Five Airports, 12,000 Cell Phones and an e-Marketplace

First online exchange to open in Mauritius

Broomfield, CO  August 10, 2001  Well, folks, it's official: no corner of this great globe of ours is safe from e-business.

Case in point: Mauritius, an Indian Ocean island about 60 percent the size of Rhode Island, is set to open its first online trading exchange, to be called Mercator, by the end of the year.

Business Hub Ltd, the Mauritian firm that is opening the exchange, said Mercator will provide online buying and selling to a number of individual private communities while allowing spot transactions between all subscribers across communities.

In its first year of operation Mercator will be open to any company on the island, according to Gaetan Doger de Speville, general manager for Business Hub, which is a joint venture whose participants include the island's fourth largest company, Happy World Ltd. "Our first goal is to create an exchange that supports any Mauritian trading entity," he said.

Doger de Speville added that his company's objective is to have 200 buyers and 800 selling organizations nationwide using the online trading hub. "We see a major opportunity to expand the exchange during the year so as to provide an e-commerce trading hub for the island's thriving economy."

Such sanguinity is not unwarranted. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, in its 2000 World Fact Book, offered this take on the island's economy: "Since independence [from Britain] in 1968, Mauritius has developed from a low income, agriculturally based economy to a middle-income, diversified economy, with growing industrial, financial and tourist sectors. For most of the period, annual growth has been of the order of 5 to 6 percent."

Elsewhere, the CIA reports, "A stable democracy with regular free elections and a positive human rights record, the country has attracted considerable foreign investment and has earned one of Africa's highest per capita incomes." However, the Fact Book does warn that, "Recent protests over standards of living in the Creole community have slowed economic growth." The country's gross domestic product (GDP) was pegged at $12.3 billion in 1999, or about $10,400 per capita for the population of 1.18 million.

We would also note that the island nation had but one Internet provider as of 1999, according to the CIA.

In its first year of operation, Mercator's founders are anticipating that the hub will handle transactions for approximately 180 organizations trading a variety of commodity products and services in the wholesale distribution, retail, pharmaceutical and manufacturing sectors.

B2B e-commerce software provider Izodia, headquartered in the U.K., will build the exchange on its InTrade 5 platform and expects to have Mercator operational within three months.

Gavin Lourens, Izodia country manager for South Africa, said InTrade was a suitable solution for Mercator because the software provides scalable services to support trading partners of varying sizes and sophistication, and because it supports such aspects of international trade as multiple languages, currencies and tax systems.

Lourens speculated that once they get the hang of e-commerce, some Mauritian companies will want to set up their own, private exchanges. "Over time, some members of the joint venture's large customer base will choose to migrate to their own private hubs," he said. "This natural progression is inevitable as companies begin to fully appreciate the benefits of utilizing the Internet in general and InTrade in particular, to carry out various business transactions."

The Portuguese discovered Mauritius in 1505, and the island subsequently fell under Dutch, French and British rule before independence in 1968.

Other fun facts about Mauritius, straight from the CIA:

Capital: Port Louis

Languages: English (official), Creole, French, Hindi, Urdu, Hakka, Bojpoori

Telephones  main lines in use: 148,000 (1995); mobile cellular: 11,735 (1995

Television broadcast stations: 2 (plus 11 repeaters) (1997)

Televisions: 258,000 (1997)

Airports: 5, including two with paved runways (1999 est.)

Unemployment rate: 2% (1996 est.)

Industries: food processing (largely sugar milling), textiles, clothing; chemicals, metal products, transport equipment, nonelectrical machinery; tourism

Exchange rates: $1 = about 29 Mauritian rupees

Note that Mauritius, which is just east of Madagascar, should not be confused with Mauritania, a country about three times the size of New Mexico and located on the African continent between Senegal and Western Sahara.

Note, too, that Mercator, the Mauritian online trading hub, should not be confused with Mercator, the Wilton, Conn.-based provider of integration products and services.