Mauritania

Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
Report
July 5, 2016

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Executive SummaryShare    

Mauritania is in northwestern Africa. Historically, Mauritania has been relatively open to foreign direct investment, especially in the mining, hydrocarbon, and fishing sectors. In June 2012, to encourage further investment, the government updated provisions in the Investment Code to enhance the security of investments and facilitate administrative procedures. The Code provides for free repatriation of foreign capital and wages for foreign employees. Despite Mauritania’s open policy towards foreign direct investment, certain jobs in key sectors, such as security and fisheries, must be filled by Mauritanian nationals.

The Civil and Commercial Codes include legislation that protects contracts, although court enforcement and dispute settlement are often challenging. The judicial system remains weak, unpredictable, and inefficient in its application of the law. Judges lack training and specialized experience in commercial and financial law. Familial, political and tribal considerations too often trump commercial law in judicial decision-making.

The tax system remains opaque. Over the last two years the rate of tax collection has increased, although in a targeted manner. Tax rates on businesses start at 25 percent on profits and two percent on revenue; moreover, procedures required to pay taxes lack transparency and are time-consuming. Some businesses have faced retaliatory tax bills when they sought in good faith to follow provisions of the law. As the external economic shock from the steep drop in commodity prices has been more persistent than originally foreseen, authorities have begun to adjust their policies in 2015, soliciting more revenues from the private sector to bail out government owned enterprises by adopting even stricter measures to increase tax revenues

Labor laws and conditions of employment are complex, encouraging annual labor contracts over permanent employment. Terms of employment limit companies’ ability to hire and dismiss employees freely. Likewise, environmental, health, and safety laws and policies exist on paper, but are costly to implement and rarely or inconsistently enforced.

Although legally outlawed, de facto slavery continues to exist in Mauritania, particularly in domestic situations and in rural and agricultural settings. In 2015 Mauritania adopted an improved anti-slavery law that more clearly defines the practice and raises the penalties for those convicted. Foreign investors should be aware that it is not uncommon for local suppliers or contractors to engage slave labor.

Corruption remains a concern. During the July 2009 presidential election, President Aziz launched an anti-corruption campaign. In 2014 it was renewed and has resulted in the imprisonment of several officials and business leaders. Though corruption remains a strong concern, companies generally cite high taxes, insufficient access to credit, underdeveloped infrastructure, and a lack of skilled labor as the main impediments when investing in Mauritania.

The overall investment climate in Mauritania remains challenging for U.S. and other foreign investors. The Mauritanian government encourages foreign direct investment, but a weak judicial system, opaque tax laws, complicated labor laws, a fragile political system, underdeveloped infrastructure, and lack of skilled labor should all be considered before investing.

Table 1

Measure

Year

Index or Rank

Website Address

TI Corruption Perceptions index

2014

124 of 175

transparency.org/cpi2014/results

World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business”

2015

176 of 189

doingbusiness.org/rankings

Global Innovation Index

2015

N/A

globalinnovationindex.org/content/page/data-analysis

U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions)

2008

USD -3

BEA/Host government

World Bank GNI per capita

2014

USD 1,060

data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

Millennium Challenge Corporation Country Scorecard

The Millennium Challenge Corporation, a U.S. Government entity charged with delivering development grants to countries that have demonstrated a commitment to reform, produced scorecards for countries with a per capita gross national income (GNI) of $4,125 or less. A list of countries/economies with MCC scorecards and links to those scorecards is available here: http://www.mcc.gov/pages/selection/scorecards. Details on each of the MCC’s indicators and a guide to reading the scorecards are available here: http://www.mcc.gov/pages/docs/doc/report-guide-to-the-indicators-and-the-selection-process-fy-2015.

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign InvestmentShare    

Attitude toward Foreign Direct Investment

High level government officials in Mauritania tend to explicitly express their ambition to improve the business climate in order to attract more foreign direct investment (FDI). Local businesses frequently express interest in representing U.S. companies and the number doing so is growing. There is no law prohibiting or limiting foreign investment, which can target any sector of the economy. There are no laws or regulations specifically authorizing private firms to adopt articles of incorporation or association which limit or prohibit foreign investment, participation, or control. There are no other practices by private firms to restrict foreign investment. Historically, Mauritania has been relatively open to FDI, especially in the fishing, mining, and hydrocarbon sectors. The current government, first elected in July 2009 and then re-elected in June 2014, has prioritized recruiting foreign investment in these sectors. It is working closely with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the international donor community to improve basic infrastructure and to update laws and regulations. Worldwide indices have consistently ranked Mauritania among the most corrupt business environments over the past several years, however.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The latest investment policy review occurred in February 2008, when the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) published an investment policy review of Mauritania. The Review is available online, in French, at: http://unctad.org/en/Docs/iteipc20085_fr.pdf. The report recommends that the Government of Mauritania: diversify the economy; better realize its investment potential through increasing revenue generated by the exploitation of natural resources; accelerate required reforms; and enhance the business and investment climate. Additional recommendations included improving the regulatory framework by adopting a new investment code strengthening institutions responsible for promoting and monitoring investment; improving the quality and quantity of information about investment; and fostering competition. In 2012, the government adopted a revised Investment Code and created the Office of Promotion of the Private Sector (OPPS) to promote and monitor investment. Although the OPPS opened in 2012, it has not had the positive impact the government had hoped, and appears to be largely inactive.

In 2011, Mauritania underwent a World Trade Organization (WTO) trade policy review. The report is available online at http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp350_e.htm. The report states that, since 2002, the government has undertaken few reforms in the areas of customs, trade, or investment regulations. The report also highlights lack of transparency as a deficiency. Since the report was published, the government passed the revised Investment Code in June 2012 to improve transparency in the government procurement process.

Laws/Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The Investment Code, last updated in June 2012, was designed to encourage direct investment, by enhancing the security of investments and facilitating administrative procedures. The code provides for free repatriation of foreign capital and wages for foreign employees. The code also created free points of importation and export incentives. Small and medium enterprises (SME), which register through OPPS, do not pay corporate taxes or customs duties. The Code also created Special Economic Zones to encourage regional development. Separately, the Nouadhibou Free Zone was created with its own regulatory scheme more favorable to foreign investment. The Civil and Commercial Codes protect contracts, although court enforcement and dispute settlement can be difficult.

Business Registration

New companies to the Mauritanian market are required to register with a notary office. There are several notaries who specialize in the creation of new companies. The Government of Mauritania practices mandatory screening of foreign investment. These screening mechanisms are routine and non-discriminatory and done through OPPS’ Guichet Unique for all sectors except the petroleum and mining sectors, which require approval from the cabinet meeting. Prospective investors are required to obtain an Investment Certificate by presenting their proposal and all required documents to the Guichet Unique. The office of the Guichet Unique is the country investment promotion agency that is set to facilitate foreign investment. It takes up to 10 days to register a business in Mauritania.

Industrial Promotion

Investors interested in energy, mining, petroleum, or fishing negotiate investment certificates directly with the Ministry of Oil, Energy, and Mines or the Ministry of Fishing and Maritime Economy. Mauritania continues to attract significant foreign direct investment in these sectors, but all have experienced a decline following the fall in commodity prices, including the price of oil, iron ore, and gold in 2014. In 2015, Mauritania renewed its four-year fisheries agreement with the European Union (EU) after a year-long lapse. Despite the economic downturn, energy, mining, petroleum, and fishing remain vital to the country’s economy. Final approval of projects falls within the purview of the Council of Ministers, which has, in practice, usually approved all recommended projects. No U.S. firms have identified the screening process as unduly unpredictable or discriminatory; however, as of April 2016, all U.S. companies investing in Mauritania have negotiated directly with relevant ministries; no U.S. firms have gone through the OPPS process, which has remained largely inactive since its creation due to staffing vacancies and the exclusion from its purview of the oil, mining, and energy sectors.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Mauritania has no discriminatory policies against foreign investment, imports, or exports. The mining, fishing, agricultural, banking, petroleum, and technology sectors actively seek foreign direct investment. There are no laws or regulations which limit or prohibit foreign investment, participation, or control. There are no other practices by private firms to restrict foreign investment.

Privatization Program

Not applicable.

Screening of FDI

The Mauritanian government has in place a mandatory screening of foreign investments to ensure compliance with the country’s laws. In general, such scrutiny is applied in a routine and non-discriminatory manner. The June 2012 update to the Investment Code established the Office of Promotion of the Private Sector (OPPS) in the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Development (MAED) to replace the MAED’s Consolidated Office for Investment. OPPS has three sections: the Office for the Promotion of Private Investment and International Cooperation; the Guichet Unique, a one-stop shop to screen potential investments for all sectors except petroleum, mining, and fishing; and the Office of Investment Development and Promotion of Environmental Affairs. However, due to the OPPS’s location outside the MAED and staffing vacancies, the OPPS has remained largely inactive.

The revised Investment Code requires investors to apply for an investment certificate at the Guichet Unique. The Guichet Unique has ten days to notify the applicant of its decision. If the applicant has not received a response within 10 days, the certificate is considered granted. The OPPS became functional in early 2013. However, many of the largest sectors of the economy, including mining, oil, and energy, are excluded from the revised Investment Code, as separate legislation regulates these industries. The updated Investment Code and OPPS cover the areas of fishing, tourism, and agriculture. Cases involving fishing companies must apply for licenses through the Ministry of Fishing and Maritime Economy.

Competition Law

Suppliers for large government contracts are selected through a tender process. Invitations for tenders are publicly announced in local newspapers and on government websites. After issuing an invitation for tenders, the Central Market Commission, a commission created in each Ministry under the 2012 Investment Code, selects the offer that best fulfills government requirements. If two offers—one from a foreign company and one from a Mauritanian company—are otherwise considered equal, statutes require that the government award the tender to the Mauritanian company. In practice, this has resulted in tenders being awarded to companies that have strong ties to government officials and tribal leaders, regardless of the merits of an individual offer. Preferential treatment remains common in government procurement, despite the government’s recent efforts to promote transparency in the public sector. Government officials and tribal leaders reportedly receive frequent favors, such as unauthorized exemption from taxes, fishing licenses, special grants of land, and favorable treatment during bidding on government projects.

2. Conversion and Transfer PoliciesShare    

Foreign Exchange

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. There are no maximum legal transaction limits for investors transferring money into or out of Mauritania, although regulations to withdraw money may be complicated.

The local currency, the ouguiya, is freely convertible within Mauritania, but its exportation is not legally authorized. Hard currencies can be obtained from local commercial banks, provided the banks have the requested sum on hand. 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 of one to three weeks, although relatively uncommon, have been reported. Since last year the national currency depreciated against hard currencies by 10%.

Remittance Policies

There are no legal parallel markets in Mauritania that would allow investors to remit investments through other means. There is no limit on the inflow or outflow of funds for remittances of profits, debt service, capital, capital gains, returns on intellectual property, or imported inputs.

3. Expropriation and CompensationShare    

The revised Investment Code provides more property guarantees and protection. The Code protects private companies against nationalization, expropriation, and requisition. However, if a foreign enterprise is facing difficulties, the Mauritanian government can propose an expropriation plan in order for the company to avoid bankruptcy and to protect jobs of local employees, with fair and equitable compensation, which is exempt from duties and taxes (per Article 4 and 5.1.c.)

The only known case of expropriation since Mauritania’s independence in 1960 was the nationalization of the French mining company MIFERMA in November 1974, the largest employer and hard currency earner in the country. In that case, the two parties agreed on a compensation plan.

In 2003, the Mauritanian government annulled a major contract with a British company for petroleum supplies and management of storage and refining facilities in Nouadhibou. In this case, the two parties negotiated a mutually agreed upon settlement and the Government provided compensation to the British company.

The Mauritanian government guarantees companies that the tax, custom, and legal regulations in force at the time of issuance of an Investment Certificate will remain applicable to them for a period of 20 years. Likewise any favorable changes to the corporate tax or customs laws during that guaranteed period of time will be applied to the investor.

4. Dispute SettlementShare    

Legal System, Specialized Courts, Judicial Independence, Judgments of Foreign Courts

The Mauritanian judicial system combines French and Islamic (Malikite rite) legal traditions. The constitution guarantees the independence of the judiciary in theory (Article 89), and an organic law also protects judges from undue influence. Civil and Commercial Codes are designed to protect contracts, although court enforcement and dispute settlement can be difficult. The judicial system remains weak and unpredictable in its application of the law, due in part to the training judges receive in two separate and distinct legal systems; Shari’a law and the second modeled after the French legal system. Judges remain undercompensated and susceptible to family/tribal pressures and bribery Specialized commercial law courts exist, but there is no separate judicial circuit that specializes in intellectual property rights. Judges lack training and experience in commercial and financial law. Some judges may only have formal training in the Shari’a legal system while others are only familiar with the French civil law system. A lack of standardization of applicable legal knowledge in the judiciary leads to inefficiency in the execution of judgments. Furthermore, the judiciary has been known to be subject to undue influence from tribal affiliations, as well as corruption from political and business figures.

Many laws and decrees related to the commercial and financial sectors are not readily available and therefore not well understood. Access to laws and legal texts that have been published can be equally challenging. Other laws, in particular some governing the financial sector, are out of date. Most judgments are not issued within prescribed time limits and records are not always well kept. Judgments of foreign courts are recognized by local courts, but enforcement is limited. During the last several years, the Government has taken steps to provide training to judges and lawyers as an attempt to professionalize the system. Settling a dispute through the courts remains a long and complicated process. Inadequate laws and poor administration remain the key source of legal disputes encountered in the country.

Bankruptcy

The country has bankruptcy laws which carry the potential for criminal penalties. In 2015, a national bank “Maurisbank’s” authorization was revoked by the Central Bank after it announced bankruptcy. The director was arrested, and all holdings by bank customers were returned by the Central Bank in a manner deemed fair and just. Mauritania’s bankruptcy laws were last updated in 2001. The bankruptcy law allows for the reorganization or restructuring of a business. There are very few reported cases of these laws being applied. In the “Resolving Insolvency” category in the World Bank’s, 2015 Doing Business Report, Mauritania comes in with the lowest ranking at 189 out of 189 countries.

Investment Disputes

The largest recent investment dispute between the Mauritanian government and a foreign investor occurred in 2006 over production-sharing contracts (PSC) signedin 2003 with former President Taya’s government. A successor government lodged a dispute over four amendments to the original PSC involving oil revenues and environmental issues. An international arbiter was brought in and ruled in the government’s favor.

In 2014, another international services company stopped its activities, claiming the government had not made payments per its contract. As of April 2016, the issue had not been resolved.

International Arbitration

Judgments of foreign courts are not consistently applied. The government accepts international arbitration of investment disputes between foreign investors and government authorities. Judgments of foreign courts are accepted by the local courts, but enforcement is limited. There are also domestic mechanisms for arbitration, both through traditional religious institutions and through the courts. The revised Investment Code anticipates a local International Chamber of Mediation and Arbitration of Mauritania (ICMAM) to be housed at the Chamber of Commerce, although as of April 2016, the ICMAM is awaiting approval from the Mauritanian Chamber of Commerce and the Ministry of Justice. Previously, issues were referred to the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), of which Mauritania became a contracting state in 1965.

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

In 1997, Mauritania became a signatory to the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention). However, there is no specific legislation to ensure enforcement.

Duration of Dispute Resolution – Local Courts

Depending on the case, dispute settlement resolution in local courts can take years. The duration of investment disputes are subject to numerous appeals before reaching a final verdict. Though the government is looking for ways to streamline the system by providing training to judges and lawyers, the court procedures are currently long and complicated. Enforcement of enacted laws remains limited due to scarce resources and the limited power of judges to independently enforce the law.

5. Performance Requirements and Investment IncentivesShare    

WTO/TRIMS

Mauritania has been a member of World Trade Organization (WTO) since May 31, 1995. Mauritania is in a transitional stage regarding its commitments. It is currently actively engaging the WTO to ensure progress is being made towards complete compliance with the required commitments. In an attempt to promote local production, the government, has increased tariffs to reduce the competitiveness of foreign staples.

Investment Incentives

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 government has offered tax benefits, including exemptions in some instances, to enterprises in Special Economic Zones and some companies in priority sectors throughout the country. The Investment Code outlines standard investment incentives, but foreign investors may negotiate others directly with the government.

Research and Development

Not applicable.

Performance Requirements

The government has been known to impose performance requirements as a condition for establishing, maintaining, or expanding an investment, or for access to tax and investment incentives. Foreign investors consistently report that government-sponsored requests for tenders lack coherence and transparency. The revised Investment Code requires investors to purchase from local sources if the good or service is available locally and is of the same quality and price as could be purchased abroad. There is no requirement for investors to export a certain percentage of output or have access to foreign exchange only in relation to their exports. 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.

Companies may employ expatriate staff in no more than 10 percent of key managerial staff positions, in accordance with the Labor Code and are required to have a plan in place to “Mauritanize” the expatriate staff positions. Expatriate staff may be hired in excess of 10 percent with authorization from the appropriate industry authority by establishing that no competent Mauritanian national is available for the vacancy. Foreign companies are required to transfer skills to local employees by providing free training for lower-skilled jobs. However this does not apply to companies operating within the Nouadhibou Free Trade Zone Authority.

Expatriate staff members working for companies in accordance with the Labor Code are eligible to import, free of customs duties and taxes, their personal belongings and one passenger vehicle per household, under the regime of exceptional temporary admission (Admission Temporaire Exceptionelle, or ATE). All sales, transfers, or withdrawals are subject to permission of customs officials.

Current immigration laws do not discriminate nor are they considered to apply excessively onerous visa, residence, or work permit requirements inhibiting foreign investors’ mobility. However, some U.S. companies have expressed frustration with the difficulty in obtaining visas and residency permits and procedures and validity can change with little or no notice or explanation. A visa from the Mauritanian Embassy may take up to three months to be issued. Length of validity and number of entries are inconsistently accorded.

Data Storage

The Mauritanian government does not have any requirements or a mechanism that requires foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to surveillance.

6. Protection of Property RightsShare    

Real Property

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 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 January 2014, rural communities around Boghé (300 kilometers southeast of Nouakchott) denounced as expropriation the signing of an agreement with the Saudi Arabian Al Rajhi Bank that grants permission for the Bank to cultivate 31,000 hectares in Brakna and Trarza provinces. 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 – particularly in this region – before agreeing to any deals. In 2015, the Ministry of Economy and Finance established a computerized system to provide more transparent land allocation. All information regarding the property titles is available at the Land Registry Agency housed at the Ministry of Habitat, including information related to mortgages and other tax related matters. The Land Registry Agency performs due diligence prior to making the final title transfer. To register a property, owners only need to have their notarized sale agreement along with the title certificate.

Intellectual Property Rights

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. Though the government is in the process of launching reforms related to property, product certification and accreditation bodies to protect IPR remains fragile. The Agency for Consumer Protection, housed at the Ministry of Commerce, is in charge of quality control and the prevention of sales of counterfeit goods in local markets; but its capabilities to track and enforce its regulations are very constrained.

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/.

Resources for Rights Holders

Leslie Johnson or Samba Diallo
Economic Officer & Economic Specialist
(222) 4525-2660, ext. 4404
NouakchottEconComm@state.gov

Local List of Attorneys: http://mauritania.usembassy.gov/lawyersinmauritania.html

7. Transparency of the Regulatory SystemShare    

The government has adopted laws that have furthered transparency during recent years. In 2016, the government approved a new anti-corruption bill, which aims to introduce the provisions of the UN Convention Against Corruption in the Mauritanian judicial system so that it is consistent with international standards. In 1999, the government created a regulatory authority that is charged with overseeing the privatization process and ensuring that transparent policies and laws are used to foster competition through the bidding process. There is no law or policy in place that impedes foreign investment in Mauritania. In practice, ownership in many sectors of the economy is concentrated among a few families. They have significant oligopolistic power, which is reinforced by formal and informal regulatory barriers. Tax rates on businesses in the formal sector are complicated, and begin at 25 percent on profits and two percent on revenue. Procedures required to pay taxes lack transparency and are and time-consuming. Recent efforts to combat corruption have resulted in businesses being faced with extraordinary tax bills.

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. In the “Ease of Starting a Business” portion of the World Bank’s 2015 Doing Business profile, Mauritania ranked 176 out of 189 countries. 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 and laws and regulations do not discriminate against foreign investment.

In 2011, the government promulgated two orders to regulate accounting practices of nongovernmental and private entities, which must now have reputable 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. As of 2016, these orders are only inconsistently followed by the entities and enforced by the government.

8. Efficient Capital Markets and Portfolio InvestmentShare    

In accordance with Article 3.1 of the Investment Code, 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 laws and regulations. Private entities, whether foreign or national, have the right to freely establish, acquire, own, and/or dispose of interests in business enterprises and receive legal remuneration. Privatization and liberalization programs have also helped put private enterprises on an equal footing with respect to access to markets and credit. 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 due to a lax legal system to enforce regulations that build trust and guarantees credit return. 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. Similarly, foreigners working in Mauritania are guaranteed the prompt transfer of their professional salaries.

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. In September 2014, the Mauritanian Central Bank announced its intention to launch the country’s first stock market. The Central Bank estimated that this effort would take two to three years to complete. However, as of April 2016 no major measures have been conducted in order to implement this initiative. Currently, individual proprietors, family groups, and partnerships generally hold companies, and portfolio investment is accordingly quite limited.

Money and Banking System, Hostile Takeovers

The IMF has in the past assisted Mauritania with the stabilization of the banking sector and access to domestic credit has become easier and cheaper. A recent proliferation of banks has fostered competition that has contributed to the decline of the interest rates from 30 percent in 2000 to 11 or 12 percent in 2009, not including origination costs and other fees. Interest rates have remained stable since 2009, ranging between 10 to 17 percent as of April 2016.

The banking system is stable but fragile. The country’s five largest banks are estimated to have USD 100 million in combined reserves; however, these figures cannot be independently verified, making an evaluation of the banking system’s strength impossible. As of April 2016, 22 banks, national and foreign, currently operate in Mauritania, despite the fact that only some 10 percent of the population holds bank accounts. The Central Bank of Mauritania is in charge of regulating the Mauritanian banking industry, but it has exercised little power to demand information or compliance from 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. There are no restrictions in terms of foreigners who wish to obtain an individual or business banking account.

9. Competition from State-Owned EnterprisesShare    

State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) and the parastatal sector in Mauritania represent an important portion of the economy. They have an impact on employment, service delivery, and most importantly fiscal reserves given their size in the economy and state budget. However, they are constrained by weak institutional capacity and lack of reliable available data. In recent years, parastatal companies and SOEs have experienced significant business and financial problems in terms of increasing levels of debt, operational losses, and payment delays. This increase in fiscal reserve risk has led the government to provide subsidies to SOEs.

Hard budget constraints for SOEs are written into the Public Procurement Code, but are not enforced. SOMELEC, the state-owned electricity company, has been operating in a precarious financial situation for many years. The company relies on government subsidies to remain solvent.

Most state-owned enterprises in Mauritania have independent boards of directors. The directors are usually appointed based upon political affiliations; nevertheless, they are typically qualified for their positions. Mauritania is making progress in disclosing information on the oil sector and for the national hydrocarbon company (SMH), and is currently EITI compliant, indicating the country has effective processes in place for annual disclosure and reconciliation of revenues from the extractive sector.

There are about 80 SOEs and parastatal companies operating in the commercial sector with engagements in a wide range of sectors including energy, network utilities, mining, telecommunications, transportation, commerce, and fisheries. Parastatal and wholly owned SOEs remain the major employer in the country. This includes the National Mining Company (SNIM), which is by far the largest Mauritanian enterprise and the second largest employer in the country after public administration.

The publically available financial information on parastatal and wholly owned SOEs is incomplete and outdated, with the exception of budget transfers. There is no publication of the expenditures SOEs allocate to research and development. In addition, they execute the largest portion of government contracts, receiving preference over the private sector. According to the Public Procurement Code, there are no formal barriers to competition with SOEs. However, informal barriers such as denial of access to credit exist.

OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance of SOEs

The Mauritanian government does not encourage SOEs to follow generally accepted principles such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Consequently, SOEs are often subject to political influence and a lack of transparency and accountability, and do not usually disclose information recommended by the OECD guidelines

Government Agencies such as the Cour des Comptes Office, in charge of monitoring the performance and implementation of OECD guidelines on SOEs, do not usually have strong monitoring and evaluation capacity to effectively exercise this function. Moreover, the designated oversight entities within sector ministries tend not to be specialized in performance monitoring. Although the legal framework holds parastatal entities accountable to the State through defined performance agreements, in practice these agreements are rarely enforced.

Board members tend to have limited independence toward influence from ministries and high ranking government officials and the process of appointment is not allows merit based. Though there are no reports on disputes involving SOEs, and the court is in the process of implementing major reforms, the likelihood that domestic courts would favor SOEs during a dispute remains of eminent concern.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Central Bank administers the National Fund for Hydrocarbon Reserves, a sovereign wealth fund (SWF), which was established in 2006. The SWF is funded from the revenues received from the extraction of oil, any royalties and corporate taxes from oil companies, and from the profits made through the fund's investment activities. The fund’s mandate is to create macroeconomic stability by setting aside oil and gas revenues for developmental projects. However, the fund's management is considered to lack transparency and the projected revenue streams remain unrealized. In 2016, the EITI has raised concern over the transparency of this fund as it has not been audited since its creation in 2006. In 2011, the IMF recommended the Mauritanian government establish a sovereign wealth fund for mining-related revenues, but the government has not yet taken action to create such a fund.

10. Responsible Business ConductShare    

Historically, there has been little local awareness of corporate social responsibility in Mauritania, either on the part of producers or consumers. However, awareness is growing, particularly as more foreign-owned companies enter the Mauritanian market. 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 them for careers in the fishing industry. Current projects by foreign-owned companies include providing free water to local communities; building vocational training centers, health clinics, and roadways; and providing healthcare equipment and medicines to towns near company operations.

Since 2011, three of Mauritania’s largest mining companies – Kinross, Mauritanian Copper Mines (MCM), and SNIM – fund a School of Mining with the goal of increasing the number of qualified Mauritanians to serve in the mining industry. The school has a partnership with the École Polytechnique in Montreal and with the mining companies. The school is considered a public entity under the Ministry of Oil, Energy, and Mines.

11. Political ViolenceShare    

The Mauritanian military has overthrown two civilian governments since 2005 through intimidation and arrests rather than outright violence. The most recent coup, which occurred on August 6, 2008, removed from power Mauritania’s first democratically elected president, Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi. For the first time in Mauritania’s history, there was significant political opposition and street protests against a coup, so the new president, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, agreed to an official dialogue with the opposition. The dialogue that resulted in the Dakar Accords paved the way for a presidential election in July 2009, which Aziz won and which was deemed largely free and fair according to international observers.

In October 2012, President Aziz was accidently shot in a reportedly friendly-fire incident at a checkpoint just outside of Nouakchott. The President was seriously injured and treated in France for six weeks. During his recovery in France, the political opposition organized many rallies and called unsuccessfully for the President’s resignation. There were rumors of planned terrorist attacks or coups, but the country remained calm and normal throughout this period.

The governing majority coalition and several opposition parties re-engaged in a national dialogue in October 2011 in an effort to resolve the political impasse stemming from the postponement of Senate, National Assembly, and municipal elections. Although National Assembly and municipal elections were eventually held in November and December 2013, the last Senate elections were in November 2009 and no firm timetable for the next Senate elections has been established.

Civic unrest associated with a controversial national registration program resulted in one death in September 2011 in Maghama, a provincial capital near the border with Senegal. Sporadic protests for other reasons occurred in Nouakchott and elsewhere frequently in 2012 and 2013, but did not disrupt business activity. In early March 2014, protests erupted in Nouakchott after the alleged desecration of a Koran. These protests resulted in the death of one Mauritanian.

While Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has perpetrated a number of terrorist attacks in Mauritania, the last attempted attack was in 2011, when the Mauritanian military successfully countered a would-be truck-bomb near Nouakchott. Previous attacks included the murder of a U.S. citizen in Nouakchott in 2009 and kidnappings and murders of European citizens. Mauritania successfully prosecuted and sentenced the terrorists involved in the 2009 murder of the U.S. citizen. Also, in 2009, there was a suicide bombing outside the French Embassy and another such attempt in 2010 against a military base in the southeastern city of Nema. The Mauritanian government has remained vigilant since 2011 in its efforts to counter terrorist threats, including in July and October 2011, when it conducted operations against AQIM militants in neighboring Mali. Mauritanian authorities have also arrested and prosecuted terrorists. The Mauritanian judiciary convicted five terrorists in 2013 and 2014, bringing total convictions to 149 since 2009.

The United States, France, Spain, NATO, and others provide assistance and training to Mauritania’s security forces.

12. CorruptionShare    

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 tax evasion and corruption has deprived the government of a significant source of revenue, weakening its capacity to provide necessary services. In 2009, the government passed a law requiring all high-ranking government employees to publicly declare their assets, although this law is not fully enforced.

In the July 2009 presidential election, President Aziz ran on an anti-corruption and populist platform. Donor partners applauded the release of the first-ever Mauritanian anti-corruption strategy in November 2009, and a number of high-profile anticorruption cases have demonstrated at least nascent efforts to fight corruption. As of April 2016, about 30 individuals have been detained on embezzlement and corruption charges and are awaiting trial. Although progress has been made, laws and regulations are still not evenly and effectively enforced, largely because corruption is endemic in a society that is still largely based on familial and tribal relationships rather than strict adherence to the rule of law.

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 even greater impediments. 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 10 years imprisonment and fines up to USD 700, but 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 has embarked upon a 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 and 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 was accused of laundering approximately USD 95 million over the course of two years, the equivalent of nearly 10 percent of Mauritania’s 2010 budget. All of the individuals arrested in this first anti-corruption push were released in January 2010 and ordered to repay the entire amount.

Mauritania’s Office of the Inspector General of the State handles financial investigations in the public sector. This agency, created in 2005, reports to the Prime Minister and has the authority to conduct investigations into all government offices and departments. From 2013-2015, there were several investigations into various government institutions which resulted in dismissals of senior governmental officers and managers of public institutions because of corruption or mismanagement.

The former Human Rights Commissioner was relieved of his duties and imprisoned in August 2010 on grounds of mismanagement. His trial concluded in December 2012 with time served, a USD 253,333 fine, and an order to reimburse USD 934,482 to the Mauritanian government. Mauritania has also reimbursed funds diverted under the previous administration from Global Fund programs intended to benefit those living with HIV/AIDS, and the 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 the accused did in fact engage in corrupt practices, these investigations are controversial, as critics claim they are being conducted to settle political scores.

In 2016, the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) put the Smith and Ouzman printing company on trial for bribing officials (in the amount of $680,000) in the four countries, including Mauritania, between 2008 and 2010. The trial revealed that the Secretary General at Ministry of Interior received a bribe from the company in the amount of $78,000. Recent efforts to increase tax collection have proven controversial as business owners for the first time face tax obligations that reflect the relatively high level of formal taxation for businesses that are not eligible for specialized exemptions. Tax collection efforts frequently incur criticism for their lack of procedural transparence.

There are several organizations that track corruption within Mauritania. Transparency International has a representative who reports on local corruption policies and events. Additionally, in 2010, several local nongovernmental organizations worked with a UN representative and the Mauritanian government to submit a national action plan to fight corruption.

In practice annual auditing of government accounts are not enforced and therefore rarely conducted. However, the government rectified previously misreported financial data in an effort to be more transparent, such as publishing quarterly financial statements on a government treasury website www.tresor.mr.

In April 2016, a new anti-corruption bill was introduced to address the provisions of the UN Convention Against Corruption and to provide protection to NGOs involved in investigating corruptions cases. Corruption is most pervasive in government procurement, bank loans, fishing license attribution, land distribution, tax payments and mining licenses.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

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.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at government agency responsible for combating corruption:

Vacant Position
Secretary General
Cour des Comptes
ccomptes@cc.gov.mr
Telephone: +(222) 4525 34 04
Fax: +(222) 4525 49 64

Contact at "watchdog" organization “Publiez ce que vous payez” (Publish What You Pay)

Mine Ould Mohamed
President and lawyer
Publiez ce que vous payez
+222 4525-0455 +222 4641-7702

13. Bilateral Investment AgreementsShare    

Bilateral Taxation Treaties

Mauritania does not have a bilateral investment agreement with the United States.

Mauritania does not have a bilateral taxation treaty with the United States.

Mauritania has bilateral investment agreements with the Arab Maghreb Union (Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia) as well as with Saudi Arabia, France, Belgium, and Romania. Agreements exist with Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana, Mauritius, Italy, Lebanon, Qatar, Yemen, Korea, Egypt, and the Arab League.

Mauritania is a signatory to the Cotonou Agreement between the EU and the group of African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, and thus enjoys free access to the EU market. Due to its least-developed country status, Mauritania also benefits from duty-free access to the European market under the Everything-But-Arms initiative. Furthermore, Mauritania benefits from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and thus enjoys substantial potential trade preferences that, along with those under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), allow virtually all marketable goods produced in Mauritania to enter the U.S. market duty-free.

14. OPIC and Other Investment Insurance ProgramsShare    

Mauritania signed an agreement with Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), 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. 

15. LaborShare    

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), the subsidiary of a Canadian gold mining company Kinross-Tasiast, and the subsidiary of a Canadian company MCM provide advanced training for their employees. Additionally, responding to the dire need for human capacity development in Mauritania, representatives of these three companies established jointly with the Ministry of Oil, Energy and Mines an USD 18 million fund for the construction of a mining school in Akjoujt in 2011. Currently, 30 students are enrolled in training at the school. The school is expected to hold 340 students when it is at full capacity.

The law requires that employers give priority to citizens over foreign workers, unless the skills required for the position cannot be filled by the national labor force, especially in security-related fields. In this case the employer should create a plan of ‘’Mauritanization’’ to transfer skillsets to local workers within a period of two years.

There is no restriction on employers resorting to reducing their workforce in periods of unfavorable market conditions. However the law requires that compensations is granted to laid off employees.

Mauritania has ratified all eight fundamental conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO). However, gaps remain both in law and practice. Although the law recognizes the workers' rights to establish and join unions of their own choosing, to collectively bargain, and to conduct legal strikes, miners must notify their employers before exercising the right to organize. Magistrates are prohibited from going on strike or joining labor unions by law; however, they organize through informal internal groups called ”Club de Concertation.” The law continues to require that any change in the administration or management of a union must be formally communicated and approved by either the Prosecutor-General or the courts. The Labor Code continues to restrict the right to strike by imposing compulsory arbitration to disputes in non-essential services sectors.

There has been an increase in the incidence of strikes, particularly in the mining industry. In July 2012, a weeklong strike at MCM resulted in a Nouakchott-based National Guard unit being dispatched to the mine site. They used batons and tear gas to disperse striking workers, beat and detained several protesters, and severely injured one, who died as the National Guard transported him to the police station. Following the death, MCM temporarily suspended its operations and the government launched an investigation. MCM was not implicated in the death. The Mauritanian government provided USD 10,000 in compensation to the victim’s family. As companies expand their operations and perceived profit margins, unions increasingly try to negotiate improved contract terms and higher salaries for their members.

In December 2013, Kinross-Tasiast laid off 293 employees. Protests occurred for months after the layoffs at the presidential palace and at the Kinross-Tasiast headquarters in Nouakchott. In January 2015, about 4000 SNIM workers went on strike over delays in implementing a 20 percent pay raise scheduled to occur in 2014. The strike then resulted in SNIM’s dismissal of 300 workers. Although the strike was ultimately resolved several months later, it required political intervention from the highest levels to broker a settlement.

Over 18 percent of children in Mauritania are engaged in child labor in agriculture and herding and in the worst forms of child labor in indentured and hereditary servitude. Cattle and goats are included on the U.S. government's List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor.

Although officially outlawed, de facto slavery continues to exist in Mauritania, particularly in domestic situations and in rural and agricultural settings. Foreign investors should be aware that local suppliers or contractors might – at some point in their supply chain – involve slave labor.

16. Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade FacilitationShare    

The new Investment Code creates Special Economic Zones (Free Export Zone or Cluster of Development in the Interior) by decree. Each decree specifies the restrictions of each target area, the name of the zone, the subject of economic activities that are encouraged, the structure responsible for its management, and the period for which it is established. Free Zones are subject to continuous monitoring by the Customs Service in a manner specified in the decree. Nouadhibou, the commercial capital, has been designated as a Free Economic Zone by the former Ministry of Economic Affairs and Development (MAED) now the Ministry of Economy and Finance or MEF and differs from the Special Economic Zones created under the revised Investment Code. The Nouadhibou Free Economic Zone has its own regulatory structure, which is not yet fully implemented. As of January 2016, the Nouadhibou free trade zone has granted 300 authorizations for companies, primarily in the tourism and fisheries sectors.

The new Investment Code provides three main preferential tax regimes: Small and Medium Enterprises Regime, which applies to any investment between USD 167,000 and USD 667,000; Free Export Zones/Clusters of Development; and Targeted Industries, which includes agriculture, artisanal fishing, tourism, renewable energy, and raw material processing. In the previous Code only one special economic zone existed for certain imports, under the control of the Customs Administration. The revised Code has several other new provisions. Basic infrastructure will be provided through public-private partnerships with the government and the interested company, which previously was solely the responsibility of the private company. Land concessions allocated to companies located in Free Economic Zones will follow a rental rate determined by joint decision of the relevant Minister and the Minister of Finance, who will control land prices. or tax advantages, companies will be exempt from taxes, excluding personnel taxes such as for retirement and social security, if they have invested at least USD 1.6 million and generated at least 50 permanent jobs and show a potential to export at least 80 percent of their goods or services.

Additionally, under the provisions in the revised Investment Code, companies will not be taxed on patents, licenses, property, or land but rather assessed a single municipal tax which cannot exceed an annual amount of USD 16,000. Companies established in free zones are exempt from taxes on profits for the first five years in which they show a profit, after which they are subject to the rate of ordinary law. Additionally, companies established in free zones benefit from a total exemption of customs duties and taxes on the importation of goods, materials, and vehicles intended for production (the list of eligible assets is fixed by order of the Minister of Finance) and exemption from customs duties and taxes on exports.

17. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment StatisticsShare    

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy

 

Host Country Statistical source*

USG or international statistical source

USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other

Economic Data

Year

Amount

Year

Amount

 

Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD)

2012

$4,562

2013

$4,158

www.worldbank.org/en/country

Foreign Direct Investment

Host Country Statistical source*

USG or international statistical source

USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other

U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions)

N/A

N/A

20xx

$-3

http://bea.gov/international/direct_investment_
multinational_companies_comprehensive_data.htm

Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions)

N/A

N/A

2008

$-1

http://bea.gov/international/direct_investment_
multinational_companies_comprehensive_data.htm

Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

 

* Source: National Office of Statistics, ONS

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Foreign direct investment position data are not available for Mauritania.

Table 4: Sources and Destination of Portfolio Investment

Portfolio investment data are not available for Mauritania.

18. Contact for More InformationShare    

Leslie Johnson and Samba Diallo
Economic Officer and Specialist
288, Rue 42-100 Abdallaye, Nouakchott, Mauritania
(222) 4525-2660, ext. 4404
NouakchottEconComm@state.gov