora and French to do business in Algeria.

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And the metropolis is not targeted by chance: it hosts one of the most important presences of Algerians in France, binational or not, estimated at more than 220,000 people. “And Algeria is Marseille’s first customer”, he claims.

According to the CACI, trade amounts to nearly 800 million euros each year between the French city and the neighboring country (hydrocarbons, agricultural products, vehicles, etc.). “There was a 40% drop last year because of the Covid, he explains. The health crisis has revealed the economic and social fragility of Algeria. We are in a hurry and the diaspora is a component of the solution which can provide currency and skills. ”

“Modernization of the financial system”

But attracting binational and French investors is not an easy task. This young professor of economics in higher education is aware that the image of Algeria is not always to his advantage: closed country, heavy bureaucracy, corruption … “Algeria is scary. There is mistrust and mistrust. It is a still unknown country. My job is to reassure and make it known, he adds. I am an economic pilgrim. “

When he meets the diaspora, it expresses to him, beyond the patriotic fiber and the love for the country, often the same criticisms: a lack of “Visibility” and of “Readability” in the economic decisions of the Algerian state. “Precisely, our stake is the modernization of the financial system”, bounces the regional delegate.

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It is with this kind of explanation that he seeks to convince, even the most skeptical. That day, Nazim Sini had lunch in a restaurant in Meyreuil, a neighboring town of Aix-en-Provence, with Yves Delafon. He wants to change the vision that the president of Africalink, a network of SMEs from two continents, can have on his country. “We can talk about Algeria, but without tongue in cheek”, warns Mr. Delafon with a smile.

For two hours, this business manager of sixty years will not spare his guest. ” Africa is the next global engine and Algeria is our obvious partner. We can’t do without him, he begins to say. But all the feedback I have say it’s a mess: it’s complex, the conflicts between the partners are not resolved in the courts, we lose money… ”

“The country is opening up”

Yves Delafon insists on the difficulty of repatriating euros to France from Algeria, the dinar being a non-convertible currency. “We need more flexibility”, he repeats. Nazim Sini listens and responds: “Why are we so demanding with Algeria and not with China or Russia? Algeria is a virgin sector, there are opportunities. It is a country where you can get rich very quickly. ”

Yves Delafon replies: “It is urgent to wait. Wait for mentalities to change, for there to be greater openness. ” Mr. Sini retorts: “I don’t want the picture to be blackened. In Algeria, there is the rule of the three Ps : perseverance, patience and relevance of the project. We cannot arrive in Algeria on conquered ground. »

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Sign that the country is opening up, according to Nazim Sini, the Algerian state has just abandoned ” the 51-49 rule “ in non-strategic sectors – the cap at 49% of the participation of a foreign investor in the capital of an Algerian company – to revitalize the country’s economy. Not to mention anti-corruption operations.

Nazim Sini suggests that Mr. Delafon organize a trip with a delegation of business leaders to Algeria in the first half of 2022. After lunch, he heads to Marseille to see an automotive specialist again. In a café opposite the Saint-Charles train station, Luis Caetano, 47, thrifty of his words, has an ambitious project: the export of luxury cars to Algeria. He does not know this country, but two months ago he had “The feeling that it is a buoyant market”.

Revitalize the industry

For Nazim Sini, Luis Caetano is just right. This sector has experienced in recent years a succession of crises and an automobile scandal at the heart of the first major corruption trial of the Bouteflika era. After years of restrictions, the state allowed, June 8, the importation of vehicles less than three years old for individuals. ” There is no competition in the luxury automobile ”, reminds the representative. “I am not here to take the wealth of the country, I want to invest and participate in its development”, says Mr. Caetano.

A speech that necessarily pleases Mr. Sini, looking for long-term partners. “There are people who believe in Algeria when they have no connection with the country”, he rejoices. The two men plan to travel to Algiers after the summer to finalize the project. Nazim Sini will take the opportunity to convince his host to also engage in the subcontracting of spare parts, an almost non-existent market.

Last meeting of the day with Mohamed and Djamel, two Marseille and Franco-Algerian friends. These two quads have an idea: to open a plastic packaging factory next spring near Khenchela, in the east of the country. Why go to Algeria? “I have my company and I import from China. It takes me thirty days to get my merchandise to Marseille. From Algeria, I would take three days “, explains Mohamed with his strong local accent.

Nazim Sini affirms that the Algerian State can put the means for such a project as soon as it is carried by nationals: access to land, exemption from customs tax on exports, subsidy for the purchase of machinery, start-up aid… Algeria needs to revitalize its industry: exports are experiencing a dizzying decline. “It seems idyllic”, launches Djamel with shining eyes. The two friends are planning an investment of six figures. “50% of the investment cost may be the subject of financial assistance”, assures Mr. Sini.

“My entourage advised me against investing in Algeria, telling me that I was going to be ripped off or that it would not work. These are clichés ”, wants to believe Mohamed. His friend adds enthusiastically: “We are not going to hide our face, the country is doing everything to attract its diaspora. Why not enjoy it ? “