Page last updated at 15:02 GMT, Friday, 12 February 2010

Liberia boosts private enterprise

By Jorn Madslien
Business reporter, BBC News

Guerillas of theNational Patriotic Front of Liberia patrol the streets of Monrovia, Liberia, 1996
About a quarter of a million people died in Liberia's civil war

Liberia has launched a corporate responsibility forum to help rebuild the war-shattered nation.

The public private partnership said "sustainable and responsible business practices" should aid development.

"We want to rebuild the entrepreneurial class in the country," Joseph Mathews, chief of ArcelorMittal Liberia, told BBC News in an exclusive interview.

The steel giant is investing $1.5bn (£1bn) in the resource-rich country, partly to rebuild infrastructure.

"We have to build up the mine, the railway and the port," he said.

Iron ore shipments from Liberia should start next year and over time the country's iron ore export industry should be able to turn out between 20 and 40 million tonnes per year, Mr Matthews predicted.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the sector accounted for about a third of Liberia's economy, he estimated.

But in recent years, rubber exports to the US and some European nations has accounted for almost all its exports.

Private sector needed

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
We need the participation of the private sector - one that will bring in sustainable investment and promote good corporate citizenship
Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

Some seven years after the civil wars ended, about 85% of Liberians are still out of work, according to official statistics - though many work in the informal economy.

Liberia, or "land of the free", is desperate to reduce its dependence on foreign aid to sustain its people, so responsible foreign investment is welcome.

"Government cannot, by itself, achieve the vision for Liberia that is enshrined in our poverty reduction strategy," said Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

"We need the participation of the private sector - one that will bring in sustainable investment and promote good corporate citizenship."

In the past there have been concerns that foreign investors would merely exploit Liberia's natural resources, which also include tin and gold, as well gold and diamonds.

It is also home to some 40% of Africa's rain forests where illegal logging has been a problem in the past.

Currently, United Nation peace keeping forces bring stability to Liberia, in the wake of a 14-year-long civil war that ended in 2003 after about a quarter of a million people had been killed.

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