Executive Summary

Djibouti, a country with few resources, recognizes the crucial need for foreign investment to stimulate economic development. The country’s assets include a strategic geographic location, free zones, an open trade regime, and a stable currency. Djibouti has identified a number of priority sectors for investment, including transport and logistics, financial services, energy, and tourism. Djibouti’s investment climate has improved in recent years, which has led to a renewed interest by U.S. and other foreign firms. However, there are a number of reforms still needed to further promote investment.

The IMF has projected GDP growth at or above 6% annually for the next several years. In the nineties, Djibouti’s economy was weakened by a persistent drought, influx of refugees and migrants, a four-year civil war, and a substantial decrease of foreign aid. Recent years have seen a significant improvement driven by intensive expansion of the ports, changes in the tax and labor codes, and an influx of foreign direct investment (totaling 7.2% of Djibouti’s GDP in 2015). Real GDP growth has remained between 4% and 6% per year for the last five years, and inflation has remained below 8%.

Djibouti remains below regional and world averages in World Bank’s “Doing Business” reports, and fell from 169 in 2015 to 171 (of 189 countries) in the 2016 ranking. Some noteworthy improvements include making it easier to start a business by simplifying registration formalities and eliminating the minimum capital requirement for limited liability companies. In addition, Djibouti adopted a new commercial code, which broadens the range of movable assets that can be used as collateral to obtain credit. Another positive step was the opening in March 2017 of a “one-stop-shop,” which houses all the agencies with which a company must register.

Several large infrastructure projects are currently underway, with others in various stages of negotiation. Many of the ongoing and future projects are debt-financed with loans from China. An Independent Power Production law promulgated in 2015 has led to a surge of interest from U.S. and foreign firms, with multiple ongoing negotiations for energy generation projects, including green and hydrocarbon technologies.

The business environment in Djibouti would benefit from significant reforms to its legal and regulatory framework. Some of the needed reforms include simplifying the tax code, especially for small businesses, and streamlining the procedures for investment. In addition, the adoption of a new investment code based on international best practices is necessary as indicated by UNCTAD in its investment policy review of Djibouti:


Economic development is hindered by high electricity costs, high unemployment, an unskilled workforce, regional instability, and a need to diversify the economy.

Djibouti belongs to a number of regional organizations, including the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), which groups 19 countries into a common market of more than 300 million people. Djibouti is eligible to benefit from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), and is also a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). In addition, Djibouti is among the 34 least developed African countries with the option of entering the European Union Generalized System of Preferences.

Table 1

Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2016 123 of 176 http://www.transparency.org/
World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business” 2017 171 of 189 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2016 N/A https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2015 N/A http://www.bea.gov/
World Bank GNI per capita 2015 N/A http://data.worldbank.org/

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Djibouti’s laws encourage foreign investment, with state-run media providing favorable coverage of projects funded by foreign entities. The government sees FDI as a driving force behind Djibouti’s economic growth. Faced with high unemployment rates of over fifty percent, FDI is expected to generate jobs.

There is no screening of investment or other discriminatory mechanisms. Navigating the bureaucracy, however, can be complicated. Certain sectors – most notably public utilities – are state-owned and are not open to investors. In July 2015, the Djiboutian government approved a bill liberalizing the production of electricity. The state-owned company Djibouti Electricity (EDD) has had a monopoly on electricity production for decades. The bill will begin the process of opening the sector to competition, though this will likely be slow, and EDD retains all rights to the transmission and distribution of electricity. Nonetheless, the liberalization of production is a positive step in promoting private investment in the energy sector.

Djibouti’s National Investment Promotion Agency (NIPA), created in 2001 under the Ministry of Finance, promotes private-sector investment, facilitates investment operations, and works to modernize the country’s regulatory framework. NIPA assists foreign and domestic investors by disseminating information and streamlining administrative procedures. In March 2017, NIPA’s one-stop-shop was officially inaugurated. The NIPA is the main coordinator of the one-stop-shop which houses several agencies. NIPA has identified several priority sectors for investment, including infrastructure and renewable energy.

A new ministerial position was created in 2016 to further attract and reach out to potential investors. The new minister position reports directly to the presidency.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities have equal rights in establishing and owning business enterprises and engaging in all forms of remunerative activity. Furthermore, foreign investors are not required by law to have a local partner except in the insurance industry, and there only if the company is registered as a local company and not a branch of an existing foreign company.

There is not an established screening process for FDI. FDI is encouraged and given favorable tax status. Specific terms are negotiated on a case-by-case basis. Many companies therefore have a unique status created by agreement with varying preferences and advantages.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

World Trade Organization (WTO) completed a Trade Policy Review in October 2014:


The United Nations Committee on Trade and Development also conducted an Investment Policy Review in 2013:

(http://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/diaepcb2013d1summary_en.pdf ).

In June 2014, the World Bank started a project to “support the government of Djibouti’s efforts to attract foreign investment and improve the local business climate in strengthening mechanisms to address commercial disputes easing access to finance, and expanding the capacity of the NIPA for project management and implementation.

(http://www.worldbank.org/projects/P146250?lang=en )

As a World Trade Organization (WTO) member, Djibouti had its second review on trade policies and practices in 2014. The report found that manufacturing and agricultural sectors have remained weak, due to heavy taxation and the high costs of factors of production (labor and energy). Djibouti grants Most Favored Nation (MFN) status to its trading partners: (https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/s305_e.pdf )

Business Facilitation

The government of Djibouti has increasingly improved efforts to facilitate the registration of business by reducing the capital needed for investment, simplifying the formalities needed to register with the Intellectual Property office and simplifying some of the tax procedures. The most important result is the finalization of a one-stop shop, managed by the National Investment Promotion Agency (NIPA). The one-stop-shop brings together all the agencies with which a company must register.

Typically, a company registers with the following offices: Djibouti Office of Intellectual Property, Tax office, and the Social Security office. Online registration is not possible; the normal registration process takes 14 days, according to the World Bank. In Djibouti, every new business must have to get every document notarized to begin operations. Djibouti ranked 171 out of 189 countries in the World Bank 2016 Ease of Doing Business.

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices please see WIPO’s country profiles at: http://www.wipo.int/directory/en 

Outward Investment

The host government does not promote nor restrict outward investment.

Djibouti does not have a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) or a bilateral taxation treaty with the United States. However, Djibouti is eligible to benefit from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). The U.S. and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), which Djibouti is a member of, signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in 2001.

Djibouti has signed bilateral investment treaties with several countries. There is no publicly available list of these treaties, and the terms are not standardized from one treaty to the next. Other treaties to which Djibouti is a party include: ESA (Eastern and South Eastern Africa)-EU Interim Economic Partnership Agreement, COMESA, Agreement for the Promotion, Protection and Guarantee of Investment among Member States of the Organization of Islamic Conference, Cotonou Agreement, AU Treaty, League of Arab States Investment, Arab League Investment Agreement, and Arab Economic Unity Agreement

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Government policies are sometimes not transparent, and do not foster competition on a non-discriminatory basis. Likewise, the legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are not always transparent and consistent with international norms. Rule-making and regulatory authority exists at the state level.

Accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are not always transparent and are not consistent with international norms. The Djiboutian accounting system is loosely based on the French accounting system as it existed at independence (1977) and has been updated since that time. Legal and regulatory procedures are complex and unevenly enforced.

Draft bills are initiated in a process of public consultation in which stakeholders participate.

Regulatory actions including laws and decrees are available online at the following site: http://www.presidence.dj/recherchetexte.php 

The State General Inspection (SGI) is tasked with ensuring human and material resources in the public sector are properly utilized. It also acts as the enforcement mechanism.

The regulatory regime is written in a way that promotes open competition, at least in the sectors that are open to private investment. Implementation of the law is sometimes not transparent, and public functions such as licensing and issuing permits are not always done in a systematic fashion. Application of the rules is not always consistent. The laws are proposed by the ministry, and then debated and passed by the parliament. The promulgation by the president is the last stage.

International Regulatory Considerations

Djibouti is a member of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). The regulatory systems in these countries are not yet harmonized. The European norms and standards are referenced in Djibouti. Djibouti is a member of the WTO. Post is not aware whether the government notifies all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade

Legal and Judicial Independence

Djibouti’s legal system is based on French law, and consists of three courts: a Court of First Instance presided over by a single judge; a Court of Appeals, with three judges; and the Supreme Court. Djibouti has a written commercial code and specialized courts as well.

The court system is de jure independent from executive power. However, it is not always the case in practice so most investors in the market request the right to counsel including agreements for arbitration in a recognized international court.

International lawyers practicing in Djibouti have reported effective application of maritime and other commercial laws, but there have been reports in the past from foreign companies operating in Djibouti that court deliberations were biased or delayed.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The country’s legal system has no discriminatory policy against foreign investment, and frequently negotiates extended tax breaks and other incentives to attract larger investments. The National Investment Promotion Agency (NIPA) website has useful information and acts as a guide for investors: www.djiboutinvest.com

The Djibouti Office of Industrial and Commercial Protection (ODPIC) is the agency in charge of registering businesses. Its website contains information about the registration process: www.odpic.info 

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

In 2008, Djibouti adopted a new law on competition and consumer protection, which does not cover State-Owned Enterprises. Under this law, the Government of Djibouti regulates prices in areas where competition remains limited. For example, the government regulates postal services, telecommunications, utilities and urban transport services. Djibouti does not have an agency that specifically promotes competition and does not have a comprehensive strategy to restrict market monopolies.

Expropriation and Compensation

Foreign companies enjoy the same benefits as domestic companies under Djibouti’s Investment Code. Djibouti’s Investment Code stipulates that “no partial or total, temporary or permanent expropriation will take place without equitable compensation for the damages suffered”. However, there is no history of massive expropriations and the embassy is not aware of any recent cases of US companies’ expropriations. There have been cases of foreign companies facing de facto expropriation via fines, while other companies have had their concession to run a public service unilaterally revoked.

Dispute Settlement

Djibouti is not a member state to the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes convention. Djibouti, however, is a signatory to the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention). Djibouti’s government has had only a few investment disputes in the past several years, none with U.S. businesses. In some cases, the disputes have been settled in international arbitration courts and the government has abided by those decisions. In other cases, there has been de facto expropriation through large fines. As in any country, a strong, enforceable contract is important.

There is no domestic arbitration body within the country. In February 2014, the IGAD countries agreed to set up an international Business Arbitration Center in Djibouti. This institution would provide a mechanism for resolving business disputes, and may help to create a more transparent business environment in the region by reinforcing the principles of contract law and increasing the number of lawyers practicing commercial and contract law in Djibouti. Djibouti’s rule of law is weak as it relates to business disputes involving non-Djiboutian. Despite Djibouti’s participation as a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, foreigners may still be pressured to resolve disputes in favor of Djiboutian companies.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Djibouti does have bankruptcy laws, and bankruptcy is not criminalized. Insolvency laws are a high point in Djibouti’s investment climate, as it was ranked 68 out of 189 by the World Bank in 2016 in this area, compared to the 171 overall ranking.

Investment Incentives

Tax benefits and incentives fall under two categories detailed in the investment code. Investments greater than $280,000 USD that create a number of permanent jobs may be exempted from license and registration fees, property taxes, taxes on industrial and commercial profits, and taxes on the profits of corporate entities. Imported raw materials used in manufacturing are exempted from the internal consumption tax. These exemptions apply for up to a maximum of ten years after companies start producing materials in country. Incentives are often unique to an individual company or investment and are agreed upon with relevant ministries. Projects can be delayed if all relevant ministries are not consulted during negotiations. In order to promote exports, Djibouti has multiple free zones where companies enjoy full exemption from direct and indirect taxes for a period of up to ten years.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The Djibouti Free Zone (DFZ) is located on 40 hectares and offers office space, warehouses, light industrial units, and hangars. Businesses located in the Free Zone do not pay corporate taxes, have a simplified registration process, and receive other benefits such as assistance obtaining work permits and visas. Currently, 160 companies from 39 countries operate out of the Free Zone. In December 2013, the DAM Commercial Free Zone opened in the Damerjog region, south of Djibouti City. In March 2016, Djibouti and China signed an agreement to build a large free zone called Djibouti Free Trade Zone. This free zone will cover 48 square kilometers.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The government mandates local employment as long as the qualifications or expertise is available locally. However, these schemes are not equally applied to senior management and board of directors where foreign employment is more readily accepted. In December 2013, the cost for a work permit increased from 20,000 Djibouti francs (USD 112) to 200,000 Djibouti francs (USD 1,124). However, there are plans to review the cost of work permits and apply different rates according to the qualifications required for a position.

The government does not follow “forced localization”. The Djiboutian investment code guarantees investors the right to freely import all goods, equipment, products, or material necessary for their investments; display products and services; determine and run marketing policy and production; choose customers and suppliers; and set prices. Performance requirements are not a pre-condition for establishing, maintaining, or expanding foreign direct investments. Incentives do, however, increase with the size of the investment and the number of jobs created.

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.

Real Property

Djibouti’s legal system officially protects the acquisition and disposition of all property rights. Mortgages do exist, and are often guaranteed by the employer, who signs a form indicating the employee’s status and salary. The employer is then obliged to inform the bank if the employee leaves the company. Local workers rely on this to secure mortgages and expect that their employer will perform this role. The government owns and sells the land. There are no specific restrictions on foreign ownership of land. Djibouti is 168 of 189 on the World Bank’s Registering Property ranking: (http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/djibouti#registering-property 

All property owners who have legally obtained their land are registered. Even if unoccupied, the property belongs to the owner who legally purchased it.

Intellectual Property Rights

Djibouti has ratified the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Convention, the Paris Convention on the Protection of Industrial Rights, and the Bern Convention on the Protection of Literature and Art Works. The Ministry of Communication and the Djibouti Office for Intellectual Property Rights are responsible for safeguarding intellectual property after products are registered. Due to lack of coordination and administrative resources, counterfeit products are rarely seized. There were some instances in which seizures of counterfeit money were reported. However, there are no statistics available. Djibouti is not listed in U.S.Trade Representative’s Special 301 Report. Compared to other industries, the sale of counterfeit goods does not appear to be at higher risk of labor rights violations, including child labor, forced labor, and dangerous working conditions.

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .

Resources for Rights Holders

Embassy POC: Political/Economic Officer Hermes Grullon


For a list of local lawyers, see: http://photos.state.gov/libraries/djibouti/304020/PDF/attorneys_list_2013.pdf 

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Portfolio investment in Djibouti is done through private equity. Some multinational companies with investments in Djibouti are publicly traded. Investments in Djibouti are inherently illiquid for that reason, and the purchase or sale of any sizeable investment in Djibouti affects the market accordingly. Djibouti does not have its own stock market. Existing policies facilitate the free flow of financial resources into the product and factor markets.

Credit is allocated on market terms, and foreign companies do not face discrimination in obtaining it. Generally, however, only well-established businesses obtain bank credit, as the cost of credit is high. Credit is available to the private sector, whether foreign or domestic. Where credit is not available, it is primarily due to the associated risk and not structural factors.

Money and Banking System

Two large banks, Bank of Africa (BOA) and Bank for Commerce and Industry – Mer Rouge (BCI-MR), dominate Djibouti’s banking sector. While these two banks account for the majority share of deposits in-country, there were eleven other banks, all established in the last ten years. Two of the new banks closed in the last two years —WARKA Bank from Iraq and Shura Bank from Egypt. In 2011 a new banking law went into effect, fixing the minimum capital requirement for financial institutions at DJF 1 billion (USD 5,651,250) and extended the scope of the law to include financial auxiliaries, such as money transfer agencies and Islamic financial institutions. The latest bank, the Silkroad International Bank opened in January 2017. This new bank brings the total of banks operating in Djibouti to 11.

Simply put, the banking sector suffers from a lack of consistent supervision. Non-performing loans were estimated at more than 22%. The total assets of the economy’s largest banks were estimated to be $1.2 billion USD in 2016. The country has a Central Bank, which is in charge of delivering licenses to banks and supervising them. Foreign banks or branches are allowed to establish operations in the country. They are subject to the same regulations as local banks.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Djibouti has no foreign exchange restrictions. Businesses are free to repatriate profits. There are no limitations on converting or transferring funds, or on the inflow and outflow of cash. The Djibouti franc, which has been pegged to the U.S. dollar since 1949, is stable. The fixed exchange rate is 177.71 Djibouti francs to the dollar. Funds can be transferred by using banks or international money transfer companies such as Western Union which are both monitored by the Central Bank. There are no recent changes or plans to change investment remittance policies. There are no time limitations on remittances. The government does not issue bonds on the open market, and cash-like instruments are not in common use in Djibouti, so direct currency transfers are the only practical method of remitting profits.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Neither the government nor any government-affiliated entity maintains a Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) or other similar entity.

SOEs control telecommunications, water, and electrical distribution in Djibouti. Major print, television, and radio outlets are also state-run. SOEs are required by law to publish an annual report. The Court of Auditors is charged with auditing state-owned enterprises. There is no published list of SOEs, but they are well known.

State-run services, such as municipal garbage collection and real estate, do not hold legal monopolies, but are afforded material advantages by the government (e.g., government-backed loan guarantees for the real estate sector). Djibouti is not party to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) within the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO.)

In order to exercise ownership in SOEs, the government uses several laws and decrees, most of which were promulgated in the 1990s. The established practices are not consistent with OECD guidelines. No centralized ownership entity exists. SOE senior management reports directly to the relevant line ministry. There is also an independent board of directors whose members are chosen from other ministries.

Privatization Program

A few state-owned companies have been privatized such as a milk factory several years ago and a water bottling plant in 2015. No particular sector is targeted. The bidding process is not clear and transparent, which makes the participation of foreign investors more difficult.

There is nascent but growing awareness among both companies and consumers in Djibouti of Responsible Business Conduct (RBC). Businesses which may harm the environment are in general, obligated to conduct studies on the environmental impact before proceeding with their project. The government does not promote RBC in a systematic way, although it does acknowledge good corporate social responsibility and covers it favorably in state media. However, the government does not factor RBC policies or practices into its procurement decisions. The government does not adhere to OECD guidelines in RBC matters. There have been reports that the government does not effectively and fairly enforce domestic laws relating to labor rights, environmental protections, consumer protections, and human rights.

Djibouti has several laws to combat corruption by public officials. These laws were either passed by Djibouti or contained in the Penal Code. There are two government entities responsible for investigating corruption and enforcing the regulations. The State General Inspection (SGI) is tasked with ensuring human and material resources in the public sector are properly utilized. The Court of Auditors is mandated to verify and audit all public establishments for transparency and accountability, and to implement necessary legal sanctions. Both institutions are mandated to produce annual corruption reports. Despite the legal mandates, both institutions lack the authority to push for meaningful reform. The newly-created National Independent Commission for the Fight and Prevention of Corruption is also mandated to enforce the laws on combatting corruption. However, its effectiveness has not been proven so far. The contracting code and other laws passed by Djibouti contain provisions to counter conflict-of-interest contracts or government procurement.

In a law passed in 2013, the government requires private and public companies to establish internal codes of conduct that prevent and prohibit bribery of public officials. However, these codes are not implemented. Likewise, the government requirement that private companies use internal controls, ethics, and compliance to prevent bribery of government officials is not enforced. Djibouti is not party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. However, Djibouti is a signatory country of the UN Convention against Corruption and has laws and regulations prohibiting corrupt practices.

U.S. firms have not specifically noted corruption as an obstacle to direct investment in Djibouti, but there were allegations of foreign companies having to meet requirements such as renting houses of high dignitaries or hiring certain employees as a condition of receiving government procurement contracts. Prosecution and punishment for corruption is rare.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at government agency or agencies responsible for combating corruption:

+25 21 35 16 03

No “watchdog” organization is present in Djibouti.

Djibouti has seen only very limited episodes of political violence over the last two decades. In the last ten years, there have been no known incidents of political violence leading to damage to foreign investments. Both the ruling coalition party and the recognized opposition parties favor foreign direct investment into Djibouti and local attitudes towards foreigners are positive. Djibouti, however, has complicated labor laws that favor the employee, especially in the areas of disputes and termination.

The National Agency for Employment, Training, and Professional Integration (ANEFIP) maintains a database of Djiboutian job-seekers and issues work permits to foreign workers. No unemployment insurance or other social safety net programs exist for workers laid off for economic reasons. Only those workers who contributed to the social insurance for 25 years and are sixty years of age are entitled to retirement benefits.

Vocational and professional training facilities remain limited. Skilled Djiboutian workers, especially in high-demand trades such as construction, are in short supply. Unskilled labor is widely available. The government policy gives priority to hiring Djiboutian nationals when they are qualifiedEmployers have to abide by the Labor Code. Workers who are laid off get more compensation than employees who are fired. Labor laws are not waived to attract investment but the investment code and free zones have separate law provisions to attract investment.

Two large labor unions exist in Djibouti, but only the Djiboutian Workers Union (UDT) is recognized by international organizations. Collective bargaining is not common. No public data is available on collective bargaining agreements. By law, labor unions are independent of the government and employers. In practice they can be influenced by the government and/or employers. Labor disputes are first handled by the Labor Inspection office, which acts as a mediator. If the mediation by the Labor Inspection mediation fails, then the case is sent to the Court. There were no strikes that posed an investment risk last year. Post is not aware of any gaps in compliance in law or practice with international labor standards that may pose a reputational risk to investors.

Djibouti is eligible for Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) programs. Djibouti is a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), which guaranteed the loan for the construction of the Doraleh Container Terminal in 2009. Djibouti and the United States do not have an OPIC agreement.

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy

Host Country Statistical Source USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2015 $1.727B 2015 $1.727B IMF
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source USG or International Statistical Source USG or international Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A N/A N/A BEA data available at http://bea.gov/international/direct_investment_
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A N/A N/A BEA data available at http://bea.gov/international/direct_investment_
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2014 9.6% 2015 7.2% IMF

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI

Data not available.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Data not available.

Hermes Grullon
Political and Economic Officer
U.S. Embassy Djibouti
+253 21453112

2017 Investment Climate Statements: Djibouti
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