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Algeria

Executive Summary

Algeria’s state enterprise-dominated economy is challenging for U.S. businesses, but multiple sectors offer opportunities for long-term growth. The government is prioritizing investment in agriculture, information and communications technology, mining, hydrocarbons (both upstream and downstream), renewable energy, and healthcare.

Following his December 2019 election, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune launched a series of political reforms, which led to the adoption of a new constitution in December 2020 and the election of a new parliament in June 2021. Tebboune has declared his intention to focus on economic issues in 2022 and beyond.

In 2020, the government eliminated the so-called “51/49” restriction that required majority Algerian ownership of all new businesses, though it retained the requirement for “strategic sectors,” identified as energy, mining, defense, transportation infrastructure, and pharmaceuticals manufacturing (with the exception of innovative products). In the 2021 Finance Law, the government reinstated the 51/49 ownership requirement for any company importing items into Algeria with an intent to resell. The government passed a new hydrocarbons law in 2019, improving fiscal terms and contract flexibility in order to attract new international investors. The new law encourages major international oil companies to sign memorandums of understanding with the national hydrocarbons company, Sonatrach.  Though the 43 regulatory texts enacting the legislation have not been formally finalized, the government is using the new law as the basis for negotiating new contracts with international oil companies. In recent years, the Algerian government took several steps, including establishing a standalone ministry dedicated to the pharmaceutical industry and issuing regulations to resolve several long-standing issues, to improve market access for U.S. pharmaceutical companies. The government is in the process of drafting and finalizing a new investment law. Algeria has established ambitious renewable energy adoption targets to reduce carbon emissions and reduce domestic consumption of natural gas.

Algeria’s economy is driven by hydrocarbons production, which historically accounts for 95 percent of export revenues and approximately 40 percent of government income. Following the significant drop in oil prices at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the government cut budgeted expenditures by 50 percent and significantly reduced investment in the energy sector. The implementation of broad-based import reductions coupled with a recovery in hydrocarbon prices in 2021 led to Algeria’s first trade surplus since 2014. Though successive government budgets have boosted state spending, Algeria continues to run a persistent budget deficit, which is projected to reach 20 percent of GDP in 2022. Despite a significant reduction in revenues, the historically debt-averse government continues to resist seeking foreign financing, preferring to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) to boost employment and replace imports with local production. Traditionally, Algeria has pursued protectionist policies to encourage the development of local industries. The import substitution policies it employs tend to generate regulatory uncertainty, supply shortages, increased prices, and a limited selection for consumer goods. The government depreciated the Algerian dinar approximately 5% in 2021 after a 10% depreciation in 2020 to conserve its foreign exchange reserves, contributing to significant food inflation.

The government has taken measures to minimize the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, including delaying tax payments for small businesses, extending credit and restructuring loan payments, and decreasing banks’ reserve requirements.  Though the government has lifted domestic COVID_19 related confinement measures, continued restrictions on international flight volumes complicate travel to Algeria for international investors.

Economic operators deal with a range of challenges, including complicated customs procedures, cumbersome bureaucracy, difficulties in monetary transfers, and price competition from international rivals particularly the People’s Republic of China, France, and Turkey. International firms operating in Algeria complain that laws and regulations are constantly shifting and applied unevenly, raising commercial risk for foreign investors. An ongoing anti-corruption campaign has increased weariness regarding large-scale investment projects and put a chill on bureaucratic decision making. Business contracts are subject to changing interpretation and revision of regulations, which has proved challenging to U.S. and international firms. Other drawbacks include limited regional integration, which hampers opportunities to rely on international supply chains.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 117 of 175 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
Global Innovation Index 2021 120 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 20xx USD Amount https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 $3,570 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

3. Legal Regime

4. Industrial Policies

5. Protection of Property Rights

6. Financial Sector

7. State-Owned Enterprises

State-owned enterprises (SOEs) comprise more than half of the formal Algerian economy. SOEs are amalgamated into a single line of the state budget and are listed in the official business registry. To be defined as an SOE, a company must be at least 51 percent owned by the state.

Algerian SOEs are bureaucratic and may be subject to political influence. There are competing lines of authority at the mid-levels, and contacts report mid- and upper-level managers are reluctant to make decisions because internal accusations of favoritism or corruption are often used to settle political and personal scores. Senior management teams at SOEs report to their relevant ministry; CEOs of the larger companies such as national hydrocarbons company Sonatrach, national electric utility Sonelgaz, and airline Air Algerie report directly to ministers. Boards of directors are appointed by the state, and the allocation of these seats is considered political. SOEs are not known to adhere to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance.

Legally, public and private companies compete under the same terms with respect to market share, products and services, and incentives. In reality, private enterprises assert that public companies sometimes receive more favorable treatment. Private enterprises have the same access to financing as SOEs, but they work with private banks, and they are less bureaucratic than their public counterparts. Public companies generally refrain from doing business with private banks and a 2008 government directive ordered public companies to work only with public banks. The directive was later officially rescinded, but public companies continued the practice. However, the heads of Algeria’s two largest state enterprises, Sonatrach and Sonelgaz, both indicated in 2020 that given current budget pressures they are investigating recourse to foreign financing, including from private banks. SOEs are subject to the same tax burden and tax rebate policies as their private sector competitors, but business contacts report that the government favors SOEs over private sector companies in terms of access to land.

SOEs are subject to budget constraints. Audits of public companies can be conducted by the Court of Auditors, a financially autonomous institution. The constitution explicitly charges it with “ex post inspection of the finances of the state, collectivities, public services, and commercial capital of the state,” as well as preparing and submitting an annual report to the President, heads of both chambers of Parliament, and Prime Minister. The Court makes its audits public on its website, for free, but with a time delay, which does not conform to international norms.

The Court conducts audits simultaneously but independently from the Ministry of Finance’s year-end reports. The Court makes its reports available online once finalized and delivered to the Parliament, whereas the Ministry withholds publishing year-end reports until after the Parliament and President have approved them. The Court’s audit reports cover the entire implemented national budget by fiscal year and examine each annual planning budget that is passed by Parliament.

The General Inspectorate of Finance (IGF), the public auditing body under the supervision of the Ministry of Finance, can conduct “no-notice” audits of public companies. The results of these audits are sent directly to the Minister of Finance, and the offices of the President and Prime Minister. They are not made available publicly. The Court of Auditors and IGF previously had joint responsibility for auditing certain accounts, but they are in the process of eliminating this redundancy. Further legislation clarifying whether the delineation of responsibility for particular accounts which could rest with the Court of Auditors or the Ministry of Finance’s General Inspection of Finance (IGF) unit has yet to be issued.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Multinational, and particularly U.S. firms operating in Algeria, are spreading the concept of responsible business conduct (RBC), which has traditionally been less common among domestic firms. Companies such as Occidental, Cisco, Microsoft, Boeing, Dow, Halliburton, Pfizer, and Berlitz have supported programs aimed at youth employment, education, and entrepreneurship. RBC activities are gaining acceptance as a way for companies to contribute to local communities while often addressing business needs, such as a better-educated workforce. The national oil and gas company, Sonatrach, funds some social services for its employees and supports desert communities near production sites. Still, many Algerian companies view social programs as the government’s responsibility. While state entities welcome foreign companies’ RBC activities, the government does not factor them into procurement decisions, nor does it require companies to disclose their RBC activities. Algerian laws for consumer and environmental protections exist but are weakly enforced.

Algeria does not adhere to the OECD or UN Guiding Principles and does not participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Algeria ranks 73 out of 89 countries for resource governance and does not comply with rules set for disclosing environmental impact assessments and mitigation management plans, according to the most recent report by National Resource Governance Index published in 2017.

Department of State

Department of the Treasury

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

The current anti-corruption law dates to 2006. In 2013, the Algerian government created the Central Office for the Suppression of Corruption (OCRC) to investigate and prosecute any form of bribery in Algeria. The number of cases currently being investigated by the OCRC is not available. In 2010, the government created the National Organization for the Prevention and Fight Against Corruption (ONPLC) as stipulated in the 2006 anti-corruption law. The Chairman and members of this commission are appointed by a presidential decree. The commission studies financial holdings of public officials, though not their relatives, and carries out studies. Since 2013, the Financial Intelligence Unit has been strengthened by new regulations that have given the unit more authority to address illegal monetary transactions and terrorism funding. In 2016, the government updated its anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist finance legislation to bolster the authority of the financial intelligence unit to monitor suspicious financial transactions and refer violations of the law to prosecutorial magistrates. Algeria signed the UN Convention Against Corruption in 2003.

The new Algerian constitution, which the President approved in December 2020, includes provisions that strengthen the role and capacity of anti-corruption bodies, particularly through the creation of the High Authority for Transparency, Prevention, and Fight against Corruption. This body is tasked with developing and enabling the implementation of a national strategy for transparency and preventing and combatting corruption.

The Algerian government does not require private companies to establish internal codes of conduct that prohibit bribery of public officials. The use of internal controls against bribery of government officials varies by company, with some upholding those standards and others rumored to offer bribes. Algeria is not a participant in regional or international anti-corruption initiatives. Algeria does not provide protections to NGOs involved in investigating corruption. While whistleblower protections for Algerian citizens who report corruption exist, members of Algeria’s anti-corruption bodies believe they need to be strengthened to be effective.

International and Algerian economic operators have identified corruption as a challenge for FDI. They indicate that foreign companies with strict compliance standards cannot effectively compete against companies which can offer special incentives to those making decisions about contract awards. Economic operators have also indicated that complex bureaucratic procedures are sometimes manipulated by political actors to ensure economic benefits accrue to favored individuals in a non-transparent way. Anti-corruption efforts have so far focused more on prosecuting previous acts of corruption rather than on institutional reforms to reduce the incentives and opportunities for corruption. In October 2019, the government adopted legislation which allowed police to launch anti-corruption investigations without first receiving a formal complaint against the entity in question. Proponents argued the measure is necessary given Algeria’s weak whistle blower protections.

Currently the government is working with international partners to update legal mechanisms to deal with corruption issues. The government also created a new institution to target and deter the practice of overbilling on invoices, which has been used to unlawfully transfer foreign currency out of the country.

The government imprisoned numerous prominent economic and political figures in 2019 and 2020 as part of an anti-corruption campaign. Some operators report that fear of being accused of corruption has made some officials less willing to make decisions, delaying some investment approvals. Corruption cases that have reached trial deal largely with state investment in the automotive, telecommunications, public works, and hydrocarbons sectors, though other cases are reportedly under investigation.

10. Political and Security Environment

Following nearly two months of massive protests, known as the hirak, former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned on April 2, 2019, after 20 years in power. His resignation launched an eight-month transition, resulting in the election of Abdelmadjid Tebboune as president in December 2019. Voter turnout was approximately 40 percent and the new administration continues to focus on restoring government authority and legitimacy. Following historically low turnout of 24 percent in the November 2020 constitutional referendum and President Tebboune’s lengthy medical absences in late 2020 and early 2021, hirak protests resumed in February 2021 before government security services brought them to a halt in May 2021. Demonstrations have taken place in Algeria’s major wilayas (states) and have focused largely on political reform, as protestors continue to call for an overhaul of the Algerian government. President Tebboune dissolved parliament in February 2021 and Algeria held parliamentary elections in June 2021 and local elections in November 2021.

Prior to the hirak, which began in 2019, demonstrations in Algeria tended to concern housing and other social programs and were generally smaller than a few hundred participants. While most protests were peaceful, there were occasional outbreaks of violence that resulted in injuries, sometimes resulting from efforts of security forces to disperse the protests. Hirak protests were relatively peaceful, though security forces occasionally use heavy-handed tactics to suppress protesters. In 2021, the government adopted laws that give authorities more leeway to arrest political opponents.

In 2013, a terrorist group now known as al-Murabitoun claimed responsibility for the attack against the Tiguentourine gas facility near In Amenas, in southeastern Algeria.  More than 800 people were taken hostage during the four-day siege, resulting in the deaths of 39 civilians, including 3 U.S. citizens, and resulting in damage to the facilities.  Seven other U.S. citizens escaped.  Since the attack, the Algerian government has increased security personnel and preventative security procedures in Algeria’s oil and gas producing regions.

Government reactions to public unrest typically include tighter security control on movement between and within cities to prevent further clashes, significant security presence in anticipated protest zones, temporary detention of protestors, and promises of either greater public expenditures on local infrastructure or increased local hiring for state-owned companies. During the first few months of 2015, there were a series of protests in several cities in southern Algeria against the government’s program to drill test wells for shale gas. These protests were largely peaceful but sometimes resulted in clashes, injury, and rarely, property damage. Government pronouncements in 2017 that shale gas exploration would recommence did not generate protests.

On April 27, 2020, an Algerian court sentenced an expatriate manager and an Algerian employee of a large hotel to six months in prison on charges of “undermining the integrity of the national territory” for allegedly sharing publicly available security information with corporate headquarters outside of Algeria.

The Algerian government requires all foreign employees of foreign companies or organizations based in Algeria to contact the Foreigners Office of the Ministry of the Interior before traveling in the country’s interior so that the government can evaluate security conditions. The Algerian government also requires U.S. Embassy employees to coordinate travel with the government on any trip outside of the Algiers wilaya (state). The Algerian government continues to limit the weekly number of authorized international flights in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, and they remain at less than 40 percent of pre-COVID levels two years after the onset of the pandemic.

In February 2020, ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide bomber who attacked a military barrack in southern Algeria, killing a soldier. This was met with a swift response by Algerian security services against the militants responsible for the attacks, and the Algerian army continues to carry out counterterrorism operations throughout the country.

According to official Defense Ministry announcements, Algerian security forces “neutralized” 37 terrorists (21 killed, 9 arrested, and 7 surrendered) and arrested an additional 108 “supporters” of terrorism in 2020.  Army detachments also destroyed 251 terrorist hideouts and seized a large quantity of ammunition and explosives during the year. In 2021, the government broadened the definition of terrorism to include any act – peaceful or otherwise – that undermines Algeria’s national unity, prompting a slew of terrorism arrests for acts not necessarily in line with the internationally recognized definition of terrorism.

U.S. citizens living or traveling in Algeria are encouraged to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) via the State Department’s travel registration website, https://step.state.gov/step, to receive security messages and make it easier to be located in an emergency.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

There is a shortage of skilled labor in Algeria in all sectors. Business contacts report difficulty in finding sufficiently skilled plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and other construction/vocational related areas. Oil companies report they have difficultly retaining trained Algerian engineers and field workers because these workers often leave Algeria for higher wages in the Gulf. Some white-collar employers also report a lack of skilled project managers, supply chain engineers, and sufficient numbers of office workers with requisite computer and soft skills.

Official unemployment figures are measured by the number of persons seeking work through the National Employment Agency (ANEM). According to the most recent official figures in 2019, Algeria had an unemployment rate of 11.4%.  Following the pandemic, the real unemployment rate is likely much higher with some sources estimating it to be above 30 percent in the youth population.  In January 2021, Minister of Employment, Labor, and Social Security El Hachemi Djaaboub said that new job offers in 2020 fell by 30% compared to 2019 (from 437,000 to 306,000).  Djaaboub also said recently that the closure of auto assembly and household appliance plants as a result of the halt in imports for the necessary assembly kits (semi-knock-down kits, or SKDs) since 2019 has resulted in the loss of 51,000 jobs. The 2022 Finance Law included a provision to establish an unemployment allowance, which applies to first-time job seekers between 19 and 40 years of age, paid monthly for six months, renewable only once, with baseline benefit levels of 13,000 dinars (USD 92) adjustable for geographical location. Approximately 300,000 Algerians qualified for the initial benefit, slated to go into effect on March 28. Additionally, the subsidy allotted to finance vocational integration (le dispositif d’insertion professionnelle) decreased from 135 billion dinars in 2013 to 32 billion in 2021.

The government has undertaken efforts to protect formal sector employment throughout the COVID-19 crisis, focusing particularly on unemployment benefits, as well as increasing relative wages by 14 to 16 percent in the 2022 Finance Law by reducing income taxes. In general, finding a job is regulated by the government and is bureaucratically complex. Prospective employees must register with the labor office, submit paper resumes door to door, attend career fairs, and comb online job offerings. According to the Office of National Statistics, 81 percent of university graduates say that they favor “family relationships” or “the family network” as the best way to look for a job.

The private sector accounts for 62.2 percent of total employment with 7.014 million people, with 37.8 percent in the public sector, employing 4.267 million people. Additionally, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that more than one-third of all employment in Algeria takes place in the informal economy. The informal sector is estimated to comprise up to 50 percent of Algeria’s non-hydrocarbon economy. The Ministry of Vocational Training sponsors programs that offer training to at least 300,000 Algerians annually, including those who did not complete high school, in various professional programs.

Companies must submit extensive justification to hire foreign employees, and report pressure to hire more locals (even if jobs could be replaced through mechanization) under the implied risk that the government will not approve visas for expatriate staff. There are no special economic zones or foreign trade zones in Algeria.

The constitution provides workers with the right to join and form unions of their choice provided they are Algerian citizens. The country has ratified the ILO’s conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining but failed to enact legislation needed to implement these principles fully. The General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA) is the largest union in Algeria and represents a broad spectrum of employees in the public sectors. The UGTA, an affiliate of the International Trade Union Conference, is an official member of the Algerian “tripartite,” a council of labor, government, and business officials that meets annually to collaborate on economic and labor policy. The Algerian government liaises almost exclusively with the UGTA, however, unions in the education, health, and administration sectors do meet and negotiate with government counterparts, especially when there is a possibility of a strike. Collective bargaining is legally permitted but not mandatory.

Algerian law provides mechanisms for monitoring labor abuses and health and safety standards, and international labor rights are recognized under domestic law, but are only effectively regulated in the formal economy. Typical labor inspections were greatly reduced in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, but largely resumed in 2021 at normal rates. The government has shown an increasing interest in understanding and monitoring the informal economy, evidenced by its 2018 partnerships with the ILO and current cooperation with the World Bank on several projects aimed at better quantifying the informal sector.

Sector-specific strikes occur often in Algeria, though general strikes are less common. The law provides for the right to strike, and workers exercise this right, subject to conditions. Striking requires a secret ballot of the whole workforce, and the decision to strike must be approved by a majority vote of the workers at a general meeting. The government may restrict strikes on several grounds, including economic crisis, obstruction of public services, or the possibility of subversive actions. Furthermore, all public demonstrations, including protests and strikes, must receive prior government authorization. By law, workers may strike only after 14 days of mandatory conciliation or mediation. The government occasionally offers to mediate disputes. The law states that decisions agreed to in mediation are binding on both parties. If mediation does not lead to an accord, workers may strike legally after they vote by secret ballot. The law requires that a minimum level of essential public services must be maintained, and the government has broad legal authority to requisition public employees. The list of essential services includes banking, radio, and television. Penalties for unlawful work stoppages range from eight days to two months imprisonment.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, there have been periodic strikes affecting companies in various sectors as a result of the economic recession caused by the pandemic. Several strikes were initiated by workers in the northern regions, particularly in the industrial zones of Tizi-Ouzou, Béjaïa, and Bordj Bou Arreridj. In January 2021, employees of the electronics and household appliance group Condor demanded the firing of the director of the company appointed by the courts and back payment for salaries from December 2020.

Stringent labor-market regulations likely inhibit an increase in full-time, open-ended work. Regulations do not allow for flexibility in hiring and firing in times of economic downturn. For example, employers are generally required to pay severance when laying off or firing workers. Unemployment insurance eligibility requirements may discourage job seekers from collecting benefits due to them, and the level of support claimants receive is minimal. Employers must have contributed up to 80 percent of the final year salary into the unemployment insurance scheme in order for the employees to qualify for unemployment benefits.

The law contains occupational health and safety standards, but enforcement of these standards is uneven. There were no known reports of workers dismissed for removing themselves from hazardous working conditions. If workers face hazardous conditions, they may file a complaint with the Ministry of Labor, which is required to send out labor inspectors to investigate the claim. Nevertheless, the high demand for unemployment in Algeria gives an advantage to employers seeking to exploit employees.

Because Algerian law does not provide for temporary legal status for migrants, labor standards do not protect economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere working in the country without legal immigration status. However, migrant children are protected by law from working.

The Ministry of Labor enforces labor standards, including compliance with the minimum wage regulation and safety standards. Companies that employ migrant workers or violate child labor laws are subject to fines and potentially prosecution.

The law prohibits participation by minors in dangerous, unhealthy, or harmful work or in work considered inappropriate because of social and religious considerations. The minimum legal age for employment is 16, but younger children may work as apprentices with permission from their parents or legal guardian. The law prohibits workers under age 19 from working at night. While there is currently no list of hazardous occupations prohibited to minors, the government reports it is drafting a list which will be issued by presidential decree. Although specific data was unavailable, children reportedly worked mostly in the informal sector, largely in sales, often in family businesses. They are also involved in begging and agricultural work. There were isolated reports that children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws. There is no single office charged with this task, but all labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing laws regarding child labor. In 2018, the Ministry of Labor focused one month specifically on investigating child labor violations, and in some cases prosecuted individuals for employing minors or breaking other child-related labor laws. While the government claims to monitor both the formal and informal sectors, contacts note that their efforts largely focus on the formal economy.

The National Authority of the Protection and Promotion of Children (ONPPE) is an inter-agency organization, created in 2016, which coordinates the protection and promotion of children’s rights. As a part of its efforts, ONPPE continues to hold educational sessions for officials from relevant ministries, civil society organizations, and journalists on issues related to children, including child labor and human trafficking.

14. Contact for More Information

U.S. Embassy Algiers
Political and Economic Section
5 Chemin Cheikh Bachir El-Ibrahimi, El Biar Algiers, Algeria (+213) 0770 082 153
(+213) 0770 082 153
Algiers_polecon@state.gov

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