1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies towards Foreign Direct Investment
Gabon’s government is anxious to attract foreign direct investment. In July 2012, Gabon released President Ali Bongo Ondimba’s Strategic Plan for an Emerging Gabon (Plan Strategique Gabon Emergent, or PSGE), an ambitious blueprint for developing Gabon into an emerging economy by 2025 by diversifying the country away from its reliance on energy exports and transforming Gabon into an internationally competitive investment destination. The plan calls for increased public and private investment, modernized infrastructure, and improved human capital. The government understands that foreign direct investment will help it achieve its developmental goals.
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 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 set up. The agency is supposed to act as the gateway for investment into the country and reduce administrative procedures, costs, and waiting periods. As of April 2017, however, the ANPI-Gabon is not yet fully operational.
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.
Any legal entity or person (both foreign and domestic) wishing to do business in Gabon must request prior permission from the Ministry of Economy. Foreign investors are largely treated in the same manner as their Gabonese counterparts with regard to the purchase of real estate, negotiation of licenses, and entering into commercial agreements. There is no general requirement for local participation in investments. Many businesses find it useful to have a local partner who can help navigate the subjective factors in the business environment.
Gabon Oil Company, a state-owned enterprise created in 2011, has an automatic right to purchase 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, with the aim of ensuring that investments are in line with the government’s “Emerging Gabon” initiative. 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.
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. Gabon’s Nkok SEZ offers tax incentives to industrial investors.
One of ANPI-Gabon’s primary goals is to promote investments and exports. However, as of April 2017, the agency is not yet fully operational.
The Gabonese government does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.
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 capacity to enjoy more domestic benefits from one of its top exports. The government and Singaporean-based firm Olam partnered to set up the Nkok SEZ to process timber, but 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
The Gabonese government inaugurated an SEZ at Nkok near Libreville in 2011. The SEZ is a joint 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 will offer tax and customs incentives to attract foreign investors.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
Gabon’s 1998 investment code conforms to CEMAC investment regulations, providing the same rights to foreign companies operating in Gabon as to domestic firms.
There is no known forced localization requirement.
There are no specific performance requirements 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.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Secured interest in property is recognized, and the recording system is fairly 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 titlesappear to have been registered in Gabon (according to a 2012 report, by land tenure specialist Liz Alden Wily, funded by the Directorate-General for Environment of the European Commission – latest available data). Most refer to tiny urban parcels. Urban area constitutes no more than one per cent of total land area. Very few titles exist in rural areas. In an effort to register land titles, in 2011, the government created the National Agency for Urban Planning, Surveys and the Land Registry.
If property legally purchased is unoccupied, property ownership can revert to other owners.
Intellectual Property Rights
As a member of CEMAC and the Economic Community of Central African States, 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 (IP), including the Paris Convention, the Berne Convention and the Convention Establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). As a member of the WTO, Gabon is also a signatory of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. U.S. companies have not raised IP rights (IPR) concerns with the Embassy.
Resources for Rights Holders
U.S. Embassy Libreville
+241 0145 7000
For a list of local attorneys see: https://ga.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/local-resources-of-u-s-citizens/attorneys/
During the past year, no new IP related laws or regulations have been enacted concerning IPR protection.
Gabon does not report on seizures of counterfeit goods.
Gabon is not listed in USTR’s Special 301 report, nor is it listed in the notorious market report.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
Government-appointed civil servants manage Gabonese SOEs, which work primarily in industries including 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 such as PricewaterhouseCoopers or Ernest and Young 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.
Gabon does not have an active privatization program.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Foreign direct investment position data are not available for Gabon.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio investment data are not available for Gabon.