4. Industrial Policies
Some of Gabon’s main industries (oil and gas, mining, and timber) enjoy investment preferences through customs and tax incentives. For example, oil and mining companies are exempt from customs duties on imported machinery and equipment specific to their industries making capital investments more affordable. The government implemented a new tourism code passed in February 2019 that provides tax exemptions to foreign tourism investors during the first eight years of operation.
President Bongo outlawed the export of unprocessed wood in 2009 to boost Gabon’s value-added wood products industry and increase domestic consumption. The government and Singapore-based firm Olam partnered to set up an SEZ at Nkok to process timber, and later expanded its mandate 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 SMEs. Land used for agriculture and farm exploitation is exonerated from fiscal tax. All imported fertilizers and animal feed are also 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 PPP between the government of Gabon and Arise, a recently formed company that plans to operate many similar industrial facilitation zones in the region based on expected success in Gabon. Singapore-based Olam completed the infrastructure phase for the Nkok SEZ, and multiple companies are actively operating there. All SEZs offer tax and customs incentives to attract foreign investors. In 2017, the GSEZ inaugurated the New Owendo International Port. With a surface area of 18 hectares, the terminal has annual capacity of three million tons. Gabon has plans to expand the number of SEZ facilities.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
Gabon mandates local employment.
In 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.
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.
There is no specific requirement imposed as a condition on investment.
Labor inspectors are in charge of following the implementation by companies of the “forced localization” rules under Gabonese labor laws regarding foreign workers.
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.
In September 2011, Gabon adopted Law No. 001/2011 on the Protection of Personal Data (available in French at http://www.afapdp.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Gabon-Loi-relative-%C3%A0-la-protection-des-donn%C3%A9es-personnelles-du-4-mai-20112.pdf), which defines all the rules on data storage for the following agencies: the Gabon data protection authority (‘CNPDCP’);
- the Gabon data protection authority (‘CNPDCP’);
- the Electronic Communications and Postal Authority (‘ARCEP’); and
- the General Population and Housing Census (‘the GPHC Order’).
10. Political and Security Environment
Violence related to politics is relatively rare in Gabon. Elections, however, can lead to heightened tensions or violence.
While the 2018 legislative and local elections took place without major incident, violence did break out on August 31, 2016, after the National Electoral Commission announced that the incumbent ABO defeated his opponent Jean Ping in the presidential election by a margin of less than 2%. Protestors took to the streets, attempting to burn the National Assembly building. Non-governmental organizations stated the government’s use of excessive force to disperse demonstrators resulted in approximately 20 deaths and over 1000 arrests; the opposition claimed at least 50 people were killed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on Gabon’s economy since March 2020. Measures to contain cases included closing several economic sectors, which increased the unemployment rate, with around 12,500 Gabonese losing their jobs (Minister of Labor announcement, January 2021). The social tension was high in February 2021 when further restrictions were announced, including a 6PM to 5AM curfew; this led to peaceful protests, occasionally marked by riots, during which two people were killed in Libreville and Port-Gentil.