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.
Kenya has a positive investment climate that has made it attractive to international firms seeking a location for regional or pan-African operations. The novel coronavirus pandemic has negatively affected the short-term economic outlook, but the country remains resilient in addressing the health and economic challenges. In July 2020 the U.S. and Kenya launched negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement, the first in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite this progress, U.S. businesses operating in Kenya still face aggressive tax collection attempts, burdensome bureaucratic processes, and significant delays in receiving necessary business licenses. Corruption remains pervasive and Transparency International ranked Kenya 128 out of 180 countries in its 2021 Global Corruption Perception Index – reflecting modest progress over the last decade but still well below the global average.
Kenya has strong telecommunications infrastructure and a robust financial sector and is a developed logistics hub with extensive aviation connections throughout Africa, Europe, and Asia. In 2018, Kenya Airways initiated direct flights to New York City in the United States. Mombasa Port is the gateway for East Africa’s trade. Kenya’s membership in the East African Community (EAC), the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), and other regional trade blocs provides it with preferential trade access to growing regional markets.
In 2017 and 2018 Kenya instituted broad reforms to improve its business environment, including passing the Tax Laws Amendment (2018) and the Finance Act (2018), which established new procedures and provisions related to taxes, eased the payment of taxes through the iTax platform, simplified registration procedures for small businesses, reduced the cost of construction permits, and established a “one-stop” border post system to expedite the movement of goods across borders. However, the Finance Act (2019) introduced taxes to non-resident ship owners, and the Finance Act (2020) enacted a Digital Service Tax (DST). The DST, which went into effect in January 2021, imposes a 1.5 percent tax on any transaction that occurs in Kenya through a “digital marketplace.” The oscillation between business reforms and conflicting taxation policies has raised uncertainty over the Government of Kenya’s (GOK) long-term plans for improving the investment climate.
Kenya’s macroeconomic fundamentals remain among the strongest in Africa, averaging five to six percent gross domestic product (GDP) growth since 2015 (excepting 2020due to the negative economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic), five percent inflation since 2015, improving infrastructure, and strong consumer demand from a growing middle class. There is relative political stability and President Uhuru Kenyatta has remained focused on his “Big Four” development agenda, seeking to provide universal healthcare coverage, establish national food and nutrition security, build 500,000 affordable new homes, and increase employment by growing the manufacturing sector.
Kenya is a regional leader in clean energy development with more than 90 percent of its on-grid electricity coming from renewable sources. Through its 2020, second Nationally Determined Contribution to the Paris Agreement targets, Kenya has prioritized low-carbon resilient investments to reduce its already low greenhouse gas emissions a further 32 percent by 2030. Kenya has established policies and a regulatory environment to spearhead green investments, enabling its first private-sector-issued green bond floated in 2019 to finance the construction of sustainable housing projects.
American companies continue to show strong interest to establish or expand their business presence and engagement in Kenya. Sectors offering the most opportunities for investors include: agro-processing, financial services, energy, extractives, transportation, infrastructure, retail, restaurants, technology, health care, and mobile banking.
South Africa boasts the most advanced, broad-based economy in sub-Saharan Africa. The investment climate is fortified by stable institutions; an independent judiciary and robust legal sector that respects the rule of law; a free press and investigative reporting; a mature financial and services sector; and experienced local partners.
In dealing with the legacy of apartheid, South African laws, policies, and reforms seek economic transformation to accelerate the participation of and opportunities for historically disadvantaged South Africans. The Government of South Africa (GoSA) views its role as the primary driver of development and aims to promote greater industrialization, often employing tariffs and other trade measures that support domestic industry while negatively affecting foreign trade partners. President Ramaphosa’s October 2020 Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan unveiled the latest domestic support target: the substitution of 20 percent of imported goods in 42 categories with domestic production within five years. Other GoSA initiatives to accelerate transformation include labor laws to achieve proportional racial, gender, and disability representation in workplaces and prescriptive government procurement requirements such as equity stakes and employment thresholds for historically disadvantaged South Africans. In January 2022, the World Bank approved South Africa’s request for a USD 750 million development policy loan to accelerate the country’s COVID-19 response. South Africa previously received USD 4.3 billion from the International Monetary Fund in July 2020 for COVID-19 response. This is the first time that the institutions have supported South Africa’s public finances/fiscus since the country’s democratic transition.
In November 2021 at COP 26 the GoSA, the United States, the UK, France, Germany, and the European Union (EU) announced the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP). The partnership aims to accelerate the decarbonization of South Africa’s economy, with a focus on the electricity system, to help achieve the ambitious emissions reduction goals laid out in South Africa’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) in an inclusive, equitable transition. The partnership will mobilize an initial commitment of USD 8.5 billion over three-to-five years using a variety of financial instruments.
South Africa continues to suffer the effects from a “lost decade” in which economic growth stagnated, hovering at zero percent pre-COVID-19, largely due to corruption and economic mismanagement. During the pandemic the country implemented one of the strictest economic and social lockdown regimes in the world at a significant cost to its economy. South Africa suffered a four-quarter technical recession in 2019 and 2020 with economic growth registering only 0.2 percent growth for the entire year of 2019 and contracting -6.4 percent in 2020. In a 2020 survey of over 2,000 South African businesses conducted by Statistics South Africa (StatsSA), over eight percent of respondents permanently ceased trading, while over 36 percent indicated short-term layoffs. Although the economy grew by 4.9 percent in 2021 due to higher economic activity in the financial sector, the official unemployment rate in the fourth quarter of 2021 was 34.9 percent. Other challenges include policy certainty, lack of regulatory oversight, state-owned enterprise (SOE) drain on the fiscus, widespread corruption, violent crime, labor unrest, lack of basic infrastructure and government service delivery and lack of skilled labor.
Due to growth in 2021, Moody’s moved South Africa’s overall investment outlook to stable; however, it kept South Africa’s sovereign debt at sub-investment grade. S&P and Fitch ratings agencies also maintain assessments that South Africa’s sovereign debt is sub-investment grade at this time.
Despite structural challenges, South Africa remains a destination conducive to U.S. investment as a comparatively low-risk location in Africa, the fastest growing consumer market in the world. Google (US) invested approximately USD 140 million, and PepsiCo invested approximately USD 1.5 billion in 2020. Ford announced a USD 1.6 billion investment, including the expansion of its Gauteng province manufacturing plant in January 2021.