2012 Investment Climate Statement - Mauritania
OPENESS TO FOREIGN INVESTMENT
Historically, Mauritania has been relatively open to foreign direct investment, with its wealth of attractive natural resources in the fishing, mining, and hydrocarbon sectors. The current government, elected in July 2009, has placed a priority on recruiting foreign investors to Mauritania in these and other industries. It is working closely with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the international donor community to advance basic infrastructure projects as well as to update laws and regulations. An anti-corruption campaign has also been launched, with some success, although Mauritanian courts have yet to resolve some high-profile cases.
The Investment Code is designed to encourage direct investment, facilitate administrative procedures, and enhance investment security. With the help of a United Nations consultant, Mauritania is in the process of redrafting the Investment Code to regulate foreign direct investment, which should offer a much greater degree of clarity regarding the legal framework. The update was expected in 2011, but is still awaiting approval by the Council of Ministers and Parliament.
Contracts are protected by the Civil and Commercial Codes, although court enforcement and dispute settlement can be difficult to obtain. The judicial system remains weak and is unpredictable and inefficient in its application of the law. Judges lack training and experience in commercial and financial law and are sometimes corrupt.
With the exception of sectors where public companies hold monopolies such as water and electricity distribution, Mauritania has no discriminatory policies against foreign investment, imports, or exports. The mining, fishing, agricultural, banking, petroleum, and technology sectors are actively seeking foreign direct investment. There are no limits to foreign ownership or control.
The Mauritanian government has historically practiced mandatory screening of foreign investments to ensure compliance with the country’s laws. Screening mechanisms are routine and non-discriminatory, and until recently were conducted through the Consolidated Office for Investment within the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Development, a “one-stop shop” also known in French as the “guichet unique,” for all sectors except petroleum, mining, and fishing. This office was dissolved in early 2011 and no replacement institution has yet been named. Nominally, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Development still performs the screening process. Investors have been required to obtain an Investment Certificate by presenting a proposal and all required documents to the Consolidated Office for Investment, which then selected and recommended investment projects to the Council of Ministers. In general, the Council of Ministers approved all projects recommended to it. The screening process typically took 30 days. The Investment Promotion Office, also closed in early 2011, was charged with implementing the regulations set forth in the current Investment Code, including those dealing with market liberalization and competition. No other office has taken over this function, however the responsibility continues to rest with the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Development.
Investors interested in the mining and petroleum or fishing sectors go directly to the Ministry of Ministry of Oil, Energy, and Mines or the Ministry of Fishing and Maritime Economy. Mauritania country continues to attract significant foreign direct investment in these sectors, which remain vital to the country’s economy. Screening mechanisms for these sectors are similar to other industries in that the Council of Ministers generally approves all recommended projects. Presentation of any foreign investment project to the Council of Ministers is considered a recommendation for approval of a project, which renders an appeals process unnecessary. There is little direct foreign investment by U.S. firms, but none have identified the screening process as unduly unpredictable or discriminatory.
Suppliers for large government contracts are selected through a tender process, which are publicly announced in local newspapers and government websites. After issuing an invitation for tenders, the Central Market Commission selects the offer that best fulfills government requirements. If two offers are considered equal, statutes require that the tender be awarded to the Mauritanian company. In practice, this may result in tenders being awarded to companies that have strong ties to government officials, regardless of the merits of an individual offer.
Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Mauritania 143 of 182 economies surveyed.
The Heritage Foundation’s 2011 Index of Economic Freedom survey ranked Mauritania 134 of 179 countries surveyed.
The 2011 World Bank Doing Business Report ranked Mauritania 162 out of 183 countries.
The data collected from third party sources to determine Mauritania’s 2011 Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) eligibility demonstrate that Mauritania is currently not qualified for an MCC compact agreement. In the 2012 MCC assessment, Mauritania received the following scores:
--MCC Government Effectiveness: 44%
--MCC Rule of Law: 54%
--MCC Control of Corruption: 64%
--MCC Fiscal Policy: 26%
--MCC Trade Policy: 55%
--MCC Regulatory Quality: 44%
--MCC Business Start Up: 55%
--MCC Land Rights Access: 48%
--MCC Natural Resource Management: 12%
CONVERSION AND TRANSFER POLICIES
There are no legal or policy restrictions on converting or transferring funds associated with investments. Investors are guaranteed the free transfer of convertible currencies at the legal market rate, subject to the availability of such currencies. Similarly, foreigners working in Mauritania are guaranteed the prompt transfer of their professional salaries. To transfer funds, investors are required to open a foreign exchange bank account in Mauritania. Transfers from abroad are not limited. There are no legal transaction limits for investors transferring money out of Mauritania, although regulations to undertake such transactions may be complicated.
The local currency, the ouguiya, is freely convertible within Mauritania, but its exportation is not legally authorized. Hard currencies can be easily found in local commercial banks. The Central Bank holds regular foreign exchange auctions, allowing market forces to fix the value of the ouguiya. Individuals and companies may obtain hard currency through commercial banks for the payment of purchases or the repatriation of dividends. If the bank has hard currency available, there is no delay in effect for remitting investment returns. However, if the bank does not have sufficient reserves, the hard currency must be obtained from the Central Bank in order to conduct the transfer. The Central Bank is required to prioritize government transfers, which could present further delays. Delays, although relatively uncommon, have been reported from one to three weeks.
There are no legal parallel markets in Mauritania that would allow investors to remit investments through other means. There is no limitation on the inflow or outflow of funds for remittances of profits, debt service, capital, capital gains, returns on intellectual property, or imported inputs.
EXPROPRIATION AND COMPENSATION
The current Investment Code ensures that if the government expropriates private property, it will provide appropriate and prompt compensation, exempt from duties and taxes. There are no recent cases of expropriation in Mauritania. Only one government expropriation has occurred since independence: the nationalization of the French mining company MIFERMA in November 1974. In that case, compensation was paid by mutual agreement between the two parties.
The only recent, large investment dispute between the Mauritanian government and a foreign investor occurred in 2006 with Woodside Petroleum Ltd. In 2003, Woodside signed four production-sharing contracts (PSC) with former President Taya’s government. A transitional government took power following the August 2005 coup. In February 2006, the successor government began a dispute with Woodside over four amendments to the original PSC involving oil revenues and environmental issues. An international arbiter was brought in and the dispute was settled when Woodside agreed to cancel the four amendments, pay $100 million, and set up an environmental fund.
Following the coup d’état of August 2008, some companies doing business in Mauritania or with the new Mauritanian government claimed their debts and contracts from the previous government were not honored. Some of these companies were told that contracts and agreements signed with the previous government were not recognized by the new government or were signed by parties without proper authority to enter into such agreements. The current government has settled these disputes.
The country has a Commercial Code, related civil laws and is signatory to many international agreements, but application and enforcement remain limited. Laws governing the financial sector need updating, and in general, the judicial system is weak. Settling a dispute through the courts remains a long and complicated process. Judges lack sufficient training and specialized experience in commercial and financial law. The judiciary is subject to influence and corruption from powerful political and business figures in Mauritania. Many laws and decrees related to the commercial and financial sectors are never published and are therefore not well understood. It can also be difficult to access laws and legal texts that have been published. Most judgments are not issued within prescribed time limits and are often not issued in writing. The country does have bankruptcy laws, although there are very few reported cases of these laws being applied.
Judgments of foreign courts are accepted by the local courts, but enforcement is limited. The government accepts binding international arbitration of investment disputes between foreign investors and government authorities. (There are also domestic mechanisms for arbitration, both through traditional religious institutions and through the courts.) Disputes between individuals or legal entities and the government related to the Investment Code are settled by an arbitration procedure to which both parties have agreed and is in accordance with the following agreements:
-- The 1965 Convention on the Settlement of Disputes Related to Investments Between States and Nationals of Other States, also known as the Washington Convention
-- The 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards
PERFORMANCE REQUIREMENTS AND INCENTIVES
Mauritania is in a transitional stage with respect to application of its World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments. It is currently negotiating with the WTO to ensure progress towards complete compliance, which may be a prolonged process. The government has offered tax benefits, including exemptions in some instances, to enterprises in priority sectors listed in its Investment Code. Under the Investment Code, investors are required to purchase from local sources if the good or service is available locally and is of the same quality as could be purchased abroad. There are some rules governing the percentage of host country nationals employed, but the government is flexible on this point. In hiring, foreign companies are allowed to recruit up to four (4) senior-level foreign employees. If skilled workers are not available for local hire, foreign employees may be recruited with a work authorization obtained from the Office of Labor within the Ministry of Labor, Professional Training and New Technologies. Industrial fishing crews are encouraged to have five Mauritanian crewmembers per vessel, but it is not a requirement. Foreign companies are required to transfer skills to local employees by providing free training for lower-skilled jobs. If imported “dumped” goods are deemed to be competing unfairly with a priority enterprise, the government will respond to industry requests for tariff surcharges, thus providing some potential protection from competition. Additional clarity in these procedures and exemptions should come with the publication of the new Investment Code.
Performance requirements are sometimes imposed as a condition for establishing, maintaining, or expanding an investment, or for access to tax and investment incentives, and foreign direct investors still report that government-sponsored tenders lack coherence and transparency. Investment incentives such as free land, deferred and reduced taxes and tax-free importation of materials and equipment are available to encourage foreign investors. The Investment Code outlines certain investment incentives, but foreign investors may negotiate others directly with the government. There is no requirement for investors to export a certain percentage of output or only have access to foreign exchange in relation to their exports.
As a matter of law, there are no discriminatory or excessively onerous visas, residence, or works permit requirements inhibiting foreign investors’ mobility. However, some U.S. companies have expressed frustration at the length of time required to obtain visas and their short duration. A single entry, one month visa may take up to three months at the Mauritanian Embassy in Washington D.C. and may not be renewed in country.
RIGHT TO PRIVATE OWNERSHIP AND ESTABLISHMENT
The Government of Mauritania guarantees any individual or legal entity wishing to undertake business activities in the country the freedom of establishment in accordance with the laws and regulations in force.
PROTECTION OF PROPERTY RIGHTS
Property rights are protected under the Mauritanian Civil Code, which is modeled on the French code. In practice, however, it can be difficult to gain redress for grievances through the courts. Mortgages exist and are extended by the commercial banks. There is a well-developed property registration system for land and real estate in most areas of the country, but land tenure issues in southern Mauritania, particularly the area along the Senegal River, are the subject of much controversy. For example, in October 2011, the rural communities around Boghe (located 300 km southeast of Nouakchott) denounced as expropriation the grant of 50,000 hectares by Mauritanian authorities to a Saudi Arabian company, Tabuk El Eziraya, a subsidiary of Errajihi Group. Investors should be fully aware of the history of the lands they are purchasing or renting, and should verify that the local partner has the proper authority to sell/rent large tracts of land in this area of Mauritania before agreeing to any deals.
The legal protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) is still a relatively new concept in Mauritania, and those seeking legal redress for IPR infringements will find very little historical record of cases or legal structures in place to support such claims. Mauritania is a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) and the African Organization of Intellectual Property (OAPI). In joining the latter, member states agree to honor intellectual property rights principles and to establish uniform procedures of implementation for the following international agreements: the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, the Hague Convention for the Registration of Designs and Industrial Models, the Lisbon Convention for the Protection and International Registration of Original Trade Names, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the Washington Treaty on Patents, and the Vienna Treaty on the Registration of Trade Names. Mauritania signed and ratified the WTO TRIPS (Trade Role on Intellectual Property and Service) agreement in 1994, but it has yet to implement it. The government also signed and ratified the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) treaties in 1976. It has not signed or ratified the WIPO Internet treaties.
TRANSPARENCY OF THE REGULATORY SYSTEM
In practice, ownership in many sectors of the economy is concentrated among a few families. They have significant monopolistic power, which is reinforced by formal and informal regulatory barriers. Tax rates on businesses in the formal sector are extremely high at 25% on profits and 2% on turnover, and procedures required to pay taxes are complicated and time consuming. Recent efforts to combat corruption have resulted in business faced with extraordinary tax bills that they previously could avoid through bribes paid to tax inspectors and assessors.
Labor laws and conditions of employment are complex. There are many limitations on hiring, duration of work, and dismissals. Likewise, potentially costly environmental and health and safety laws and policies exist, but remain largely unenforced.
While the government is moving to streamline bureaucratic procedures for investment, difficulties remain. There is a complex and often overlapping system of permits and licenses required to do business. While much improved, there continues to be a lack of transparency in the legal, regulatory, and accounting systems, which do not meet international norms. Proposed laws and regulations are supposed to be published in draft form for public comment before being sent to Parliament, but this does not always occur. There are no informal regulatory processes managed by nongovernmental organizations or private sector associations.
In 2011, the government promulgated two orders to regulate accounting practices of nongovernmental and private entities, which must now reliable financial management and submit periodic reports of financial transactions. All such entities must also have a local bank account with an identifiable account number and address. In practice, these orders have so far had little impact.
EFFICIENT CAPITAL MARKETS AND PORTFOLIO INVESTMENT
In principle, government policies encourage the free flow of financial resources and do not place restrictions on access by foreign investors. Most foreign investors, however, prefer external financing due to the high interest rates and procedural complexities that prevail locally. Credit is often difficult to obtain and dependent upon special relationships with bank owners and officials. Commercial bank loans are virtually the only type of credit instrument. There is no stock market or other public trading of shares in Mauritanian companies. Individual proprietors, family groups, and partnerships generally hold companies, and portfolio investment is accordingly quite limited.
The IMF has assisted Mauritania with the stabilization of the banking sector, and in recent years, access to domestic credit is easier and cheaper to obtain. Competition has contributed to the decline of the interest rates on loans from 30% at the beginning of the past decade to 11% or 12% in 2009, not including origination costs and other fees.
The country’s five largest banks are estimated to have $100 million in combined reserves; however, these figures cannot be independently verified, making an evaluation of the banking system’s strength impossible. The Central Bank of Mauritania is charged with regulating the Mauritanian banking industry, but it has exercised little power to demand information or compliance from the family owned banks. The Ministry of Finance mandates that the Central Bank perform yearly audits of Mauritanian banks, but auditors have sometimes been refused entry and access.
COMPETITION FROM STATE OWNED ENTERPRISES
State-owned enterprises in Mauritania are most active in the fields of mining, hydrocarbons, power generation, and public utilities. According to the Public Procurement Code, there are no formal barriers to competition with state-owned enterprises. However, informal barriers such as denial of access to credit may exist.
Hard budget constraints for state-owned enterprises are written into the Public Procurement Code, but not enforced. SOMELEC, the state owed electricity company, has been operating in a precarious situation for many years. The company relies on government subsidies to remain solvent. In December 2010, the French Development Agency allotted over $27 million to management reforms, including the power sector is expected to benefit.
Most state-owned enterprises in Mauritania have independent boards of directors. The directors are usually appointed based upon political affiliations, but typically, they are qualified for their positions. Mauritania is making progress in disclosing information in the oil sector and for the national hydrocarbon company (SMH), but the Mauritanian government does not disclose revenues and expenditures from its mining sector in its budgets.
Officially, there is a sovereign wealth fund administered by the Central Bank of Mauritania: the National Fund for Hydrocarbon Reserves. It was established in 2006 and is funded by revenues that the government receives from companies extracting oil, royalties and taxes that oil companies must pay in order to operate in Mauritania, and from the profits made through the fund's investment activities. The fund seeks to create macroeconomic stability by setting aside oil and gas revenues for developmental projects. However, the fund's management practices are considered less transparent than those of other sovereign wealth funds and the fund is being used to cover shortfalls in the national budget. In 2011, the International Monetary Fund recommended to the government that it establish a sovereign wealth fund for mining-related revenues, but by the end of the year, the government had not taken action to create such a fund.
State-owned enterprises are required by the Ministry of Finance to publish annual reports; however, this requirement is not enforced. The sovereign wealth fund publishes monthly reports through the Ministry of Finance; the most recent was issued in November 2011. While both state-owned enterprises and the sovereign wealth fund are required to submit their books to independent audit, the last available report from any entity dates to 2006.
CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
There is little awareness of corporate social responsibility in Mauritania, either on the part of producers or consumers. Certain state-run industries have been active in providing basic educational opportunities for the children of their employees, and scholarships for their employees to study abroad, but this is usually the extent of social responsibility initiatives. Companies in the mining and hydrocarbon industries send young Mauritanians overseas to complete their studies on scholarship programs; many of the scholarship recipients have family ties to powerful individuals in the companies. The larger fishing companies have recently started to provide more opportunities for qualified youth to study at the fishing and naval training school in Nouadhibou to prepare Mauritanians for careers in the fishing industry.
There have been two coups in Mauritania since 2005. Both were bloodless and non-violent. The most recent coup, which occurred August 6, 2008, removed Mauritania’s first democratically elected president from power, Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi. For the first time in Mauritania’s history, there was political opposition to a coup. The Dakar Accords paved the way for elections in July 2009, which were accepted internationally.
The governing majority coalition and several opposition parties engaged in a national dialogue in October 2011 in an effort to resolve the political impasse stemming from indefinitely postponed Senate, National Assembly, and municipal elections. A firm timetable for these elections has not yet been established, however they are expected to occur in the spring of 2012. Civic unrest associated with the controversial national registration program resulted in one death in a provincial city. Sporadic protests for other reasons occurred in Nouakchott and elsewhere frequently last year, but did not disrupt business activity.
There has been an increase in terrorist incidents in Mauritania by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in recent years, including the murder of an American citizen in Nouakchott in 2009, and kidnappings and murder of European citizens have occurred. Also, in 2009, there was a suicide bombing outside the French Embassy and another such attempt against a military base in the southeastern city of Nema in 2010. However, the Mauritanian government has remained firm in its efforts to counter terrorist threats. In February 2011, the Mauritanian military interdicted an attempted truck-bombing attack near Nouakchott, and in July and October 2011, successfully conducted operations against AQIM militants in neighboring Mali. Mauritanian authorities have also had success arresting and prosecuting terrorists. The Mauritanian judiciary convicted 33 Salafist terrorists in 2011, bringing total convictions to 140 since 2009. Mauritania has also successfully prosecuted and sentenced the terrorists involved in the murder of the American. The United States, France, NATO, and others provide assistance and training to Mauritania’s security forces.
President Aziz ran on an anti-corruption and populist platform and donor partners applauded the release of the first-ever Mauritanian anti-corruption strategy in November 2009. There have been a number of high-profile anti-corruption cases that have demonstrated an unprecedented commitment to fighting corruption in Mauritania. Although progress has been made, several high-profile cases are still unresolved in the courts. Laws and regulations that do exist are still not evenly and effectively enforced, largely because corruption has historically been so prevalent at every level of Mauritanian commerce and governmental affairs.
Corruption is an obstacle to foreign direct investment in Mauritania, but firms generally rate high taxes, access to credit, underdeveloped infrastructure, and a lack of skilled labor as greater impediments. Larger companies with more powerful connections are generally less affected by corruption than are small and medium enterprises. Corruption is most pervasive in government procurement, bank loans, fishing license attribution, land distribution, and tax payments. Giving or accepting a bribe is a criminal act punishable by two to ten years imprisonment and fines up to $700, there is little application of this law. Firms commonly pay bribes to obtain telephone, electricity, and water connections and construction permits more quickly.
Since assuming office, President Aziz embarked upon an ambitious, if not controversial, program to reduce privileges for government employees and to identify and punish those guilty of financial crimes. The current anti-corruption push began in November 2009 when the Bureau of Economic Crimes arrested the former governor of the Central Bank for alleged crimes committed between 2000-2001. His arrest was quickly followed by the arrest of the former deputy governor of the Central Bank and the launch of an investigation into the business practices of 12 other prominent businessmen and bankers. The former Central Bank governor is accused of laundering approximately $ 95 million over the course of two years, the equivalent of nearly 10 percent of Mauritania’s 2010 budget.
Mauritania’s Office of the Inspector General of the State handles financial investigations in the public sector. This agency, created in 2005, is under authority of the Prime Minister and has the authority to conduct investigations in all government offices and departments. From 2009 to 2011 there were nine investigations that resulted in the dismissal of senior governmental officers and managers of public institutions because of corruption or mismanagement. The ex-Director General of PROCAPEC, the government’s microfinance office, was sentenced to a $17,000 fine and 2 years imprisonment for misappropriation of public property. The Human Rights Commissioner, who is still awaiting trial, was relieved from his functions in August 2010 on grounds of mismanagement and ordered to reimburse $934,482. Mauritania has also reimbursed funds diverted under the previous administration from Global Fund programs intended to benefit those living with HIV/AIDS, and this important international organization has now resumed support to the country.
These most recent investigations highlight the degree to which corruption in both the public and private sectors continues to occur. While most people do not doubt that those accused engaged in corrupt practices, these investigations are controversial as opposition figures claim they are being conducted to settle political scores.
Despite the current push to fight corruption, wealthy business groups and government officials reportedly receive frequent favors from authorities, such as unauthorized exemption from taxes, special grants of land, and favorable treatment during bidding on government projects. Mauritanian and non-Mauritanian employees at every level and in every organization are believed to flout Mauritanian tax laws and filing requirements. The only exceptions are civil servants, whose income taxes are automatically deducted from their pay. Such widespread corruption has deprived the government of a significant source of revenue, weakening its capacity to provide necessary services. Recent efforts to increase tax collection have proven controversial as business owners have been faced for the first time with tax obligations that reflect the relatively high level of formal taxation in Mauritania. Even with record tax revenues announced in 2011, these efforts are criticized for their lack of procedural transparence.
There are several organizations that track corruption within Mauritania. Transparency International has a representative which reports on local corruption policies and events. Additionally, several local nongovernmental organizations recently worked with a representative from the United Nations and the Mauritanian government to draft a national action plan to fight corruption. Mauritania acceded to the UN Anticorruption Convention on October 25, 2006. The country is not a signatory to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery or any regional anti-corruption initiatives, and there is no requirement for companies to establish internal codes of conduct.
BILATERAL INVESTMENT AGREEMENTS
Mauritania has bilateral investment agreements and investment protection with member countries of the Arab Maghreb Union (Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia) as well as with Saudi Arabia, France, Belgium, and Romania. Other agreements exist with Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana, Mauritius, Italy, Lebanon, Qatar, Yemen, Korea, Egypt, and the Arab League. Mauritania has no bilateral investment or taxation treaties with the United States.
Mauritania is a signatory to the Cotonou Agreement between the European Union (EU) and the group of African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, and thus enjoys free access to the EU market. As a “least-developed country,” Mauritania also benefits from duty-free access to the European market under the Everything-But-Arms initiative. Since 1987, the government has signed four fisheries agreements with the European Union, the most recent covering the period August 2008 - July 2012. Mauritania has also entered into a significant new long-term fishing agreement with China.
OPIC AND OTHER INVESTMENT INSURANCE PROGRAMS
Mauritania currently qualifies for Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) coverage, but its program is limited. Potential investors should contact OPIC directly for guidance. Mauritania is a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), which protects foreign direct investment against political risk. A British-Mauritanian insurance company, Atlantic Londongate, offers broad commercial coverage. The Embassy purchases local currency at an official rate of 290 ouguiya per dollar. The ouguiya has been fairly stable over the last few years, but could devalue if there is further political or economic instability.
While labor is abundant, there is a shortage of skilled workers and well-trained technical and managerial personnel in most sectors of the economy. As a result, there are few sectors of the economy that use advanced technologies because the skilled labor required to operate them is not readily available. While labor is relatively inexpensive, labor productivity is very low, even compared to neighboring countries. The mining sector is an exception, where the national mining company (SNIM) provides advanced training for its employees. Additionally, responding to the dire need for human capacity development in Mauritania, representatives of several private sector contributors signed an agreement with the Minister of Oil, Energy and Mines establishing an $18 million fund for the construction of a mining school in Akjoujt.
Labor-management relations are generally good in Mauritania; however there has been a two-fold increase in the incidence of strikes in 2011. As companies, particularly in the mining industry, expand their operations and perceived profit margins, unions are increasingly trying to negotiate improved contract terms for their members. Mauritania is a signatory to the ILO conventions protecting worker rights. In October 2004, the government updated the Labor Code to conform to ILO Conventions 138 and 182. It organized a forum on labor laws and worked with UNICEF on a survey of child labor in two major cities, Nouakchott and Kiffa.
FOREIGN TRADE ZONES/FREE PORTS
There are no duty-free import zones in Mauritania. However, the Investment Code introduced a Duty-Free Points Regime to encourage exports. The following are eligible for the Duty-Free Points Regime:
--Production activities and provision of services intended exclusively for exportation.
-- Activities intended indirectly for exportation through the complete and exclusive sale of goods or services to enterprises, which export directly.
The Duty-Free Points consist of facilities where such activities are carried out. They are under the control of the Customs Administration. Companies whose activities fall under the Duty-Free Points Regime are exempt from export duties and taxes. Customs and import regulations are notoriously opaque and investors should actively research the regulations pertaining to any potential investment.
FOREIGN DIRECT INVESTMENT STATISTICS
The IMF reported $128.3 million of FDI in 2010 with an expectation of $588.7 million in 2011, thanks to a new large investment in the mining sector by the Canadian mining firm Kinross and the Swiss mining firm Xstrata. FDI is estimated at 14% of GDP.
The most recent and prominent foreign direct investments in Mauritania include:
Woodside Petroleum began off-shore oil production in February 2006 at 70,000 barrels per day (bpd), but production quickly dropped to less than 15,000 bpd due to technical problems in the oil field. After disappointing results, Woodside Petroleum sold its Mauritanian interest to Petronas in October 2007. Petronas, as well as several other oil companies, are actively involved in exploration. Current petroleum production is around 7,000 bpd. The French energy conglomerate Total is currently exploring for oil in the Taoudenni basin, the first on-shore oil exploration project in Mauritania. Total publicly claims that considerable quantities of petroleum and natural gas are available in this region, but there have been no extractions to date.
In the mining sector, there have been significant new investments in iron ore, gold, diamonds, copper, gypsum, and uranium. In November 2009, the Australian Hanson Westhouse Company (Forte Energy) announced the existence of important quantities of uranium in northern Mauritania. A contract has already been signed between Hanson Westhouse (Forte) and the French company AREVA for the transport of exploration equipment and the supervision of the operations. Hanson-Westhouse (Forte) has been exploring for uranium since 2003, but despite promising findings, they have yet to produce any uranium. It is expected that China Minmetals Corporation will be announcing in 2011 that they have purchased an iron ore mine in Mauritania after completing preliminary research during the past three years.
In November 2010, the Swiss Group Xstrata announced a $6 billion investment in the iron ore sector after purchasing 50.1% of the shares of the Australian firm Sphere. In August, 2010, the Canadian company Kinross purchased Red Back Mining for $ 7.1 billion, which gives Kinross the right to operate the Tasiast gold mine in Mauritania. Expected gold reserves in the Tasiast mine have been upwardly revised for each of the last three years, and the Tasiast mine is expected to be one of the largest gold mines in the world within the next two years.
Salene Fishing Mauritanie s.a., a South African company, announced plans to invest $120 million in the fishing industry. In 2010, a Chinese-backed project to finance a $300 million expansion of the Port of Nouakchott broke ground.
In December 2010, the Moroccan and French banks Attijariwafa Bank and Banque Populaire purchased 80% of the outstanding shares of BNP Paribas in Mauritania for $101.7 million. Attijariwafa Bank and Banque Populaire will hold 67% and 33% of BNP Paribas Mauritania’s capital respectively.
In December 2009, SNIM, the largest parastatal company in Mauritania, announced that it had successfully raised $710 million to finance the construction of the Guelb II iron ore concentrator project. SNIM signed a $610 million agreement with the Canadian firm SNC-Lavalin to undertake the engineering and construction of this project.
There have also been significant investments in the telecommunications sector, primarily from France, Morocco, Tunisia and Sudan. Investors, primarily from the Gulf region, continue to promise major new investments in Mauritania. Some of these include housing and hotels, roads, railways, a new airport, a new oil refinery, and an expansion of the Port of Nouakchott. Investment in Mauritania has often been hampered by the lack of infrastructure, most notably water, electricity, and transportation. The current government and donor partners are making infrastructure improvements by increasing power generation, water supply and the construction of paved roads.