Mauritius plans to launch a trading platform to hedge African currencies against the US dollar, part of a bid to expand its role as a financial hub for the continent, the financial services minister said. The Indian Ocean island is also in talks to boost ties with stock exchanges in Johannesburg and Nairobi to encourage cross-listing of shares and other areas of cooperation.
The international financial services sector in Mauritius has relied heavily on dealings with India, helped by a double taxation avoidance treaty that made the island the biggest route for foreign investment into India. But that could be hit if talks with India lead to treaty changes, encouraging a shift in focus to Africa where officials see a chance to offer a broader range of financial services and shake off criticism that Mauritius is little more than a “tax haven”.
“I do believe that Mauritius cannot remain a tax-centric jurisdiction,” the minister Sudarshan Bhadain said at his office in the island’s financial district of Ebene. “Mauritius has to move to the next level which is bringing real investments which are creating jobs in Mauritius … and for us to be the platform for Africa for the right reasons.”
He said Mauritius had signed a memorandum of understanding with National Stock Exchange of India, aimed at encouraging cross-listing of Indian firms and helping the island become a route for investment to Africa from India and elsewhere.
“One of the aspects is for the creation of a new currency derivatives platform, where African currencies can be hedged against the US dollar,” he said, adding that the launch was expected in 2016. He did not give further details. Mauritius was working with South Africa on encouraging cross-listings and was holding talks on the same issue with Kenya, the minister said. He said he had also signed a memorandum with Dubai financial markets to help develop markets in Mauritius.
“In terms of global business, one of the things we are doing is moving more towards front-office activity and regional headquartering,” he said, adding that insurance firms were among those interested in using Mauritius as a base. Mauritius had held talks with firms such as Axa and Prudential, he said, adding he wanted companies that would put managers in Mauritius and hire staff there rather than firms simply registering operations and having limited presence.
To benefit from the double tax avoidance treaties Mauritius has with African states, companies have to meet a range of requirements, such as having at least two resident directors and using Mauritius accounts for related banking transactions. But critics say such firms, known as Global Business Company 1s (GBC1s), should face tougher demands to benefit from the treaties, so they can show more clearly that they are not using Mauritius solely to avoid higher taxes elsewhere. GBC1s pay a maximum 3 percent corporate tax and no capital gains tax.
Bhadain said tax treaties had spurred growth in the global business sector in the past 15 years but it was time for a shift. “That has served Mauritius well, but we don’t see that as being the vision for Mauritius for the next 10 to 15 years.” Some regulations related to the sector could be changed, possibly by the end of the year, he said, although he added that he was working closely with the 138 or so management firms that handle the roughly 10,000 GBC1s registered on the island. “We see the focus has to change in terms of more tangible, real investments which are taking place in Mauritius,” he said.