2013 Investment Climate Statement - Gabon
Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Gabon is actively encouraging foreign investment across a range of sectors; however the time it takes for many new entrants to finalize deals can be an impediment to increased U.S. private sector participation in the country. Foreign firms are active in the country's three main sources of income and exports: petroleum, mining, and timber. The Gabonese government is taking a more pro-active role to ensure transparency within these extractive industries through the creation of public-private partnerships and proposed revised mining, oil, and forest codes. However, investors are still waiting for key reforms to be established in law and in practice. Several factors continue to constrain foreign investment in the extractive and non-extractive industries, including: limited capacity in terms of decision-making authority, the lack of a clearly-established and consistent process for companies to enter the market, high production costs, a small domestic market, rigid labor laws, limited and poor infrastructure (transportation, telecommunications, etc.), a cumbersome judicial system, and inconsistent application of customs regulations. Lack of transparency in administrative processes and lengthy bureaucratic delays, often without explanation, raise questions for companies about fair treatment and the sanctity of contracts. Gabon’s commercial ties with France remain very strong but the government is actively looking to diversify its sources by courting Asian and Anglophone investors.
Gabon is affiliated to the Organization for Business Law Harmonization in Africa (OHADA). Legislation allows foreign investors to choose freely from a wide selection of legal business structures, such as a private limited liability company or public limited liability company. The distinctions arise primarily from the minimum capital requirements and the conditions under which shares may be re-sold. Foreign investment in Gabon is subject to local law that is in many instances unsettled or unclear, and in certain cases Gabonese law may require local majority ownership of businesses. The state reserves the right to invest in the equity capital of ventures established in certain sectors (e.g., petroleum and mining). There are no known systemic practices by private firms to restrict foreign investment, participation, or control.
The 1998 investment code conforms to Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) investment regulations, providing the same rights to foreign companies operating in Gabon as to domestic firms. Businesses are protected from expropriation or nationalization without appropriate compensation, as determined by an independent third party. Certain sectors have specific investments codes, such as mining, forestry, petroleum, agriculture, and tourism, which encourage investment through customs and tax incentives. The government is in the process of updating several of these codes to improve transparency, increase the benefit to the Gabonese people, and attract foreign investment. Gabon has purportedly concluded the revision of its oil and mining codes but has not yet released the documents publically nor ratified it with the Senate. While the aim of the reformed oil and mining codes are to develop a more attractive regulatory framework to draw investors to Gabon’s extractive industries, the significant delay to publishing the codes may be slowing down foreign investment, especially in the oil sector. Note: several U.S. oil companies are trying to finalize exploration contracts with the government of Gabon. In one case, a major U.S. oil company has been negotiating for over 18 months. The Petroleum Minister has publically stated that no deals will be signed until the oil code is ratified. End Note.
In 2011 the Gabonese government created two entities to increase efficiency and foreign direct investment: The Investment and Export Promotion Agency (APIEX), which assists Gabonese companies to invest and promote their businesses overseas, and the Center of Enterprises Development (CDE), which provides a one-stop shop for companies to register on the domestic market. APIEX ramped up activities in 2012 culminating in a high-level investment promotion event in London targeted to UK companies headlined by Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba. While APIEX is very strong at promoting the Gabonese market, the agency is not yet functional at supporting interested investors in finalizing deals.
In theory, the President’s Cabinet reviews foreign investment contracts after ministerial-level negotiations are completed. However, there are instances in practice where the Presidency gets involved to push along stalled negotiations at the ministerial-level. The Presidency takes a very active role in meeting with investors and ensuring that investments are made in a strategic and coherent manner, in line with the government’s “Emerging Gabon” initiative. Note: this initiative focuses on sustainable development, services, and manufacturing. End Note. The lack of a standardized procedure for new entrants to negotiate deals with the government can lead to confusion and time-consuming negotiations. Moreover much of the decision-making functions are centralized among a few key Presidential advisors who are exceedingly busy and often traveling with the President. As a result new entrants find the process of finalizing deals time-consuming and at times difficult to navigate.
Priority sectors for the government are transportation, housing, public facilities, tourism, energy, education, health, ports, and other large infrastructure projects. Regarding infrastructure investments, U.S. engineering firm, Bechtel is providing technical expertise to Gabon’s National Infrastructure Agency (ANGT). ANGT’s mission is to build projects that add value, complete and inspect identified existing projects, and develop new projects within agreed schedules and budgets.
Although progress was made in several major international indices in 2011, Gabon fell back in several rankings in 2012. One potential explanation for this slide is a lack of notable progress on a number of transparency reforms in 2012, despite public pledges by the government.
TI Corruption Index
Heritage Economic Freedom
World Bank Doing Business
MCC Gov’t Effectiveness
MCC Rule of Law
MCC Control of Corruption
MCC Fiscal Policy
MCC Trade Policy
MCC Business Start Up
MCC Land Rights Access
Conversion and Transfer Policies
Gabon is a member of CEMAC and the Bank of Central African States (BEAC). The other members in these organizations are Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea, and Chad. Gabon’s currency is the franc of the Communaute Financiere Africaine (CFA). The CFA is convertible and tied to the euro; 1 euro equals 657 CFA and 1 dollar is roughly equivalent to 500 CFA.
Foreign investors have the option of opening local bank accounts in CFA, dollars, or euros. There is no difficulty obtaining foreign exchange, with the three main commercial banks providing currency exchange services at non-prohibitive rates. Under Gabonese law, documentation is required to substantiate the need for any foreign exchange over one million CFA (approximately USD $2,300).
There are no legal restrictions on converting or transferring funds associated with an investment, including the inflow or outflow of funds for remittances of investment capital, earnings, profits, etc. CEMAC regulations require banks to record and report the identity of customers engaging in transactions over US$10,000. Additionally, financial institutions must maintain records of large transactions for five years. CEMAC regulations do not stipulate a threshold amount for transactions to be reported. Under Gabonese law, however, documentation is required to substantiate the need for any foreign exchange over one million CFA (approximately US$2,300). Transfers within the CEMAC zone are not restricted.
In August 2008, the BVMAC (Bourse des Valeurs Mobilieres de L’Afrique Centrale), a Central African regional stock exchange created in 2003, was officially launched in Libreville. Overall authority for Gabon's exchange control system rests with the Department of Economic Control and External Finance within the Ministry of Economy. It currently operates using public financing from the government, with a value of 100 billion CFA (about US$200 million). In November 2009, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank's private sector lender, launched a US$43 million Central African bond which was listed on the Central African regional stock exchange in Libreville as well as the Douala Stock Exchange in Cameroon.
On average, the delay for remitting investment returns is between three and six months, depending on the type of contract that is signed. There is no limitation on inflow or outflows. An investor is authorized to remit on a legal parallel market so long as they justify the reasons for the transaction and respect the signed contract.
Expropriation and Compensation
Foreign firms established in Gabon operate on an equal basis with national companies. Under Gabonese law, business investments that are expropriated must first be compensated as determined by an independent third party. The Gabonese government has not exhibited any recent tendency to discriminate against U.S. investments, companies, or representatives in expropriation, nor have there been any indications or reports of incidences of "creeping expropriation," such as through confiscatory tax regimes.
There are no recent examples of property being expropriated. However, there is an example of a Chinese company being asked to renegotiate a mining permit. In June 2006, the government awarded the China National Machinery and Equipment Import and Export Corporation (CMEC) the permit for the Belinga iron ore mine. In 2011 the Gabonese government asked CMEC to come up with a new proposal for the Belinga project due to environmental and transparency concerns and lack of performance on existing elements of the project. In 2012 the Gabonese government decided to put the project on hold in order to complete a thorough year-long audit of the mine. A contract for exploitation of the mine is not moving forward until the audit is completed and next steps are decided.
In 2012 the Gabonese government continued audits of foreign oil companies. These audits, performed by U.S. firm Alex Stewart, are not favorably viewed by many oil companies, including French firms Perenco, Maurel & Prom, and Total. In some cases the government did not renew oil permits due to results of the audit. In November 2012 Chinese company Addax lost their rights to the Obangue field, one of their largest production permits. Furthermore, as a result of the Alex Stewart audit, the Gabonese government is pressuring Addax to pay back US$250 million. Addax has proposed paying US$50 million and is seeking legal counsel.
There is no general requirement for local participation in investments. Many businesses find it useful to have a local partner who can help navigate the subjective factors in the business environment.
There have been instances of disputes with U.S. firms, but most disputes are resolved before going to outside arbitration. Both settlements and monetary judgments are usually made in the currency on which the business contract was based, whether CFA or the foreign investor’s currency.
Gabon's legal system is based on the French model, with a written code of commercial law. Commercial disputes are handled by the regular court in compliance with the Organization for Business Law Harmonization in Africa (OHADA). The law is not consistently applied and delays are frequent in the judicial system. Lack of transparency in administrative processes and lengthy bureaucratic delays, often without explanation, raise questions for companies about fair treatment and the sanctity of contracts. Moreover judicial capacity is weak and many government contacts underscore the need for specialized training in technical issues such as money laundering and environmental crimes. Foreign court and international arbitration decisions are accepted, but enforcement may be difficult.
Gabon is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. However, Gabon has not adopted specific legislation to enforce awards resulting from ICSID or other international arbitral panel decisions. Gabon is also a party to the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), and the OHADA, which provides an International Court of Justice and Arbitration (CCJA) common to its 16 member countries for the settlement of conflicts related to business law implementation.
Performance Requirements and Incentives
There are no specific performance requirements imposed as a condition for establishing, maintaining, or expanding investment. There are no requirements for investors to buy local products, to export a certain percentage of output, or to invest in a specific geographical area. There is no blanket requirement that nationals own shares in foreign investments in Gabon, that the share of foreign equity be reduced over time, or that technology be transferred on certain terms. Nonetheless, many investors find it useful to have a local partner who can help navigate the subjective factors in the business environment.
Foreign investors must recruit and train Gabonese citizens to gradually take on their own responsibilities, particularly at the executive level. Accordingly, hiring foreigners is subject to prior authorization from the Ministry of Labor. The hiring company must provide evidence prior to employing a foreigner that there are no qualified Gabonese to fill the position. Foreign firms have stated that there is a lack of qualified Gabonese workers, requiring companies to often request authorization to hire foreigners. Non-Gabonese Africans find it increasingly difficult to obtain employment authorization; non-African expatriates have less difficulty. Chinese industry in Gabon historically imports its labor force and management. There is a law pending that would limit foreign workers to 10% of all sectors; the law has not yet been ratified. In the petroleum sector, the Gabonese labor union (ONEP) is particularly focused on ensuring that foreign workers only occupy 10% of the labor force and continually pressure the government to implement and enforce the law.
Gabon's main industries, petroleum, mining and timber, encourage investment through customs and tax incentives. For example, oil and mining companies are exempt from customs duty on imported working equipment. The government has attempted to promote tourism in the past with the Tourism Investment Code of 2000, which provides tax exemptions to foreign tourism investors during the first eight years of operation, tax-free imports, and other administrative incentives. The Gabonese authorities continue to work on developing the country’s ecotourism landscape and recently signed deals with some high-end hotel chains, including the high-end Aman Resorts Group of Singapore. To date ecotourism exists only on a small-scale and is very expensive. In 2011, the Ministry of Tourism implemented a classification of hotels and restaurants across the country in preparation for the 2012 African Cup of Nations (CAN), allocating stars to hotels and restaurants based on quality of service and conditions of the establishment.
President Ali Bongo Ondimba outlawed the export of unprocessed wood in 2009 in order to boost Gabon's capacity to enjoy more domestic benefits from one of its top exports. The government and Singaporean-based firm Olam have set up a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to process timber and other products. The SEZ provides several single-window business services to participants and provides new investors with beneficial fiscal incentives, including tax-free operation for ten years, no custom duties on imported machinery and parts, and 100% repatriation of funds. U.S. company Timberwolf has been negotiating with Olam and the Gabonese government for over 24 months to purchase a plot in the SEZ. Gabonese, French, Malaysian, Chinese, Indian, Singaporean, Cameroonian, and Ghanaian companies are all investing in the SEZ. According to a 2000 timber decree, companies can benefit from VAT suspension for imported materials used to build wood transformation factories. The forest code is currently being revised in order to simplify procedures for foreign companies investing in the SEZ to negotiate forest concessions.
Gabon’s agriculture code of 2008 gives tax and customs incentives to agricultural operators with a particular focus on small and medium-sized enterprises. Land which is used for agriculture and farm exploitation are exonerated of fiscal tax. All imported fertilizers and food for ranch exploitation are additionally exempt from custom duties.
As a member of CEMAC, Gabon's trade with other member countries (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, and Equatorial Guinea) is subject to low or no customs duties.
Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Any legal entity or person wishing to do business in Gabon must request prior permission from the Ministry of Economy. Foreign investors are largely treated in the same manner as their Gabonese counterparts with regard to the purchase of real estate, negotiation of licenses, and entering into commercial agreements.
Protection of Property Rights
Secured interest in property is recognized, and the recording system is fairly reliable. Under the 1998 investment code, no investment can be expropriated without prior just compensation as determined by an independent third party. As a member of CEMAC and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), Gabon adheres to the laws of the African Intellectual Property Office (OAPI). Based in Yaounde, Cameroon, OAPI aims to ensure the publication and protection of patent rights, encourage creativity and transfer of technology, and create favorable conditions for research. As a member of OAPI, Gabon acceded to a number of international agreements on patents and intellectual property, including the Paris Convention, the Berne Convention and the Convention Establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization. As a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Gabon is also a signatory of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). U.S. firms do not raise intellectual property rights concerns with the U.S. Embassy in Gabon.
Transparency of the Regulatory System
Government policies and laws often do not establish "clear rules of the game” and foreign firms can have difficulty navigating the bureaucracy. Efforts are being made to modernize and make the Gabonese government more efficient, but hurdles and red tape remain, especially at the lower and mid levels of the ministries. Lack of transparency in administrative processes and lengthy bureaucratic delays, often without explanation, raise questions for companies about fair treatment and the sanctity of contracts. Additionally, as a former French colony, Gabon maintains strong economic ties with France. Lack of French language skills can put American or non-Francophone firms at a disadvantage. Over time this should improve for Anglophone companies as Gabon announced in October 2012 that it will adopt English as its second official language.
Tax, environment, health, and safety laws and policies are transparent and consistent with international norms, and do not impede investment. Labor laws, on the other hand, are considered by many investors to be unusually weighted toward workers’ interests, which tend to impede investment.
There are no informal or non-governmental regulatory procedures in place. Proposed laws and regulations are not published in draft form for public comment.
Efficient Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
The Bank of the Central African States (BEAC), headquartered in Cameroon, regulates the banking system. Overall authority for Gabon's exchange control system rests with the Ministry of Budget. Gabon's banking system includes one development bank, the Gabonese Development Bank (BGD), and five commercial banks. The BGD normally lends to small and medium-sized companies. The International Gabonese and French Bank (BGFI) is the principal bank in Gabon and the first investment group in the CEMAC zone. Their total assets totaled over US$2 billion in 2010. There is one American bank (Citigroup) present in Gabon.
Commercial banks offer most corporate banking services, or can procure them from overseas. Local credit to the private sector is limited and expensive but available to both foreign and local investors on equal terms. The country's main economic actors, the oil companies, finance themselves outside Gabon. Commercial banks have transferred excess liquidity to correspondent banks outside the region.
The Central Africa Regional Stock Exchange (BVMAC) began operation in August 2008, but is still in its embryonic stage.
Competition from State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs)
Gabonese SOEs are managed by civil servants appointed by Gabonese authorities and work primarily in the energy, extractive industries, and social sectors. While private enterprises are allowed to compete with public enterprises under open market access conditions, SOEs often have a competitive advantage in the sectors in which they operate. This is because public enterprises may be granted priority over private enterprises, and typically private enterprises will pay more and wait longer for the same services and licenses. There are no specific laws or rules that offer preferential treatment to SOEs.
The budget of each SOE is prepared and submitted each year by the corresponding Ministry in each sector. Gabon has two type of SOEs - the Para-SOEs and the SOEs. The management of these two types of SOEs depends on the division of shares. There are no limits of participation of private enterprise. There is no statutory list or prohibited sectors to private investment.
Corporate governance of SOEs usually consists of a board of directors who are under the authority of the related Ministry. The members of the board are chosen by each Ministry. The board seats are allocated not specifically to government officials, and can be chosen from the general public. The SOEs often consult with their Ministry before undertaking any important business decisions. SOEs are audited each year by an independent audit. Usually the audit is done by well known international companies such as Price Waterhouse or Ernest and Young, according to international standards. Their reports are not publicized, but submitted to the related Ministry.
In December 2012, the Gabonese Budget Minister took action to increase control of the management of SOEs. This came as a result of an audit which showed mismanagement of funds. The audit uncovered abuses such as 80% of funds being used as overhead and considerable expenses on high salaries and luxury cars. The Budget Minister has decided to conduct an audit every quarter, rather than every year, to better control SOEs. Concerned SOEs will have to define their objectives and demonstrate how the funds are used before getting their next allocated funding. If the funds are not managed well and not allocated properly, the entities will be closed and those who managed the funds will face legal action.
In 2011, the Gabonese government created two SOEs: Gabon Oil Company (GOC) and Equatorial Mining Company (EMC) to build domestic capacity in the extractive industries and to introduce more transparency into these sectors. Both entities have been stood up by well-accomplished Gabonese expatriates experienced in the private sector. The GOC and EMC have not been visibly active in 2012 and extractive industries firms have struggled to determine their exact role in contract negotiations. In December 2012, GOC signed an exploration and production sharing agreement for an oil permit with the Gabonese Petroleum Ministry. Details of the agreement have not been shared publically.
Since 1998, Gabon maintained a reserve account at the BEAC to be used as a fund for future generations. In 2010, Gabon converted it to a Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) called the Sovereign Fund of the Gabonese Republic. The fund amounts to about US$10 million and is managed by a presidential decree. In 2011, Gabon set up a stimulus fund to carry funds for capital projects over into the next budget year to improve the oversight and quality of spending and release resources for growth-enhancing and social projects. The government reserves these funds for strategic projects in line with the “Emerging Gabon” economic agenda.
Corporate Social Responsibility
There is a general awareness of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) among both producers and consumers. Many international companies in Gabon are involved in CSR projects and continue to look for ways to contribute to Gabon’s social sector. The British/Dutch oil company Shell funds a foundation in southern Gabon which is undertaking conservation and biodiversity programs, and also invests in programs to fight the spread of HIV/AIDs. Total, a French oil company, continues to work on several CSR projects in Gabon in 2012, including renovating the Port Gentil airport and investing in the underground cable which will allow Gabon to increase internet speed and reduce costs. The government is actively encouraging CSR programs among foreign investors.
Violence related to politics is rare in Gabon. President Bongo Ondimba exercised extreme restraint when André Mba Obame, former Interior Minister and Secretary General of the opposition party Union Nationale, proclaimed himself President of Gabon in January 2011 in violation of the Constitution. Mba Obame named a government, held cabinet meetings, and occupied the headquarters of the United Nations Development Program for over one month. During this, his supporters were responsible for several outbreaks of violence that resulted in the death of a police officer and property destruction. The Union Nationale was dissolved for violating the Constitution and laws regulating political parties and Mba Obame was allowed to leave the country for medical treatment. The Gabonese government continued to exercise restraint upon the return of Mba Obame to Gabon in August 2012. An August 15 rally resulted in property destruction and one accidental death from tear gas, when party supporters clashed with security forces. However, subsequent rallies of Union Nationale and other opposition parties were conducted peacefully. Legislative elections were held without incident on December 17, 2011.
The government continues to take steps to identify and root out corruption in its own bureaucracies, contracting and procurement system, and in the security forces. The government has sought the technical expertise of international organizations and corporations, including the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the IFC, Olam, Bechtel, and Alex Stewart to audit procurement processes, make recommendations to enhance transparency, and advise on procedures to entice foreign investment. Gabon is aware of its existing capacity constraints and wants to ensure a sound, well-sequenced, and cost-efficient implementation of its plan. The government is seeking to implement anti-corruption measures and to change the way of doing business after former President Omar Bongo’s 40 year rule of patronage and non-transparent management of natural resources. While the Presidency is committed to doing business in a transparent way, U.S. firms do at times report difficulty in dealing with lower levels of various ministries and in finding responsive interlocutors with which to negotiate and finalize agreements.
Since his election in 2009, President Bongo Ondimba has launched a number of reforms aimed at reducing corruption, including cutting the size of the cabinet in half, demoting or stripping ministers of responsibilities when corruption allegations surfaced, arresting several high profile officials for corruption, conducting an audit of all government ministries to identify ghost workers, consolidating miscellaneous "slush" funds from ministries into the central treasury, and increasing oversight of government infrastructure projects. He is auditing the oil sector (though results have still not been published several years into the audit), and reshuffled his cabinet in February 2012 to drop corrupt ministers. The most notable changes in the new government were the removal of Foreign Minister Paul Toungui (who served in the government since 1990 and is the son-in-law of the President’s late father Omar Bongo Ondimba) and the creation of a super Ministry focused on investment promotion, public works, transport, housing, and tourism. The President named former Minister of Economy Magloire Ngambia, a trusted advisor, to this important portfolio. He also named a Deputy Minister to handle habitat issues.
The Commission to Combat Illicit Enrichment (CNLCEI), established in 2004 and charged with publishing quarterly and annual reports on its activities, has done little to increase transparency. Corruption is rarely if ever prosecuted in Gabon. Note: As previously stated, Transparency International’s 2012 Index ranked Gabon at 102, a slight decrease from the previous year. End Note. In 2011 CNLCEI had 100 cases of illicit enrichment whereas in 2012 they have identified 42 cases, but to date no one has been brought to trial. While the CNLCEI’s leadership maintains that they are making strong progress on corruption they do not release details of the corruption cases they are investigating.
Gabon is a participant in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), though it may not achieve compliance when the EITI Board meets in February 2013 as discussed more fully below. The EITI aims to provide more transparency in accounting for revenues from petroleum and mining industries. Gabon has been a candidate for the EITI since 2007. In June 2011, the EITI International Board took the decision to renew Gabon's EITI Candidate status for 18 months (until 9 December 2012). Gabon must complete an EITI Validation that demonstrates compliance with the 2011 edition of the EITI Rules. In November 2012, the Gabonese government announced the results for the 2007-2010 audits of the oil and mining sectors. For the 2009 and 2010 reports, the accounting gap was estimated between 1.5 and 2%. 2007 and 2008 reports presented a more significant gap. Gabon did not approve, publish and submit to the EITI Board a final EITI validation report by the deadline of 9 December 2012, an EITI compliance requirement.
As a BEAC country, the government of Gabon has a National Financial Investigations Agency (ANIF). ANIF serves to investigate domestic corruption and money laundering issues while maintaining contact and collaboration with its regional counterparts. In June 2012, Gabon joined the Egmont Group, an international network of Financial Intelligence Units. Gabon is a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Corruption.
No international or regional watchdog organizations operate in Gabon and local civil society lacks capacity to play a significant role in highlighting cases of corruption. However, during the past year, there has been a slight uptick in anti-corruption activities by civil society. Several local non-governmental organizations have targeted alleged corruption on the part of high-level government officials, including several Ministers.
Bilateral Investment Agreements
As of January 2013, the United States has no bilateral investment or taxation treaty with Gabon. However, BIT negotiations were re-launched in September 2012 and technical talks are scheduled for the first quarter of 2013. Gabon can take advantage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a framework for U.S. trade, investment and development policy for sub-Saharan Africa. Gabon has bilateral investment agreements with the following countries: Belgium, Luxembourg, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Lebanon, Mali, Morocco, Portugal, Sao Tome and Principe, South Africa, Spain and Turkey. There is a multilateral investment agreement among CEMAC member countries as well.
OPIC and Other Investment Insurance Programs
The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) is open to providing services to U.S. investors in Gabon and has done so in the past. Gabon is also a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), which guarantees foreign investment protection in cases of war, strife, disasters, or expropriation. MIGA is a branch of the World Bank Group. The U.S. Government's Export-Import Bank provides finance facilities to both the public and private sectors in Gabon.
Gabon’s currency is the franc of the Central African Communauté Financière Africaine (CFA), which is convertible and tied to the euro; 1 euro equals 657 CFA and 1 dollar equals approximately 500 CFA. (The Central African CFA is also used in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea and Chad.) We do not anticipate any inconvertibility problems for the CFA as long as the peg to the euro remains.
Gabon's population is approximately 1.4 million, of which as many as 25% are foreigners (mostly Africans from neighboring countries). Foreign firms report a shortage of highly skilled Gabonese labor. Chinese industry in particular imports the majority of its workers from China. Authorization from the Ministry of Labor is required in order to hire foreigners. Non-Gabonese Africans find it increasingly difficult to obtain employment authorization; non-African expatriates have less difficulty. Non-Gabonese Africans take up most positions requiring unskilled labor. Skilled labor costs are high and are kept so by a labor code inspired by a French model that strongly defends the rights of Gabonese workers. U.S. firms present in Gabon report challenging labor conditions. In 2012, at least two U.S. firms dealt with internal strike issues (one in the oil sector and one in the banking sector).
Labor unions and confederations are active. There is a law pending that would limit foreign workers to 10% of a company’s workforce, but the law has yet to be ratified. In particular, the Gabonese oil workers’ labor union (ONEP) is pressuring the government to implement the law quickly. At present, about 5,000 Gabonese are employed in the oil sector. To date, ONEP considers that none of their demands to the government have been met. The trade union recently informed the Gabonese government that they will not take any action prior to their February 2013 General Assembly. At that time however, a general strike is likely with the goal of increasing pressure on the Gabonese government to ratify the law.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports
The Gabonese government inaugurated a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) focused on wood transformation in September 2011 at Nkok near Libreville. The construction is a joint partnership between the government of Gabon and Olam, a Singapore-based corporation with interests in Gabonese timber, palm oil, and rubber. Olam has completed the infrastructure phase for the Nkok SEZ and are encouraging investors to begin building their manufacturing facilities Olam has plans to build two more SEZs: one in Port Gentil focused on chemical engineering and another in Franceville for agriculture products. All the SEZs will offer tax and customs incentives to attract foreign investors.
Foreign Direct Investment Statistics
According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Country Fact Sheet on Gabon, the total value of inward foreign direct investment (FDI) in place in Gabon in 2011 was US$2.5 billion (compared to US$1.8 billion in 2010). Annual direct investment into Gabon in 2011 was US$728 million (compared to US$531 million in 2010).
The UNCTAD Gabon Fact Sheet also indicates that the total value of Gabonese direct investment abroad in 2011 was US$750 million (compared to US$663 million in 2009.) Annual direct investment capital flow out of Gabon in 2011 was US$88 million (compared to US$81 million in 2010).
Most foreign investment comes from France and is concentrated in petroleum (Total) and manganese (COMILOG/ERAMET). According to the French Ministry of Economy/Commerce, France is the main supplier of goods to Gabon, and Gabon is the second largest recipient of French FDI in Africa. Most foreign investment (including that of the U.S.) is concentrated in the oil sector. Major foreign companies in Gabon include Total, Shell, Olam, Perenco, VAALCO, Bechtel, and COMILOG.
President Bongo Ondimba brought in U.S. engineering firm Bechtel in 2010 to manage Gabon’s infrastructure plans and the National Agency for Infrastructure (ANGT). The ANGT was set up to review and approve all government infrastructure projects to prevent individual ministers from taking bribes and to put a stop to white elephant projects inconsistent with the country’s strategy. ANGT also provides monitoring and oversight of projects from start to completion to ensure good quality, respect for regulations, and adherence to international tendering processes and standards.