Gabon is a historically stable country located in a volatile region of the world and has significant economic advantages: a small population (roughly 1.98 million), an abundance of natural resources, and a strategic location along the Gulf of Guinea. After taking office in 2009, President Ali Bongo Ondimba introduced reforms to diversify Gabon’s economy away from oil and from traditional investment partners and to position Gabon as an emerging economy. In his “Emerging Gabon” strategic plan, he laid out a vision for sustainable development by 2025 through creating domestic industrial capacity to process primary materials and by becoming a regional leader in service industries, including financial services, information and communication technologies (ICT), education, and healthcare. Gabon is also promoting foreign investment across a range of sectors, particularly in the oil and gas, infrastructure, timber, ecotourism, and mining sectors. Despite these efforts, Gabon’s economy remains dependent on revenue generated by the exportation of hydrocarbons. Gabon’s commercial ties with France remain very strong, but the government continues to seek to diversify its sources by courting investors from the rest of the world. Signs of its long relationship with France abound, and often bespeak preferential treatment (such as French citizens maintaining an exemption from some exit visa requirements.)
Although Gabon is taking steps towards making the country a more attractive destination for foreign investment, it remains a difficult place to do business, especially without in-country or francophone experience. Foreign firms are active in the country, particularly in the extractive industries, but the difficulty involved in establishing a new business and the time it takes many new entrants to finalize deals are impediments to increased U.S. private sector investment. Although the Gabonese government is taking a more active role to ensure transparency in extractive industries, investors are still waiting for key reforms to be established in law and in practice. Gabon enacted a new mining code in 2015 and is currently revising its 2014 hydrocarbon code. A Special Economic Zone (SEZ) located at Nkok became operational in 2014. Increased investment is constrained due to limited bureaucratic capacity, unclear lines of decision-making authority, a lack of a clearly-established and consistent process for companies to enter the market, lengthy bureaucratic delays, high production costs, a small domestic market, rigid labor laws, limited and poor infrastructure, a cumbersome judicial system, and inconsistent application of customs regulations.
Economic conditions in Gabon weakened throughout 2017 and into 2018. In addition to budget constraints due to low oil prices, the government lacks fiscal transparency. Many international companies, including U.S. firms, continue to have difficulties collecting timely payments from the Gabonese government, and some companies in the oil sector have closed down operations. To address fiscal imbalances, Gabon signed in June of 2017 a three-year Extended Fund Facility arrangement of USD 642 million with the IMF and there are already some repayment issues. While opportunities exist, the investment climate in Gabon will remain difficult until the government resolves its budgetary problems.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2017||117 of 180||http://www.transparency.org/
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report “Ease of Doing Business”||2017||167 of 190||www.doingbusiness.org/rankings|
|Global Innovation Index||2017||N/A||https://www.globalinnovation
|U.S. FDI in partner country (M USD, stock positions)||2016||USD 146||http://www.bea.gov/
|World Bank GNI per capita||2016||USD 7,210||http://data.worldbank.org/