Barriers and impediments to trade and investment
This chapter summarises the evidence received about the barriers and
impediments Australian companies may encounter when seeking to conduct business
with the countries of Africa. It was noted that barriers may affect the ability
of Australian companies to expand their current operations in Africa as well as
inhibit expansion into new markets in Africa.
Submitters identified a range of factors that may dissuade Australian
businesses and investors from considering African countries for trade and
investment, including sovereign risk, unstable security landscapes, a lack of
existing infrastructure, an unfavourable perception of Africa among Australian
investors, and a shortage of Australian diplomatic missions in Africa.
As highlighted earlier, Africa is a diverse continent and evidence to
the inquiry emphasised that Africa is not a single market but is comprised of discrete
economies with separate opportunities.
The African context
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) noted in its submission
that a range of factors attributed to African society, culture and systems of
governance may form a barrier to Australian trade and investment. These
factors, which DFAT has collectively termed the 'African context,' include:
Local conditions, including traditional leadership
structures, land ownership, expectations around remuneration and the broader
social responsibility of companies...
DFAT highlighted land ownership as a particular barrier, owing to
intersecting systems of ownership at different levels of society:
Land ownership in particular can be difficult to consolidate
due to competing levels of government (national, state and local), traditional
ownership claims, particularly where sites intersect lands of different groups,
often with different ownership structures (patrilineal, matrilineal, collective
and/or individual) all of which add complexity to large-scale mining,
infrastructure and agriculture projects. As is the practice in other developing
countries, local landowners may expect mining companies to build roads and
schools as part of the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility, in addition
to royalties and other land fees being paid to government.
DFAT's submission also drew attention to the economic systems in place
in many African countries as a barrier to trade and investment, noting that the
historical factors that shaped these systems are often unlike those of Western
Many of the governments of Africa could be best described as
taking a state centric, command economy approach to economic development. This
can be seen as deriving both from a colonial heritage that utilised resources
to enrich foreign elites and the Marxist ideologies of liberation movements
with centralised social and economic planning approaches. Unlike the reforms of
the last century which have seen a decreasing role for government in markets
for liberal democracies, for most African nations the role of government
remains central to economic development.
DFAT recommended that businesses draw on the experience of a local
partner or consultant in order to navigate these challenges.
Governance and regulation
In its submission, DFAT noted that 'uncertainty around regulatory
regimes can have a chilling effect on potential Australian investment across
all sectors' and issues such as opaque and unfamiliar tendering practices can
also deter Australian companies from bidding for government contracts and
With particular reference to the extractive industry, Oxfam also noted
the risks associated with a poorly regulated environment:
Poorly regulated environments, as is often the case in
natural resource governance, are also conducive to corruption which in turn
forms an obstacle to legitimate business sectors developing. Community conflict
as a result of unregulated, negative impacts of EI [extractives industry] companies,
or a perceived lack of community benefits, can increase business risk as they
may be subject to sudden business disruption. There are significant human
rights risks in mining, including labour rights transgressions, impacts on
women's security and health, and the displacement of local people to make way
for new mines.
To address these issues, Oxfam suggested:
The Australian government and EI companies should be
investing in building regulatory capacity in the host country to improve the
regulation of EI sectors, in order to increase investment certainty and a more
enabling business environment.
With particular reference to the renewable energy sector, Windlab Ltd
(Windlab) observed that the political and regulatory structure in African
markets is a barrier to development:
Whilst there is significant finance available for
well-conceived, developed and structure[d] projects there is a paucity of such
opportunities. There is a lack of political and regulatory structure in many
African markets which prevent good industry practices from being developed and
applied. Large renewable energy infrastructure projects worth hundreds of
millions of dollars each require good regulatory and governance processes to
Most African electricity markets are dominated by a
state-owned utility. Many of these utilities are inefficiently run, lack
knowledge of renewable energy deployments, don’t possess strong procurement
practices and are not credit worthy from a project finance perspective.
With particular reference to the mining industry, the committee received
some evidence detailing initiatives to improve governance and regulation in
Africa which is discussed in more detail in chapter 6.
Sovereign risk in many African countries presents operational and
financial challenges that may be difficult to justify, particularly for small
and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) seeking to enter these markets. Excessive tariffs, protectionist policies, and discrimination in favour of
state-owned or politically-connected companies are common obstacles for foreign
companies operating in some African markets. Australian companies have also
suffered, or been threatened with, theft of property or legal rights by some
The effect of sovereign risk on Australian businesses operating in, or
seeking to operate in, African markets varies significantly by country, a point
highlighted by Mr Craig Goulder, Vice President, Global Exploration, Woodside
My role before this one was new ventures—to scale the globe
and look at all the opportunities we have globally, including sovereign risk.
My first comment to you would be that we don't consider Africa as a country.
Africa's not the country; there are 54 countries there. And the risk that you
refer to there is different from country to country. Our risk profiles that we
use will rank every country globally, whichever one we're looking at. We don't
see Africa as particularly anomalous amongst the opportunity set that's out
While these risks are often significant, Mr Goulder asserts that they
are not an insurmountable barrier to Australian trade and investment in most
There are always risks. It varies from country to country.
But with the right mitigations we feel that we can work in most countries in
The committee discussed sovereign risk with representatives from Windlab
who advised that they have taken steps to mitigate any adverse effects of
longer term sovereign risk. Windlab explained as follows:
We keep our maps pretty close to our chest. In the markets we
are operating in, we've already gone out and secured many of the best sites, if
not all the best sites, in those markets. We've acted early. We've put land
leases in place. We've got joint ventures with local governments, which I think
reduces that risk for us. The reality is that at some point we will have physical
spinning machinery in-country, and that is very much subject to sovereign risk.
Laying that risk off through development, finance institutions, bringing in
local partners to invest in our projects is really the only solution to that.
We're very much exposed longer term to sovereign risk.
The scope and focus of sovereign risk, particularly in terms of physical
security and intellectual property concerns, was also described as varying
across industries. Extractive industries were described by Mr Rob Fisher, Chief
Financial and Operating Officer, Windlab, as being more
commonly targeted than sectors such as renewable energy:
I think we're very conscious of sovereign risk as it's played
out for the mining companies because there is a nice parallel between what they
do and what we do. We tend to find that policymakers around the world don't
think of wind as a resource in the same way they think of gold or coal or
Security, conflict and instability
Security concerns were also identified as a barrier to trade and
investment with African countries. As outlined in DFAT's submission:
The 2017 Global Peace Index reported that Africa had become
less peaceful overall due to factors such as ethnic tensions and
election-related stability, increases in political terror, internal conflict,
and political instability. Six of the ten least peaceful countries in the world
are in Africa, and the World Bank considers that 18 sub-Saharan countries are
fragile and conflict-affected states.
DFAT noted that security is a concern for companies operating across
Africa and in particular, '[i]n more volatile locations, the threat of
terrorism (and of direct attack on facilities or employees) is a significant
deterrent, especially for smaller companies' and also advised that 'Australian
companies operating in Africa face the risk of staff being kidnapped'.
Dr Anthony Bergin and Ms Sofia Patel of the Australian Strategic Policy
Institute (ASPI) also highlighted concerns about security:
In order for trade and investment opportunities to flourish,
stable and secure systems of governance are required. Security threats
emanating from terrorism, organised crime, trafficking and piracy exist across
various regions and countries in Africa, particularly where Australia has
More than 35% of Australian mining projects are located in
countries in West Africa and the Sahel, as well as the Kenya and Tanzania,
where terrorism is of particular concern.
DFAT stated that '[l]ocally, these groups impact on security, and act as
a disincentive for investment, including for companies seeking to raise capital'.
Security risk as a barrier to entering African markets was also
highlighted by Mr Gordon Chakaodza, former Austrade Trade Commissioner in West
Africa. Mr Chakaodza explained that when leading a mining services mission
in Ghana and Burkina Faso in 2012, he observed a 'high interest and demand for
Australian technology and mining services, especially from tier one and tier
two mining companies'. Despite this level of interest, Mr Chakoaodza observed that sovereign risk will
impede new entrants in the West African market and incidents such as terrorist
attacks remind 'everyone about the volatility in the region'.
Further to this, Mr Chakoaodza submitted:
In February 2016, I facilitated a roundtable meeting at the
Mining Indaba Conference on security issues in West Africa. Australian mining
companies had firm ideas about mitigating security risk. I would encourage the
Australian Government to pursue some of the ideas that came out of this forum.
Security concerns were also highlighted by Grame Barty and Associates:
Africa has been and remains a difficult environment in which
to operate. We cannot ignore this or pretend it does not exist. As a
generalisation many countries within Africa lack sufficient skilled, local blue
collar and white collar talent, efficient infrastructure (power, transport,
logistics, and urban utilities in particular), enforceable rule of law and are
often beset by opaque business practices, bribery, corruption, facilitation
payments and lack of adherence to contractual agreements. Parts of Africa are
also experiencing increasingly high levels of terrorist and criminal activities
including theft of natural resources, kidnapping and home invasions.
In relation to addressing security challenges, Mr Fisher of Windlab advised
that their organisation recruits local people in their offices at different
locations to ensure they have a good understanding of 'local risks'.
Mr Fisher also noted that while government security advice is useful, it
is often not sufficiently targeted to business needs and areas, and must be
supplemented by privately sourced advice:
We go to some lengths to make sure that we have up-to-date
intelligence on the markets. When we send people out into the field, we take,
where necessary, security people with our staff. They were in Ethiopia last
year and had a convoy to help them get about the place. We're conscious of not
going to parts of Africa that are known trouble spots. We get political and
security information regularly through our insurers and through private
services. But it is a real risk operating in those countries. There are
dangerous places...We pay for a private security service to advise us on where we
should be going and where we shouldn't. I think DFAT is good at a high level.
We tend to need very specific information.
In its submission, ASPI observed that 'African nations have varied
levels of sophistication with their approaches to cyber security'. It was also noted that 'cyber security directly affects Australia's commercial
interests' and ASPI supports 'the idea of Australia developing a program to
enhance cyber resilience for Australian companies working in the extractive
The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR)
submitted that biosecurity threats 'present serious impediments to trade
between countries in Africa and trade between Africa with the rest of the
world'. To overcome these barriers, ACIAR developed the Australia–Africa Plant
Biosecurity Partnership (AAPBP) in 2014.
Professor Andrew Campbell, Chief Executive Officer, ACIAR explained that
the AAPBP has been a 'tremendously successful partnership' in addressing
biosecurity issues and has trained more than 50 people across 10 countries:
We trained them in diagnostics, risk analysis, emergency
response, what to do if you get an outbreak, surveillance, early warning
systems and management. We didn't just train them as a network in Africa but we
also exposed them to the key relevant expertise in Australia so that they would
know who to email or who to pick up the phone to call if they think they've got
That program's been so successful that DFAT and the
Department of Agriculture and Water Resources are now collaborating with us on
a similar version in the Pacific. We think it's greatly improved the capability
of those African countries to identify a potential outbreak, to improve the
early warning systems and then to respond in a more coordinated way, rather
than each country sort of doing its own thing on its own time frame. This has
been a really high return on investment.
DFAT identified inadequate infrastructure as a barrier:
Inadequate infrastructure adds to the cost of doing business
in Africa, and has led to the failure of major mining projects in the past.
Poor road and transport networks, intermittent power and inefficient ports are
common challenges across Africa. Technical barriers to trade and underdeveloped
logistics networks, such as onerous customs procedures and inefficient ports
act much in the same way as poor transport in adding to costs.
Mr Fisher, Windlab, explained the challenges their organisation has
experienced with respect to infrastructure:
The grids in countries are limited, old and frequently run by
state owned enterprises with little recent experience of new technologies and
no experience of integrating renewables into a grid, all of which Australians
have learned to do.
Mr Fisher noted that their organisation's experience responding to
challenges with renewable power generation in Australia 'will be useful to
African and other developing countries as they inevitably add renewables to
their grids'. This is discussed further in chapters 4 and 6.
The Australian context
Evidence to the inquiry highlighted that often Australian companies are
unable to break into African markets as they are unware of opportunities that
may be available, unsure how to develop business relationships and there is a
general lack of awareness and understanding about the commercial environment
and market opportunities in Africa.
Lack of awareness about Africa
Evidence to the committee suggested that in Australia there is a
'relatively low level of knowledge about Africa compared to knowledge about
other regions and peoples of the world'. Dr David Mickler explained that Africa receives limited exposure in Australia and
'what the majority of Australians do experience is through media reporting,
which is often focused on presenting 'negative' stories and narratives on war,
famine and disease'. This can create 'particular attitudes and approaches to Africa and Africans
(and African-Australians)' to the detriment of facilitating positive and
sustainable relationships with the countries of Africa.
Dr Mickler noted that if Australian traders and investors have a better
understanding of Africa, this will have flow on benefits for potential trade
and investment activities:
More specifically, greater awareness by potential Australian
traders and investors of Africa's highly diverse historical, socio-political,
cultural, economic, security, environmental, legal and regulatory contexts
would enable more reasoned decision-making on potential trade and investment
The Australian Business Chamber of Commerce (Southern Africa) (ABCSA)
advocated for a greater understanding of the 'African way of doing business':
Australian Government and businesses needed to understand the
'African way of doing business' which is different to how they may operate in
Australia. For example the Australian mining industry is capital intensive
(Fly-in-fly-out and high salaries), whereas the African mining industry is
labour intensive (lower wages, historical legacy issues). Many local
communities rely on a mine’s economic production model, and local communities
must be able to benefit from economic activity. Most businesses who operate in
this environment understand that this is the business model they need to adapt
to operate in the market. However, new entrants to the market may not be aware
of this and need to be appropriately advised that opportunities exist but they
may need to adapt their business model to local situations.
Perception and representation of
Africa in Australia
Concern was raised by some African Heads of Mission that the trade and
investment relationship between Australia and Africa was being affected by a
broadly negative perception of Africa by Australians, with His Excellency Mr
Nabil Lakhal, Ambassador of Tunisia saying that:
Australia, I think, needs to change its perception of Africa.
Africa is not this poor continent. Africa has changed, so there are more
For me, this logic of trade is not enough. Maybe you should
have a global vision about your relationship with Africa. Seeing Africa as a
market is not enough. Africa is many other things, many other opportunities, in
many fields, in many sectors. The opportunities exist. It's just, I think, like
my colleague said, you maybe need more ambition and more will to discover this
DFAT also mentioned this perception barrier in its submission:
[F]or a number of reasons including perceptions of risk and
lack of familiarity, Africa has not captured the attention of Australian
business in the same way as Asia. Australian commercial engagement with Africa
is below what might be expected from a G20 economy with global interests.
Africa presents a significant opportunity, with growth sectors related to
Australian capabilities, similar to South East Asia thirty years ago.
Media representation of Africa in Australia was identified as a
contributing factor in the generation of this negative perception, with Mr
Jemal Beker Abdula, Minister Counselor of the Embassy of Ethiopia, stating
How the media want to portray Africa's image to the public is
not a real one sometimes. They just look after the devastating things without a
focus on the opportunities for Africa. There are a lot of success stories that
we can share. That perception and the way we deal with the media I view as a
risk. So we have to balance. Balance is very important in a way that brings
people together to develop a relationship first.
Availability of information
Submissions and witnesses noted that there is currently an information
gap with respect to Australia's existing trade and investment in Africa which
represents a barrier to increasing trade and investment with Africa.
The Australia-Africa Minerals and Energy Group (AAMEG) submitted that there
is currently a lack of data available about the resources industry:
It is felt that a lack of in-depth understanding of the
extent to which the Australian resources industry has established an enviable
beachhead on the African continent has resulted in wide fluctuations in the
level of engagement and Government policy decisions that are not supported by
Oxfam reported a lack of data on Australian extractive industry company
presence in Africa:
[T]here is a lack of data on Australian EI company presence
in Africa, which is not only an impediment to the Australian Government
identifying ways to maximise trade opportunities, it is an indicator that
Australian EI companies are operating in a nontransparent environment, which is
conducive to corruption and human rights abuses.
The challenges with the availability of information was also
acknowledged by DFAT:
It is very difficult to get a clear sense of Australian
investment in Africa partly because recorded data is uncertain, some flows are
commercial-in-confidence and a number of countries are unreliable in their
AAMEG recommended that the Australian Government engage a data
collection service 'to collect data necessary to have a better appreciation and
understanding of the scope and depth of the Australia resource industry's
comparative advantage globally, and the scale of its involvement in the African
continent, compared with that in other parts of the world'.
Australia's diplomatic footprint
A number of submissions and witnesses identified the number of Australian
diplomatic missions in Africa as a barrier to establishing strong trade and
Dr Nikola Pijovic explained Australia's 'diplomatic deficit' as follows:
Australia is the third wealthiest G20 nation (in per capita
terms), yet it is tied with Mexico as the G20 nation with the least diplomatic
posts in Africa (both have 8). It is punching below its weight, and does not
have the diplomatic and trade coverage on the content to be able to offer
successful long-term promotion and support to Australian companies operating in
DFAT advised that currently Australia maintains diplomatic missions in
nine of the 54 countries of Africa, with honorary consuls in a further 13
countries. Austrade has offices in five countries.
Australia's diplomatic presence is not evenly distributed across the
African continent, however, with missions physically located primarily in
Commonwealth and anglophone countries. These missions are then given regional
accreditation, often for several countries spanning large geographic areas.
Additionally, a number of Australian missions in Europe are also accredited to
African countries. Madrid, Lisbon, Paris, Rome, and Ta'xbiex missions are
responsible for nine African countries.
The number and location of Australia's missions in Africa is discussed
in more detail in chapter 5.
Operational and logistical factors
The committee received evidence about some operational and logistical
factors that may also be barriers to trade and investment including travel logistics
such as flight availability, flight paths and Australian visa requirements.
Travel between Australia and Africa
The committee received evidence drawing attention to the challenges
posed by limited aviation connections to, and between, African countries.
Currently, there are only two direct routes between Australia and the
African mainland: Qantas operate a flight between Sydney and Johannesburg, and
South African Airways operate a flight between Perth and Johannesburg. Air
Mauritius also operates a route between Perth and Port Louis, Mauritius. Both Air Mauritius and South African Airways codeshare on Virgin Australia's
domestic services within Australia.
It was noted by DFAT at the 11 May hearing that Qantas had begun flights
on the Perth-Johannesburg route, however the committee notes the announcement in the media that plans to
commence operations have since been withdrawn.
The ABCSA suggested in their submission that:
Additional airlines and flights on the Perth-Johannesburg
route would introduce more competition and would benefit the tourism market.
An expansion of flights from Perth to other African
destinations such as Cape Town was suggested and would be of interest to
tourist and business travellers.
DFAT stated that the limited route network between Australia and Africa
was likely due to commercial viability of services:
One could argue that that those flights don't exist because
there is not enough demand.
We hope that, over time, as the trade and investment links
and people-to-people links continue to strengthen between Australia and the
African continent, those flights will increase in frequency and actually have
some competition in that space.
Air travel within Africa
The committee heard evidence that the relative lack of aviation
connectivity between African countries can make intra-African mobility a
challenge, posing a barrier to trade and investment.
Mr Goulder from Woodside Energy explained that travelling within Africa
can be challenging and time consuming:
I think the key piece of experience...actually having travelled
between countries which are next door to each other. That is actually extremely
difficult. In some instances you will go via Paris, believe it or not, to
change to the neighbouring city. It can be that ridiculous...It's not easy to get
between countries. That will make their hub-and-spoke approach far more
difficult than you might think geographically.
Mr Goulder drew particular attention to the challenges that this poses
for Australian heads of mission in Africa, who are often accredited to several
DFAT officials also provided an example of the challenges of internal
travel in Africa:
I visited Rabat and Abuja in January when I was heading the
division. To get from Rabat to Abuja I had to go back to London and fly down
again. So there is that problem in West Africa—sometimes the most
cost-effective and time-effective way of travelling is to go back into Europe...
An[other] example is that if they [Australian diplomats] are
in Abuja and want to fly to Niger, where they're accredited to, they usually
have to go out to Lagos, across to Togo and up to Niger.
In this context, DFAT explained that they take these travel challenges
into account when deciding on the location of new diplomatic posts and looking
On 28 January 2018, 23 African countries launched the Single African Air
Transport Market (SAATM). Modelled on the European Common Aviation Area, this
project, co-ordinated by the African Union, implements the 1999 Yamoussoukro
Decision which was endorsed by African Heads of State in July 2000. According
to the African Union:
The 1999 Yamoussoukro Decision provides for the full
liberalisation of intra-African air transport services in terms of market
access, the free exercise of first, second, third, fourth and fifth freedom
traffic rights for scheduled and freight air services by eligible airlines. It
removes restriction on ownership and provides for the full liberalisation of
frequencies, tariffs and capacity. It also provides eligibility criteria for
African community carriers, safety and security standards, mechanisms for fair
competition and dispute settlement as well as consumer protection.
It is anticipated that, if this project is implemented effectively, it
will enhance connectivity between African aviation markets that are currently
unconnected or under-connected.
Australian visa requirements
The ABCSA identified Australian visas as a barrier to trade and
investment between South Africa and Australia. South African business
representatives travelling to Australia are required to apply annually for a
visa. It was suggested that a 'multi-year visa would be more suitable for
business applicants' and this would be consistent with Canada, the UK and the
USA who already grant multi-year visas'. ABCSA reported feedback they received from business applicants that they would
be prepared to pay more for a multi-year visa because 'the travel convenience
is worth some additional cost'.
Furthermore, the ABCSA submitted:
It was noted that visas to Australia take too long to be
processed and that Australia is not competitive in this regard, and is likely
to be missing out on business and investment opportunities. This is especially
the case as business [travellers] cannot get visas in time to undertake
business activities in Australia at short notice.
It was noted that it was difficult to engage with Australian
immigration officers on visa processing questions as there was not a customer
service process to enable a simple discussion of visa issues, or progress of
visa applications, on the phone.
The ABCSA also raised concerns about the current application processes,
in particular the length of time, for student visas which present a barrier for
South African students wishing to undertake studies in Australia.
Furthermore, it was noted that visas for Australians are issued upon arrival in
High Commissioner Husseini, the High Commissioner for Nigeria also
highlighted some challenges that Nigerian officials have experienced with visa
...[T]here is a strict visa regime in Australia. The visa
regime gives us a challenge in knowing what is happening in Australia. Let me
give an example. My government approved a delegation to learn policy in
Australia...Out of the 10 delegates, only three were issued a visa. This was a
presidential committee approved by our president, but they were denied visas.
In a nutshell, there's a lot to learn or to benefit from in Africa. I would
like Australia to be open to us. They should shift their thinking from one
specific continent or area of Africa, because Africa, as my colleagues said, is
54 sovereign countries, and each country is important as it is.
DFAT acknowledged concerns with visa access in its submission noting:
Businesses are frustrated with the length of time required to
obtain visas (can be more than thirty days); with business advising that
Australia is not competitive with its peers such as the UK and Canada. Industry
notes that they expect Australia has missed out on business opportunities due
to the time delays and complexities in obtaining visas to undertake business in
Australia. Business also advises that the requirement to apply annually for a
business visa is not competitive with other countries that allow long-term visas
for 2-5 years. Business also advises that it is difficult to contact Australian
Immigration authorities to seek an update on progress of issuance of their visa
and to understand visa requirements.
DFAT also submitted that issuing business visas for Australian passport
holders to access some African countries can be time consuming, 'with unclear
and changing visa requirements'.
The committee raised the matter of the visa application process with
officials from DFAT at a public hearing who advised that visa policy and
processing is the responsibility of the Department of Home Affairs:
Of course, visas are dealt with by our Department of Home
Affairs colleagues, but our visa system is universal. Obviously, as part of the
visa processing, our Home Affairs colleagues will take into account risks
associated with the country that they're coming from and so forth. So, there
may be differences in processing time as a result of risk management, but,
otherwise, visas are pretty much a universal program.
Drawing on previous experience as an Australian Head of Mission in
Africa, Mr Matthew Neuhaus explained that 'because of issues dealing with
documents and so forth, particularly for new applicants, there has to be a lot
of due diligence taken' and the application process is consistent across all
Mr Neuhaus also observed that for frequent travellers, the visa
application process is not a major impediment but accepted that establishing
such activity may take some time:
The other thing I would say is that for frequent travellers,
frequent businessmen, it is possible to get multiple-entry visas, and they do
so, particularly from southern Africa, where I was. There was quite a lot of
interaction. Just to reinforce that point: while this is obviously a matter for
the Department of Home Affairs and for Immigration, for frequent travellers it
is not a major impediment. But, sometimes, establishing that activity may take
some time. Just given the nature of travel between Africa and Australia as
compared to between Europe and Australia or Asia and Australia, still at this
point of time it's just a real difference in volume and size.
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