Liberia offers opportunities for investment in mining, agriculture, forestry (timber), and financial services. A commodities-based economy, Liberia relies on imports for more than half of its cereal needs, including rice, Liberia’s most important staple food. The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected all sectors of the economy, and the International Monetary Fund projects negative two and a half percent growth for 2020.
Liberia would require considerable foreign direct investment (FDI) to fulfill its development goals and potential. However, low human development indicators and poor roads and lack of reliable internet access throughout most of the country constrain investment and development.
Most of Liberia lacks power supply, though efforts to expand access to electricity are ongoing through development of a grid from the Mount Coffee Hydropower Plant, the West Africa Power Pool’s cross border electrification projects, and other internationally supported energy projects.
The 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report ranked Liberia as 184th out of 190 economies in trading across borders, 184th in dealing with construction permits, and 180th in registering property. Corruption is endemic in Liberia. The 2019 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index ranks Liberia at 137th out of 180, down from 120th in 2018. More promisingly, the Doing Business Report ranked Liberia as 75th in starting a business and 76th in paying taxes.
The Government of Liberia formed a Business Climate Working Group (BCWG) in 2018 to improve the investment climate. The BCWG held several fora, including one in May 2019 entitled “Resolving Constraints to Trading Across Borders.” With the implementation of an IMF-supported program to improve fiscal and monetary policies, Liberia may soon experience a more favorable environment for private investment. The business climate could also improve with increased collaboration between business chambers, industry associations and the Liberian government, as well as through continued and persistent efforts of international donors.
Following frequently lengthy negotiations with the government, investors developing long term concessions for agricultural or extractive businesses report facing resistance from local communities, which claim the government has not consulted with them about land use. Further, communities and employees expect concessionaires and other private investors to provide significant support including education, healthcare, and housing.
Liberia is a country rich in natural resources, agricultural land, and abundant rainfall. Agribusiness and extractive industries investors in particular may find that Liberia merits careful consideration.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2019||137 of 180||http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview|
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2020||175 of 190||http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings|
|Global Innovation Index||2019||NA||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator|
|U.S. FDI in Liberia ($M USD, historical stock positions)||2018||USD 236||https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2019||USD 580||http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD|
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
Companies are required to adhere to the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) consistent with international norms. In many instances, however, authorities do not consistently enforce or apply national laws and international standards. Further, no systemic oversight or enforcement mechanisms exist to ensure that government authorities follow administrative processes. Some government ministries and agencies often have overlapping responsibilities, resulting in inconsistent application of the laws.
Although ministries and agencies usually publish finalized regulations, no prior public comment period is required. No central clearinghouse exists to access proposed regulations. Government revenues and debts, while partially captured in national budgets, are not transparent. Some budget documents are accessible online. For more information on regulatory transparency, see .
International Regulatory Considerations
Liberia is a member of two regional economic blocks, the Mano River Union (MRU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The Liberia Revenue Agency (LRA) continues to standardize and harmonize the country’s customs and tariff systems to incorporate Liberia’s tax regime into the ECOWAS External Tariff. Under its tax system modernization program, the LRA has undertaken new efficiency measures including adopting a Mobile Tax Payment option for citizens to pay taxes and fees via their mobile phones.
As a WTO member, the government has acceded to the terms and conditions of the WTO arrangements including technical barriers to trade (TBT) and sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Liberia’s legal system uses common and regulatory law as well as local customary law. The common law based court system operates in parallel with local customary law, which incorporates unwritten, indigenous practices, culture, and traditions. The 2001 Revised Rules and Regulation Governing the Hinterland of Liberia govern the traditional court system. See . Adjudication of law under these two systems often results in conflicting decisions between Monrovia-based entities, local communities outside of Monrovia, and within individual communities.
The Commercial Court hears commercial and contractual issues, including debt disputes of 15,000 USD and above. A commission under the Ministry of Labor hears claims of unfair labor practices. In theory, the Commercial Court presides over all financial, contractual, and commercial disputes, serving as an additional avenue to expedite commercial and contractual cases. The Supreme Court is the final arbiter of all cases and it hears all appeals, which places a significant burden on its panel of five judges. The judicial branch remains functionally independent of the executive, but there have been reports of executive branch interference in judicial matters. There have also been reports of extensive delays and procedural and other errors, casting doubt on the fairness and reliability of judicial decisions. Regulations or enforcement actions are appealable, and appeals are adjudicated in the Supreme Court.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
No judicial decisions pertaining to foreign direct investment have come out in the past year.
The government does not maintain a “one-stop-shop” website for investment laws, rules, procedures, or reporting requirements. The NIC provides sector-specific investment counseling and/or advisory services upon request. The LCC also maintains a helpdesk to explain relevant information on AGOA regulatory processes and procedures. It assists importers in processing documents to comply with AGOA procedures and Liberian customs regulations.
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
The Liberia Intellectual Property Office (LIPO), under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOCI), administers, investigates, and enforces competition-related issues in line with the Competition Law. This law incorporates WTO requirements to encourage a free market economy by promoting fair competition. Liberia does not have anti-trust laws.
Expropriation and Compensation
The 2010 Investment Act protects foreign enterprises against expropriation or nationalization by the government “unless the expropriation is in the national interest for a public purpose, is the least burdensome available means to satisfy that overriding public purpose, and is made on a non-discriminatory basis in accordance with due process of law.” Liberia is a signatory to the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) Convention.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Liberia is a member of the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID) – also known as the Washington Convention – and the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards – also known as the New York Arbitration Convention. The Commercial Code provides for enforcement of awards under either convention. The Investment Act provides that “the courts of Liberia shall have jurisdiction over the resolution of business disputes, parties to an investment disputes may however specify any arbitration or other dispute resolution procedure upon which they may agree.”
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Liberia is a member of the ICSID Convention and a signatory to the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) Convention that guarantee the protection of foreign investment. The Civil Procedure Law governs both domestic and international arbitrations, but there is not a stand-alone arbitration law. Enforcing foreign or domestic arbitration awards may require several years, from filing an application to the court of first instance to obtaining a writ of execution, with provision for an appeal.
Under the ICSID and the New York Arbitration Conventions, Liberian courts are bound to recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government. Liberia is also a signatory to the ECOWAS Treaty, which contains investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions.
There have been no recent extrajudicial actions against foreign investors.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
The Investment Act provides for trade dispute settlement between two private parties through either the judicial system or alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Other codes, statutes, and legislative provisions, including the Liberian Civil Procedure Law, govern commercial arbitration and recognize arbitration as a means of resolution between private parties in commercial transactions, based on the model of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL model law).
Investment contracts between private entities and the government frequently include arbitration clauses specifying dispute settlement outside of Liberia.
Given the general weakness of the judiciary, judicial processes are not always procedurally competent and reliable.
Liberia does not have a bankruptcy law. The Commercial Court has limited experience protecting the rights of creditors, equity holders, and holders of other financial contracts.
4. Industrial Policies
The government provides tax deductions for equipment, machinery, cost of buildings and fixtures used in manufacturing, as well as import duties, and goods and services tax exemptions as investment incentives for the following sectors: tourism, manufacturing, energy, hospitals and medical, housing, transportation, information technology, banking, poultry, horticulture, exportation, agricultural (food crop cultivation and processing), and rubber and oil palm cultivation and processing.
The government does not issue guarantees or jointly finance foreign direct investment projects.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
In 2019, the government established a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Steering Committee, “to create, drive, guide, enhance, coordinate, and manage single, multiple and mixed-use [SEZs] in Liberia.” The government identified the port city of Buchanan in Grand Bassa County for the first special economic zone (Buchanan Special Economic Zone); feasibility studies are underway.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
The Decent Work Act gives preference to employing Liberians; the act states that the Ministry of Labor “shall not issue a permit to work in Liberia unless it is satisfied that no suitably qualified Liberian is available to carry out the work required by the employer and the applicant satisfies the requirements for foreign residence in Liberia.” However, these requirements are not always strictly enforced.
Visa, residence, and work permit procedures do not generally inhibit mobility of foreign investors and their employees.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Liberian law protects property rights and interests, but with weak enforcement mechanisms. “Long term” mortgages or construction loans of up to 10 years are only available through the . Only Liberians may own land, with the limited exception provided in Article 22(c) of the Constitution that non-citizen missionary, educational, and other benevolent institutions shall have the right to own property, as long as that property is used for the purposes for which acquired; property no longer so used shall revert to the Republic.
Other foreigners and non-resident investors may acquire leases, which ordinarily run for 25-50 years. Liberian law provides for no official waiver mechanisms to limitations on foreign land ownership.
Although the (LLA) encourages property owners to identify and register land titles, it does not have systemic enforcement programs. The LLA estimates that less than 20 percent of the country’s total land is formally registered. Conflicting land ownership records are common. Investors sometimes experience costly and complex land dispute issues, even after concluding agreements with the government. In the interest of minimizing lost productivity and in the absence of government adjudication, companies often make additional community level payments or agreements to resolve competing land claims, although such settlements may still not resolve future disputes. See Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment, above, for further information, including implementation of the Land Rights Act. Also, see .
Foreign companies seeking to lease land may lease privately- or publicly-held land. Frequently, foreign companies seeking to acquire land leases do so through direct negotiations with the relevant landlords/owners. In September 2018, Liberia enacted the long-awaited Land Rights Act, designed to resolve historical land problems that have caused conflicts and communal strife in the past. With implementation still underway, the Act categorizes land ownership as:
- Public land, which is owned, but currently not used by the government
- Government land, which is used by government agencies (for office buildings or other purposes)
- Customary land, on which the livelihoods of most rural communities depend
- Private land, owned by private citizens.
Intellectual Property Rights
The Liberia Intellectual Property Act covers domain names, traditional knowledge, transfer of technology, and patents/copyrights; enforcement is weak. The Liberia Intellectual Property Office (LIPO) operates as a semi-autonomous agency functioning under the administrative oversight of MOCI. It lacks the technical skill to address IPR infringements. However, in November 2019, MOCI and LIPO established the Copyright Society of Liberia (COSOL) to develop legal and international frameworks agreements to guide the collection and distribution of royalties. The government also committed to fast-tracking the ratification of outstanding international IP treaties and legal instruments in line with WTO standards.
There is not a system to track and report on seizures of counterfeit goods. The government does not prosecute IPR violations. Many Liberians are unfamiliar with IPR, and IP and industrial property rights infringement is prevalent, including unauthorized duplication of movies, music, and books. Counterfeit drugs, apparel, cosmetics, mobile phones, computer software, and hardware are sold openly.
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
The Liberian government welcomes foreign investment, although Liberia does not have a well-developed domestic capital market. Private sector investors have limited credit and investment options. In 2019, the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) issued T-bills, but there were few subscribers. The CBL respects IMF Article VIII and does not implement restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions. Many foreign investors prefer to obtain credit from and retain profits in foreign banking institutions.
Money and Banking System
Nine commercial banks, branch outlets including payment windows/annexes, a development finance company, and a deposit taking microfinance institution provide banking services within Liberia. Eight of the commercial banks are foreign banks. Numerous licensed foreign exchange bureaus, microfinance institutions, credit unions, rural community finance institutions, and village savings and loan associations (“susus”) also provide financial services. However, the health of the financial sector is concerning. According to a 2019 report by the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), most of the commercial banks’ assets were held in instruments such as Liberian government bonds and T-bills which cannot easily be converted into liquid assets (cash), which has resulted in cash availability issues. Starting in 2018, commercial banks and businesses have reported considerable difficulty in accessing Liberian dollars, including withdrawals from saving accounts of private individuals at commercial banks and by commercial banks at the CBL. In addition, since 2019, commercial banks, businesses, and private individuals have had difficulties accessing U.S. dollars.
The issue of non-performing loans (NPLs) remains a major challenge in the banking sector and continues to negatively affect profitability. Commercial banks face persistent challenges in profit generation and loan repayment.
Foreign banks or branches can establish operations in Liberia, subject to regulations set out by the CBL.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
Foreign investors may convert, transfer, and repatriate funds associated with an investment (e.g., remittances of investment capital, earnings, loans, lease payments, and royalties). Liberian law allows for the transfer of dividends and net profits after tax to investors’ home countries.
Liberia has a floating exchange rate system. Both the Liberian Dollar (LD) and U.S. Dollar (USD) are legal tender. Market supply and demand dictates the exchange rate. The CBL displays and requires commercial banks and licensed money exchange bureaus to display daily LD to USD market exchange rates. In addition to commercial banks, licensed foreign exchange bureaus, petrol stations, supermarkets, and other stores provide exchange services. Many unregistered or unlicensed money exchangers exchange money throughout the country.
Liberia permits 100 percent repatriation of funds and does not have currency exchange restrictions.
Remittances may be sent to Liberia through Western Union, MoneyGram, RIA Money Transfer, and wire transfer.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
The government does not maintain a Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) or similar entity.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
The President of Liberia appoints Boards of Directors to govern wholly-government-owned, semi-autonomous state-owned enterprises (SOEs). The Public Financial Management (PFM) Act requires SOEs to submit periodic financial statements to their boards.
SOEs employ more than 10,000 people in sea and airport services, electricity supply, oil and gas, water and sewage, agriculture, forestry, maritime, petroleum importation and storage, and information and communication technology services. Not all SOEs are profitable. Liberia does not publish a list of SOEs. Some SOEs maintain their own websites.
Liberia does not have a privatization program or policy.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
Liberian authorities do not clearly define responsible business conduct (RBC) and have not established policies or a national action plan to promote or encourage them. The government does not factor RBC concepts into its procurement decisions, nor does it effectively and fairly enforce domestic laws regarding human rights, labor rights, consumer protection, or environmental protections intended to protect individuals from adverse business impacts. Foreign companies are encouraged, but not required, to publicly disclose their policies, procedures, and practices to highlight their RBC practices. Some non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society organizations (CSOs), and workers organizations/unions promote or monitor foreign company RBC policies and practices. However, NGOs and CSOs monitoring or advocating for RBC do not conduct their activities in a structured and coordinated manner, nor do they tend to monitor locally-owned companies.
Most Liberians are generally unaware of RBC standards. Generally, the government expects foreign investors to offer social services to local communities and contribute to a development fund for the area in which the enterprise conducts its business. Some communities complain that these contributions to social development funds do not reach them. The government frequently includes clauses in concession agreements that oblige investors to provide social services such as educational facilities, health care, and other essential services. There have been reports that local communities expect foreign investors to provide additional benefits to those outlined in formal concession agreements.
Liberia is a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). The monitors and evaluates concession company compliance with concession agreements, but it does not design policies to promote and encourage RBC.
Liberia suffers from corruption in both the public and private sectors. Some officials engage in corrupt practices with impunity. Liberia has laws against economic sabotage, mismanagement of funds, bribery, and other corruption-related acts, including conflicts of interest. In 2019, Transparency International lowered Liberia’s rank from 120 to 137 out of 180 countries in its corruption perception index. See .
The (LACC) cannot directly prosecute corruption cases. It must first submit/refer cases to the (MOJ) for prosecution. If the MOJ does not prosecute within 90 days, the LACC may then take those cases to court. The LACC continues to seek public support for the establishment of a specialized court to exclusively try corruption cases.
Foreign investors generally report that corruption is most pervasive in government procurement, contract and concession awards, customs and taxation systems, regulatory systems, performance requirements, and government payments systems. Multinational firms often report paying fees not stipulated in investment agreements. No laws explicitly protect NGOs that investigate corruption.
Liberia is signatory to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Protocol on the Fight against Corruption, the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (AUCPCC), and the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC).
Resources to Report Corruption
Contact at government agencies responsible for combating corruption:
Baba Borkai, Chief Investigator
Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), Monrovia,
Toll free: (+231) 777-313131
Contact at a “watchdog” organization (local or nongovernmental organization operating in Liberia that monitors corruption):
Anderson Miamen, Executive Director
Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL)
Tel: (+231) 886-818855
10. Political and Security Environment
President George Manneh Weah’s inauguration in January 2018 marked the first peaceful transfer of power from one democratically elected president to another since 1944. Increasing freedom of speech for Liberians as well as the relatively free media landscape in the country has led to vigorous pursuit of civil liberties, resulting in active, often acrimonious political debates and organized, non-violent demonstrations. In 2019, the government signed into law the Kamara Abdullah Kamara Act of Press Freedom to strengthen its commitment to several legal instruments it previously signed, such as the Freedom of Information Act and the Table Mountain Declaration. Numerous radio stations and newspapers distribute news throughout the country. The government has identified land disputes and high rates of youth and urban unemployment as potential threats to security, peace, and political stability.
The Government of Liberia has shouldered national security responsibility since the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) officially withdrew from the country in March 2018. Protests and demonstrations may occur with little warning. The United States and other international donors continue to assist in the education and training of the Armed Forces of Liberia and law enforcement agencies.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
With a literacy rate of just under 50 percent, much of the Liberian labor force is unskilled. Most Liberians, particularly those in rural areas, lack basic vocational or computer skills. Liberia has no reliable or official data on labor force statistics, such as unemployment rates. Government workers comprise the majority of formally-employed Liberians.
An estimated four out of five Liberian workers (80 percent) engage in “vulnerable” and/or “informal” employment. Many in the informal and vulnerable employment sectors suffer from inadequate earnings as well as difficult and/or dangerous conditions that undermine workers’ basic rights. The Ministry of Labor (MOL) largely attributes high levels of vulnerable and informal employment to the private sector’s inability to create employment. An acute shortage of specialized labor skills, particularly in medicine, information and communication technology, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics remains a challenge.
Migrant workers are employed throughout the country, particularly in the services sector and at artisanal diamond and gold mines.
Liberia’s labor law, the 2015 Decent Work Act, gives preference to employing Liberian citizens and most investment contracts require companies to employ a defined percentage of Liberians, including in top management positions. Foreign companies often report difficulty finding local skilled labor as one of their most significant operational hindrances. Child labor remains a problem, particularly in the extractive industries.
The Decent Work Act guarantees freedom of association, and employees have the right to establish and become members of organizations of their own choosing without prior authorization, apart from civil servants and employees of state owned enterprises. The Act allows workers’ unions to conduct activities without interference by employers. The law also prohibits employers from discriminating against employees because of membership in a labor organization. Unions are independent from the government and political parties. Employees, through their associations or unions, often demand and sometimes strike for compensation. When company ownership changes, workers sometimes seek payment of obligations owed by previous owners or employers.
The Decent Work Act provides that labor organizations, including trade or employees’ associations, have the right to draw up constitutions and rules regarding electing representatives, organizing activities, and formulating programs.
There were no major labor union-related negotiations affecting workers or the labor market during 2019, though public teachers and health workers went briefly on strike. There have not been any major labor negotiations or collective bargaining agreements in 2020. In 2019, Firestone Liberia, the country’s largest private sector employer, worked closely with the Ministry of Labor and the Agricultural Agro-Processing and the Industrial Workers Union of Liberia (AAIWUL) to ensure that a 13 percent reduction of force was done in accordance with Liberian labor laws, company policies, and the company’s collective bargaining agreement with AAIWUL. However, as global rubber prices declined during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, it became even more critical for Firestone to cut its losses through further reduction of its workforce and the use of contract tapping firms, a strategy which met strong resistance from Liberia’s legislature. Workers, except civil servants, have the right to strike provided that the MOL is notified of their intent to do so.
While the law prohibits anti-union discrimination and provides for the reinstatement of workers dismissed because of union activities, it allows for dismissal without cause provided the company pays statutory severance packages. The law sets out fundamental rights of workers and contains provisions on employment and termination of employment, minimum conditions of work, occupational safety and health, workers’ compensation, industrial relations, and employment agencies. It also provides for periodic reviews of the labor market as well as adjustments in wages as the labor conditions dictate.
The MOL does not have an adequate or effective inspection system to identify and remedy labor violations and hold violators accountable. It lacks the capacity to effectively investigate and prosecute unfair labor practices, such as harassment and/or dismissal of union members or instances of forced labor, child labor, and human trafficking. The MOL is charged with coordinating the government’s efforts on trafficking in persons and it made some progress in 2019 in coordinating efforts across the Government of Liberia, in particular for case tracking, service provision, and referring hotline cases to the Liberia National Police. No new labor-related laws or regulations were enacted during the last year.
12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs
Liberia qualifies for U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) project financing. As of July 2020, the DFC was conducting due diligence to fund a banking sector project. In July 2019, Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), DFC’s predecessor agency, approved a new facility of USD 20 million for the Liberian Enterprise Development Finance Corporation (LEDFC), OPIC’s local partner, in addition to USD 16 million in loans from other sources to increase the LEDFC’s total lending facility to USD 36 million. The facility supports short to medium term lending to the Liberian private sector.
Generally, the Government of Liberia finances large scale projects through international bilateral and multilateral donors, including the United States, EU, World Bank, African Development Bank, and IMF. Eligible American businesses, investors, lenders, contractors, and exporters may seek DFC support for commercially attractive opportunities in Liberia.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Data not available.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.
14. Contact for More Information
U.S. Commercial Service Contact Information
Phone: (+231) 77-677-7000