3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
The government has taken steps to encourage a more transparent and competitive economic environment. The IMF, World Bank, EU, and other large donors continue to urge the government to make further reforms. The government aims for transparency in law and policy to foster competition and provide clear rules of the game and a level playing field for domestic and foreign investors. Transparency of the Ivoirian regulatory system, however, is a concern as both foreign and Ivoirian companies complain that new regulations are issued with little warning and without a period for public comment.
There are no informal regulatory processes managed by non-governmental organizations or private sector associations.
Regulatory authority and decision-making exist only at the national level. Sub-national jurisdictions do not regulate business. For most industries or sectors, regulations are developed through the ministry responsible for that sector. In the telecommunications, electricity, cocoa, coffee, cotton, and cashew sectors, the government has established control boards or independent agencies to regulate the sector and pricing. Companies have complained that rules for buying prices determined by the agriculture commodity regulatory agencies tend to be opaque and prices are arbitrarily set without reference to world prices.
Côte d’Ivoire’s accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are consistent with international norms, though both foreign and Ivoirian businesses often complain about the system’s lack of clarity and the government’s poor communication. Côte d’Ivoire is a member of the Organization for the Harmonization of African Business Law (OHADA), which is common to 16 countries and adheres to the WAEMU accounting system. In accounting, companies use the WAEMU system, which complies with international norms and is a source of economic and financial data.
Draft legislation and regulations are not published or made available for public comment. The government, however, often holds public seminars and workshops to discuss proposed plans with trade and industry associations.
Regulatory actions are published in the Journal Officiel de la Republique de Côte d’Ivoire (Official Journal of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire), which is available for purchase at newsstands, and by subscription on the Journal’s website http://www.sgg.gouv.ci/jo.php and at https://abidjan.net/ .
The Autorité Nationale de Régulation des Marchés Publics (National Regulatory Authority for Public Procurement; ANRMP), polices transparency in public procurement and private sector compliance with public procurement rules. Consumers, trade associations, private companies, and individuals have the right to file complaints with ANRMP to hold the government to its own administrative processes.
The U.S. government does not have any knowledge of recent regulatory system reforms, including enforcement reforms, that have been announced since the last ICS report. The government has fully implemented regulatory reforms announced in prior years, with the goal to create an enabling business environment, foster competition, and build investor confidence in the economy.
Public and private institutions tasked with controlling and regulating various sectors make regulatory enforcement mechanisms available to the public.
Regulatory bodies regularly publish and promote access to their data for the business community and development partners, , allowing for scientific and data-driven reviews and assessments. Quantitative analysis and public comments are made available.
The Ivoirian government promotes transparency of public finances and debt obligations (including explicit and contingent liabilities) with the publication of this information through the following websites:
International Regulatory Considerations
The Ivoirian government incorporates WAEMU directives into its public procurement bidding policy, processes, and auditing. Recent changes include separating auditing and regulating functions, transitioning from a national to a regional system of procurement for intellectual services, and increasing advance payment for the initial procurement of goods and services from 25 to 30 percent. The ANRMP regulates public procurement with a view to improving governance and transparency. It has the authority to sanction entities that do not comply with public procurement regulations.
Ivoirian laws, codes, professional association standards, and regional body membership obligations are incorporated in the country’s regulatory system. The private sector often follows European norms, to take advantage of the Ivoirian trade agreement with the EU, one of Côte d’Ivoire’s largest markets.
Côte d’Ivoire has been a WTO member since 1995 but has not notified all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade. Côte d’Ivoire signed the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in December 2013 and ratified it in December 2015. The government has made efforts to implement the TFA requirements. The government established the National TFA Committee (NTFC) to coordinate TFA implementation. The USAID trade facilitation program has strengthened the capacity of the NTFC.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
The Ivoirian legal system is based on the French civil law model. The law guarantees to all the right to own and transfer private property. Rural land, however, is governed by a separate set of laws which make ownership and transfer very difficult. The court system enforces contracts.
Côte d’Ivoire is a signatory to OHADA, which provides common corporate law and arbitration procedures for the 16 member states. The Commercial Court of Abidjan adjudicates corporate law cases and contract disputes. Mediation is also available through the Ivoirian legal framework in addition to the Commercial Court and the Arbitration Tribunal. Following the recommendations of business associations and commercial law experts, in August 2017, the government established the Court of Appeals of the Commercial Court of Abidjan. The IMF recommended the creation of other commercial juridical bodies in the interior of the country, though these have not yet been established and the Commercial Court of Abidjan retains jurisdiction for the entire country.
The Ivoirian judicial system is ostensibly independent, but magistrates are sometimes subject to political or financial influence. Judges sometimes fail to prove that their decisions are based on the legal or contractual merits of a case and are often seen to rule against foreign investors in favor of entrenched interests. The greatest complaint from investors is the slow dispute resolution process. Cases are often postponed and appealed without a reasonable explanation, moving from court to court for years or even decades. Regulations or enforcement actions are appealable and adjudicated through the national court system.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
The 2018 Investment Code is the primary law governing investment conduct. The code does not restrict foreign investment or the repatriation of funds. The code offers a mix of fiscal incentives, combining tax exoneration and tax credits to encourage investment. The government also offers incentives to promote small businesses and entrepreneurship, low-cost housing construction, factories, and infrastructure development, which the government considers key to the country’s economic development. Some sectors have additional laws which govern investment activity in those sectors. In mining, for example, the Mining Code allows a period for holding permits for ten years with a possibility to extend for two more years on a limited permit area of 400 square kilometers.
The CEPICI provides a one-stop shop website to assist investors. More information on Côte d’Ivoire’s laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements can be found at:
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Small Business Promotion, through the Commission on Anti-Competition Practices, is responsible for reviewing competition–related concerns under the 1991 competition law, which was updated in 2013. ANRMP is responsible for reviewing the awarding of contracts.
No significant competition cases were reported over the past year.
Expropriation and Compensation
Private expropriation to force settlement of contractual or investment disputes continues to be a problem. Local individuals or local companies, using what appear to be spurious court decisions, have challenged the ownership of some foreign companies in recent years. On occasion, the government has blocked the bank accounts of U.S. and other foreign companies because of ownership and tax disputes.
There is no history of public expropriations.
In cases of illegal expropriations, Ivoirian law affords claimants due process. Even so, perceived corruption and lack of capacity in the judicial and security services have resulted in poor enforcement of private property rights, particularly when the entity in question is foreign and the plaintiff is Ivoirian or a long-established foreign resident.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Côte d’Ivoire is a signatory to the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and a signatory to the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.
In cases where the firm does not meet the nationality conditions stipulated by Article 25 of the Convention, the code stipulates that the dispute be resolved within the provisions of the supplementary mechanisms approved by the ICSID.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Côte d’Ivoire is a signatory to investment agreements subject to binding international arbitration of investment disputes. Côte d’Ivoire recognizes and has been known to enforce foreign arbitral awards, but enforcement is inconsistent.
Côte d’Ivoire does not have a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) or a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States.
In the past 10 years, foreign investors have had investment disputes, which often have been resolved through arbitration or amicable settlement. There have been no reported disputes involving U.S. firms in the past 10 years. As Côte d’Ivoire is a signatory to the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, local courts are obliged to enforce foreign arbitral awards.
The U.S. government is not aware of any history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors, including U.S. firms.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
The Abidjan-based regional Joint Court of Justice and Arbitration (CCJA) provides a means of solving contractual disputes. The arbitration tribunal has the ability to enforce awards more quickly, but the use of the tribunal in lieu of the court system has been limited.
Côte d’Ivoire is a member of OHADA, whose provisions adopted in 1999 have replaced domestic law on arbitration. The unified law is based on the UNICITRAL model law.
Judgments of foreign courts are recognized but difficult to enforce in local courts. To avoid working through the Ivoirian legal system, some investors stipulate in contracts that disputes must be settled through international commercial arbitration. Yet, even if stipulated in the contract, decisions reached through OHADA are sometimes not honored by local courts.
The U.S. government is not aware of cases in which Côte d’Ivoire’s domestic courts have shown preferential treatment for state-owned enterprises involved in investment disputes.
As a member of OHADA, Côte d’Ivoire has both commercial and bankruptcy laws that address the liquidation of business liabilities. OHADA is a regional system of uniform laws on bankruptcy, debt collection, and rules governing business transactions. OHADA permits three different types of bankruptcy liquidation: an ordered suspension of payment to permit a negotiated settlement; an ordered suspension of payment to permit restructuring of the company, similar to Chapter 11; and the complete liquidation of assets, similar to Chapter 7. Creditors’ rights, irrespective of nationality, are protected equally by the Act. Bankruptcy is not criminalized. Court-ordered monetary settlements resulting from declarations of bankruptcy are usually paid out in local currency. Côte d’Ivoire is ranked 85 out of 190 countries for ease of resolving insolvency, according to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report.
The joint venture Credit Info – Volo West Africa manages regional credit bureaus in the WAEMU.
5. Protection of Property Rights
The Ivoirian civil code provides for the enforcement of private property rights, and the government has undertaken reform efforts to secure property rights. Mortgages and liens exist. Secured interests in property are enforced by the Land Registry Office of the Ministry of Economy and Finance. In the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report, Côte d’Ivoire is ranked 112 out of 190 countries for registering property.
Foreign and/or nonresident investors who wish to lease land must obtain a permit for the development of the site, as well as a prefectural or sub-prefectural order recognizing occupation of the site.
The Audace Institute, an independent Ivoirian think tank, estimates that 96 percent of land does not have a clear title. The government has committed to titling all private land by 2026. The government has made efforts to raise awareness on land titling throughout the country and to streamline procedures for obtaining land titles. In 2018, the World Bank approved a program to build institutional capacity needed to support the implementation of the national rural land tenure security program, and register customary land rights in selected rural areas. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development requires that all land to be titled be professionally surveyed. The surveying, which must be performed by one of the few companies authorized by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to execute land surveys in Côte d’Ivoire, can cost more than the value of the land. The status of the land from which thousands of Ivoirians fled during the 2011 post-election conflict has not been resolved. Much of that land is now occupied by persons who do not hold title, many of whom are immigrants or descendants of immigrants from neighboring countries to the north of Côte d’Ivoire. A lack of title and a conflict between modern land tenure law and traditional practice hinders resolution of land tenure disputes.
It is not necessary to occupy legally purchased property in order to retain title.
Intellectual Property Rights
The Ivoirian Civil Code includes measures to protect intellectual property rights (IPR), but the government has limited resources for their enforcement. The government’s Office of Industrial Property is charged with ensuring the protection of patents, trademarks, industrial designs, and commercial names. Patents are valid for 10 years, with the possibility of two extensions of five years each. Trademarks are valid for 10 years and are renewable indefinitely. Copyrights are valid for 50 years. The Ivoirian Copyright Office has a labeling system in place to prevent counterfeiting and to protect audio, video, literary, and artistic property rights in music and computer programs. While Ivoirian IPR law is in conformity with standards established by the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), the country lacks customs checks at its porous borders, limiting the law’s impact.
The government has not adopted any IPR-related laws or regulations in the past year.
By law, the government must protect intellectual property on both exported and imported goods. Customs has the power to seize imported products that violate IPR laws even if installed with other equipment, including equipment detained, marketed, or illegally supplied. Such seizures, generally of counterfeit consumer goods (increasingly medicines), are routinely publicized on government websites and media outlets, although statistics on seizures are unavailable. The intellectual property office’s police unit has sometimes conducted raids on retail outlets and street vendors to confiscate pirated CDs and DVDs and instituted legal proceedings against counterfeiters. IPR violations are prosecuted, and penalties vary from imprisonment of three months to two years and fines from 100,000 to 5,000,000 CFA (USD 166 to 8,333 based on an average exchange rate of 600 CFA to one U.S. dollar).
Côte d’Ivoire is not listed in the United States Trade Representative (USTR)Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List.
For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/