Gabon is a historically stable country located in a volatile region of the world and has significant economic advantages: a small population (roughly 2 million), an abundance of natural resources, and a strategic location along the Gulf of Guinea. After taking office in 2009, President Ali Bongo Ondimba introduced reforms to diversify Gabon’s economy away from oil and from traditional investment partners and to position Gabon as an emerging economy. Gabon promotes foreign investment across a range of sectors, particularly in the oil and gas, infrastructure, timber, ecotourism, and mining sectors. Despite these efforts, Gabon’s economy remains dependent on revenue generated by the exportation of hydrocarbons. Gabon’s commercial ties with France remain very strong, but the government continues to seek to diversify its sources by courting investors from the rest of the world. In 2018, the Gabonese government lifted exit visa requirements for U.S. citizens.
Although Gabon is taking steps towards making the country a more attractive destination for foreign investment, it remains a difficult place to do business, especially without in-country or francophone experience. Foreign firms are active in the country, particularly in the extractive industries, but the difficulty involved in establishing a new business and the time it takes to finalize deals are impediments to increased U.S. private sector investment. Although the Gabonese government is taking a more active role to ensure transparency in extractive industries, investors are still waiting for key reforms to be established in law and in practice. Gabon enacted a new mining code in 2015. Gabon proposed revisions to its 2014 hydrocarbons code to draw more investors with greater flexibility and attractive financial terms. The Gabonese government expects to implement the new hydrocarbons code in 2019.
Increased investment is constrained due to limited bureaucratic capacity, unclear lines of decision-making authority, a lack of a clearly-established and consistent process for companies to enter the market, lengthy bureaucratic delays, high production costs, a small domestic market, rigid labor laws, and limited and poor infrastructure. The judicial system at times fails to enforce the rule of law and limits access to justice. Corruption and lack of transparency remain an impediment to investment. The Gabonese government inconsistantly applies customs regulations.
Economic conditions in Gabon weakened throughout 2017 and 2018. In addition to budget constraints due to low oil prices, the government lacks fiscal transparency. Many international companies, including U.S. firms, continue to have difficulties collecting timely payments from the Gabonese government, and some companies in the oil sector have closed down operations. To address fiscal imbalances, Gabon signed in June of 2017 a three-year Extended Fund Facility arrangement of USD 642 million with the IMF. While opportunities exist, the investment climate in Gabon will remain difficult as the government must have the politcal will to make prudent decisions. In 2018, higher oil prices, new investment in the oil sector and export processing zones, and the increasing manganese production helped support a modest recovery of economic growth of about 2 percent (according to the IMF September 2018 report).
|Measure||Year||Index/ Rank||Website Address|
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2018||124 of 180||http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview|
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business”||2019||169 of 190||www.doingbusiness.org/rankings|
|Global Innovation Index||2018||N/A||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator|
|U.S. FDI in partner country (M USD, stock positions)||2017||– $251||http://www.bea.gov/international/factsheet/|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2017||$6,650||http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD|
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
Gabon’s 1998 investment code conforms to Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) investment regulations and provides the same rights to foreign companies operating in Gabon as to domestic firms. Businesses are protected from expropriation or nationalization without appropriate compensation, as determined by an independent third party. Certain sectors, such as mining, forestry, petroleum, agriculture, and tourism have special specific investment codes, which encourage investment through customs and tax incentives.
Gabon established the Investment Promotion Agency (ANPI-Gabon) with the assistance of the World Bank in April 2014. The ANPI-Gabon’s mission is to promote investments and exports, support small and medium-sized enterprises, manage public-private partnerships, and help companies to get established. The agency is supposed to act as the gateway for investment into the country and reduce administrative procedures, costs, and waiting periods.
Gabonese authorities have made efforts to prioritize investment. On March 7, 2017, the High Council for Investment was established to promote investment and boost the economy. This body provides a platform for dialogue between the public and private sectors, and its main objectives are to improve the economy and create jobs.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
There are no limits on foreign ownership or control, except for discrete activities customarily reserved for the state, including military and paramilitary activities.
Foreign investors are largely treated in the same manner as their Gabonese counterparts with regard to the purchase of real estate, negotiation of licenses, and entering into commercial agreements. There is no general requirement for local participation in investments (see local labor requirements below). Many businesses find it useful to have a local partner who can help navigate the subjective aspects of the business environment.
Gabon Oil Company, a state-owned enterprise created in 2011, has an automatic right to purchase up to a 15 percent share in any hydrocarbon contract at market price.
The standard practice is for the Gabonese Presidency to review foreign investment contracts after ministerial-level negotiations are completed. There are instances where the Presidency gets involved to push negotiations stalled at the ministerial level. The Presidency takes a very active role in meeting with investors. The lack of a standardized procedure for new entrants to negotiate deals with the government can lead to confusion and time-consuming negotiations. Moreover, the centralization of decision-making by a few senior officials who are exceedingly busy can delay the process. As a result, new entrants often find the process of finalizing deals time-consuming and difficult to navigate.
U.S. investors are not disadvantaged by ownership or control mechanisms, sector restrictions, or investment screening mechanisms. However, French companies continue to dominate major sectors in Gabon. Lack of French language skills can put American or non-Francophone firms at a disadvantage.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
Gabon has been a World Trade Organization (WTO) member since 1995. In June 2013, Gabon conducted an investment policy review with the WTO. The government has not conducted any investment policy reviews through the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) or the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in the past three years.
The government encourages investments in some of Gabon’s main industries (oil and gas, mining, and timber) through customs and tax incentives. For example, oil and mining companies are exempt from customs duties on imported working equipment. The Tourism Investment Code, enacted in 2000, provides tax incentives to foreign tourism investors during the first eight years of operation. A SEZ located at Nkok offers tax incentives to industrial investors.
ANPI-Gabon houses more than 20 public and private agencies, including the Chamber of Commerce, National Social Security Fund (CNSS), and National Health Insurance and Social Security (CNAMGS). ANPI-Gabon aims to attract domestic and international investors through improved methods of approving and licensing procedures and support for public-private dialogue. It has a single window registration process that allows domestic and foreign investors to register their business in 48 hours. There are no special mechanisms for equitable treatment of women and underrepresented minorities in Gabon.
ANPI-Gabon’s website address is:
One of ANPI-Gabon’s primary goals is to promote outward investments and exports. The Gabonese government does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
Government policies and laws often do not establish clear rules of the game, and foreign firms can have difficulty navigating the bureaucracy. Despite reform efforts, hurdles and red tape remain, especially at the lower and mid-levels of the ministries. Lack of transparency in administrative processes and lengthy bureaucratic delays occasionally raise questions for companies about fair treatment and the sanctity of contracts.
Rule-making and regulatory authority rests at the ministerial level. There are no nongovernmental organizations or private sector associations that manage informal regulatory processes. The government of Gabon has not exhibited any recent tendency to discriminate against U.S. investments, companies, or representatives.
The government does not publish proposed laws and regulations in draft form for public comment. There are no centralized online locations where key regulatory actions or their summaries are published. Key regulatory actions are published in the government’s printed Official Journal. It is not uncommon for legislative proposals to be provided “off the record” to the press.
In 2015, Gabon implemented a recommendation from CEMAC to program its budget by objectives. This was implemented to enhance financial efficiency and transparency. No new regulatory systems have been announced in the last year, and no new reforms have been implemented in the last year. Regulations are developed by the relevant ministry concerned, and regulatory enforcement is controlled by individual ministries. There are no instances of regulations being reviewed on the basis of scientific or data-driven assessments.
International Regulatory Considerations
Gabon is a member of CEMAC, along with Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Chad. Gabon is also member of a larger economic community: the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). Headquartered in Gabon, ECCAS has 11 members: Gabon, Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, the Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Rwanda, and São Tomé and Príncipe. Both CEMAC and ECCAS work to promote economic cooperation among members.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Gabon’s legal system is based on French Civil Law. Regular courts handle commercial disputes in compliance with the Organization for Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA). Courts do not apply the law consistently, and delays are frequent in the judicial system. Lack of transparency in administrative processes and lengthy bureaucratic delays call into question the country’s commitment to fair treatment and the sanctity of contracts. Judicial capacity is weak, and many government contacts underscore the need for specialized training in technical issues such as money laundering and environmental crimes. Foreign court and international arbitration decisions are accepted, but enforcement may be difficult.
Gabon has a written code of commercial law. Gabon is affiliated with OHADA and has been a WTO member since January 1, 1995.
The judicial system is not independent from the executive branch. Gabon’s judicial bodies are subject to political influence, creating uncertainty concerning fair treatment and the sanctity of contracts. Regulations or enforcement actions are appealable and are adjudicated in the national court system.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
Gabon’s 1998 investment code, which gives foreign companies operating in Gabon the same rights as domestic firms, allows foreign investors to choose freely from a wide selection of legal business structures, such as a private limited liability company or public limited liability company. The distinctions arise primarily from the minimum capital requirements and the conditions under which shares may be re-sold. Foreign investment in Gabon is subject to local law that is in many instances unsettled or unclear, and in certain cases, Gabonese law may require local majority ownership of businesses. The state reserves the right to invest in the equity capital of ventures established in certain sectors (e.g., petroleum and mining). There are no known systemic practices by private firms to restrict foreign investment, participation, or control.
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
Gabonese Law No. 5/89 of July 6, 1989 on Competition covers all aspects of competition and anti-trust ( ). The relevant ministry for a given dispute reviews transactions for competition-related concerns.
Expropriation and Compensation
Foreign firms established in Gabon operate on an equal legal basis with national companies. Businesses are protected from expropriation or nationalization without appropriate compensation, as determined by an independent third party. The Gabonese government has not exhibited a tendency to discriminate against U.S. investments, companies, or representatives, nor have there been any indications or reports of incidences of indirect expropriation, such as through confiscatory tax regimes.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Gabon is a member state of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and a signatory to the 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention). The 1965 Code of Civil Procedure provides for various means of enforcement of judgments (both foreign and domestic), depending on the nature of the decree or decision.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Gabon does not have a BIT with the United States. Post is aware of one investment dispute involving a U.S. company.
In 2018, there was one case of a foreign arbitral award issued against the government. In March 2018, the Société d’Energie et d’Eau du Gabon (SEEG), a subsidiary of the Veolia Group, filed a request for conciliation against Gabon at the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). Veolia and the Gabonese government signed an agreement to settle the case in February 2019. Gabon agreed to buy Veolia’s 51 percent stake in SEEG and Veolia agreed to withdraw its arbitrage case once the agreement is finalized.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
No alternative dispute resolution options exist within Gabon. Investment disputes are generally negotiated directly with the governmental entity involved. There is no domestic arbitration body within the country. Local courts recognize foreign arbitral awards, but enforcement may be difficult.
Post is not aware of any cases of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) being involved in investment disputes in the court system.
Gabon has a bankruptcy law, but it is not well developed. In the World Bank’s Doing Business Report, Gabon ranks 129 out of 190 economies on the ease of resolving insolvency.
Gabon’s bankruptcy law is based on OHADA regulations. According to Section 3: Art 234-239 of OHADA’s Uniform Insolvency Act, creditors and equity shareholders, collectively or individually, may designate trustees to lodge complaints or claims to the commercial court. These laws criminalize bankruptcy, and the OHADA regulations grant Gabon the discretion to apply its own remedies.
4. Industrial Policies
Some of Gabon’s main industries (oil and gas, mining, and timber) encourage investment through customs and tax incentives. For example, oil and mining companies are exempt from customs duties on imported working equipment. The government has attempted to promote tourism by instituting the Tourism Investment Code of 2000, which provides tax exemptions to foreign tourism investors during the first eight years of operation.
President Ali Bongo Ondimba outlawed the export of unprocessed wood in 2009 to boost Gabon’s value-added wood products and increase domestic consumption. The government and Singaporean-based firm Olam partnered to set up the SEZ at Nkok to process timber, and later expanded the mandate of the SEZ to open it to a broader range of businesses. The SEZ provides a single-window business service to participants and provides new investors with beneficial fiscal incentives, including tax-free operation for 25 years, no customs duties on imported machinery and parts, and 100 percent repatriation of funds.
Gabon’s agriculture code of 2008 gives tax and customs incentives to agricultural operators, with a particular focus on small and medium-sized enterprises. Land used for agriculture and farm exploitation is exonerated from fiscal tax. All imported fertilizers and food for ranch exploitation are additionally exempt from customs duties.
As a member of CEMAC, Gabon’s trade with other member countries (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of Congo, and Equatorial Guinea) is subject to low or no customs duties.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
Inaugurated in 2011, the SEZ at Nkok is a public-private partnership between the government of Gabon and Olam, a Singapore-based corporation with interests in Gabonese timber, palm oil, and rubber. Olam has completed the infrastructure phase for the Nkok SEZ, and multiple companies are actively operating there. Olam has plans to build two more SEZs: one in Port Gentil focused on chemical engineering and another in Franceville for agriculture products. All SEZs offer tax and customs incentives to attract foreign investors. In 2017, the Gabon Special Economic Zone (GSEZ) inaugurated the New Owendo International Port. With a surface area of 18 hectares, the terminal has annual capacity of three million tons.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
Employment and Investor Requirements
Firms are required to obtain authorization from the Ministry of Labor before hiring foreigners. Foreign workers must obtain permits before working in Gabon, and the availability of a permit for a job depends on the availability of Gabonese nationals to fill the job in question. The government may set quotas for the number of foreign workers. When hiring workers, firms must give priority to Gabonese nationals. If no Gabonese worker with the appropriate qualifications can be found, a firm is expected to hire a Gabonese to work along with the foreigner and, within a reasonable time, the Gabonese worker should replace that foreigner. In late 2010, the Gabonese government agreed to National Organization of Petroleum Workers demands to limit foreign workers in the oil sector to 10 percent of a company’s workforce and to require that Gabonese occupy all executive posts. Foreign firms maintain there is a lack of qualified Gabonese workers, requiring companies to often request authorization to hire foreigners. Non-Gabonese Africans find it increasingly difficult to obtain employment authorization; non-African expatriates have less difficulty. Chinese industry in Gabon historically imports its labor force and management. However, these rules do not apply in Gabon’s SEZ at Nkok, a free trade zone, where investors can bring foreign workers.
Goods, Technology, and Data Treatment
There is no known policy requiring foreign investors to use domestic content. There is no specific performance requirement imposed as a condition for establishing, maintaining, or expanding investment. There are no performance requirements for investors, nor are there any requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption. There are no measurements that prevent or unduly impede companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data outside the economy/country’s territory. No mechanisms exist to enforce rules on local data storage.
There is no performance requirement imposed as a condition for establishing, maintaining, or expanding investment. There is no requirement for investors to buy local products, to export a certain percentage of output, or to invest in a specific geographical area. There is no blanket requirement that nationals own shares in foreign investments in Gabon or that the share of foreign equity be reduced over time, or that technology be transferred on certain terms. Nonetheless, many investors find it useful to have a local partner who can help navigate the business environment.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Secured interest in property is recognized, and the recording system is relatively reliable.
There are no specific regulations for foreign and/or non-resident investors regarding land lease or acquisition. Laws in Gabon for private and commercial property do not provide any restrictions on nationality for the possession and ownership of property in Gabon.
Almost 85 percent of Gabon’s area (and possibly 95 percent or more) is legally owned by the state. Only 14,000 private land titles appear to have been registered in Gabon according to a 2012 report; most refer to tiny urban parcels. Urban areas constitute no more than one percent of total land area. The government created the National Agency for Urban Planning, Surveys and the Land Registry in 2011.
If property legally purchased is unoccupied by the owner, property ownership can revert to others.
Intellectual Property Rights
As a member of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), Gabon adheres to the laws of the African Intellectual Property Office (OAPI). Based in Yaoundé, Cameroon, OAPI aims to ensure the publication and protection of patent rights, encourage creativity and transfer of technology, and create favorable conditions for research. As a member of OAPI, Gabon acceded to a number of international agreements on patents and intellectual property rights (IPR), including the Paris Convention, the Berne Convention and the Convention Establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). As a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Gabon is also a signatory of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). U.S. companies have not raised IPR concerns with the Embassy.
During the past year, no IPR related laws or regulations were enacted. Gabon does not report on seizures of counterfeit goods. Gabon is not included in the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List.
Resources for Rights Holder:
U.S. Embassy Libreville
+241 0145 7000
For a list of local attorneys visit: https://ga.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/attorneys/
7. State-Owned Enterprises
Government-appointed civil servants manage Gabonese state-owned enterprises (SOEs), which work primarily in energy, extractive industries, and public utilities. SOEs generally follow OECD guidelines on corporate governance. Corporate governance of SOEs usually consists of a board of directors under the authority of the related ministry. Each ministry chooses the members of the board. The ministry does not allocate board seats specifically to government officials and may choose members from the general public. The SOEs often consult with their ministry before undertaking any important business decisions. The corresponding ministry in each sector prepares and submits the budget of each SOE each year. Independent auditors examine the activities of SOEs each year, conducting the audit according to international standards. Auditors do not publish their reports, but rather, submit them to the relevant ministry. There is no published list of SOEs.
There are no specific laws or rules that offer preferential treatment to SOEs. However, although private enterprises may compete with public enterprises under open market access conditions, SOEs often have a competitive advantage in the industries in which they operate.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
There is a general awareness of responsible business conduct (RBC) among both producers and consumers. There are no formal rules or regulations pertaining to RBC in Gabon. There was no high-profile private sector impact on human rights in recent years.
With a push from labor unions, Gabon fairly enforces labor rights laws/regulations intended to protect individuals from adverse business impacts. However, Gabon has not effectively enforced consumer protection laws/regulations. While Gabon is widely praised as a leader in environmental protection and has been chosen as a positive example in Africa, there are still significant issues of pollution in-country where prosecution is weak and penalties insufficient. The President is highly environmentally-minded, and Gabon is known for its beautiful nature parks and beaches.
Gabon has not put in place corporate finance, accounting, and executive compensation standards to protect shareholders. There are no domestic measures requiring supply chain due diligence for companies that source minerals.
Gabonese authorities state that they are committed to Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) principles. Gabon was a candidate for the EITI beginning in 2007. By December 2012, Gabon was required to have completed an EITI validation that demonstrated compliance with the EITI rules. Due to the non-respect of deadlines and the non-performance of Gabon’s National EITI Committee, the International Council of the EITI voted on February 27, 2013, to exclude Gabon from the application process. Under the current IMF program, Gabon is expected to submit an application to EITI by September 30, 2019.
Gabon has established a legal framework to fight corruption, yet enforcement remains limited and official impunity is a problem. Corruption is rarely, if ever, prosecuted in Gabon. Transparency International lists Gabon as 124 of 180 countries. The Gabonese Penal Code criminalizes abuse of office, embezzlement, passive and active bribery, trading in influence, extortion, offering or accepting gifts, and other undue advantages in the public sector. Private sector corruption is criminalized whenever a given company is related to a public entity. Punishments for public officials found guilty of soliciting or accepting bribes include prison sentences ranging from two to 10 years, and a fine of CFA five million (USD 8,572).
The government established the Commission to Combat Illicit Enrichment (CNLCEI) in 2004. In summer 2018, the CNLCEI’s five year mandate was not renewed. The CNLCEI regulations do not extend to family members of civil servants or to political parties.
The Gabonese government launched an anti-corruption campaign in January 2017 called Operation Mamba. The first conviction occurred in April 2018, but was overturned on appeal in April 2019. Few details of the investigations have been made public.
There are no known laws or regulations to counter conflict of interest in awarding contracts or government procurement. There is no information about action on the part of the government to encourage or require private companies to establish codes of conduct that prohibit bribery of public officials. Some private companies use internal controls, ethics, and compliance programs to detect and prevent bribery of government officials.
Gabon is a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Corruption and is a member of The Task Force on Money Laundering in Central Africa (Groupe d’action contre le blanchiment d’argent en Afrique Centrale, or GABAC).
No international or regional watchdog organizations operate in Gabon. Local civil society lacks the capacity to play a significant role in highlighting cases of corruption.
Companies contend with a high risk of corruption when dealing with the Gabonese extractive industries. Gabon has vast oil, manganese, and timber resources; however, contracting and licensing processes lack transparency.
Resources to Report Corruption
National Financial Investigations Agency
Tel: +241 0176 1773
Agence Nationale d’Investigation Financière
Immeuble Arambo, Boulevard Triomphal