Benin has been a stable democracy since 1990, enjoying until recently a reputation for regular, peaceful, and inclusive elections. In 2019, the government held legislative elections for which no opposition party qualified to participate and which were neither fully competitive nor inclusive. Elections-related unrest in 2019 left several people dead
Benin’s overall macroeconomic conditions were positive in 2019. According to IMF estimates, GDP growth increased from 6.7 percent in 2018 to 6.9 percent in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic and Nigeria’s partial closure of its borders beginning in August 2019 are expected to slow GDP growth to 3.2 percent in 2020. Port activity and the cotton sector are the largest drivers of economic growth. Telecommunications, agriculture, energy, cement production, and construction are other significant components of the economy. Benin also has a large informal sector. The country’s GDP is roughly 51.1 percent services, 26.1 percent agriculture, and 22.8 percent manufacturing.
President Patrice Talon launched an ambitious $15 billion five-year Government Action Plan (PAG) in 2016. The PAG lays out a development plan structured around 45 major projects, 95 sector-based projects, and 19 institutional reforms. With the goals of strengthening the administration of justice, fostering a structural transformation of the economy, and improving living conditions, the projects are concentrated in infrastructure, agriculture and agribusiness, tourism, health, and education. The government estimates that full implementation of the PAG will result in the creation of 500,000 new jobs and a leap in national economic and social conditions. The government intended that 61 percent of the PAG be funded through public-private partnerships (PPPs), but through the end of 2019 no such partnerships had been secured. Government critics allege that the Talon administration is using the PAG in part to channel resources and contracts to administration insiders.
Benin continues efforts to attract private investment in support of economic growth. The Investment and Exports Promotion Agency (APIEX) is a one-stop-shop for promoting new investments, business startups, and foreign trade. In 2019, APIEX worked with foreign companies to facilitate new investments, though some companies reported that the agency was under-resourced and hamstrung by bureaucratic red tape in other agencies and ministries.
In June 2017, a five-year, $375 million Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact with Benin entered into force. The Benin Power Compact is advancing policy reforms to bolster financing for the electricity sector, attract private capital into power generation, and strengthen regulation and utility management. Through the compact MCC is expanding the capacity and increasing the reliability of Benin’s power grid in southern and northern Benin. As two thirds of Benin’s population does not have access to electricity, the compact also includes a significant off-grid electrification project via a clean energy grant facility that supports private sector investment in off-grid power systems. This follows Benin’s 2006-2011 compact, which modernized the country’s port – the principal source of government revenue – and improved land administration, the justice sector, and access to credit.
The Beninese government actively encourages foreign investment, which it views as critical for economic development and successful implementation of the $15 billion PAG. APIEX, situated in the Presidency, aims to promote foreign direct investment and reduce administrative barriers to doing business. APIEX serves as the single investment promotion center and conduit of information between foreign investors and the Beninese government. It is the technical body responsible for reviewing applications for approval under the Investment Code and the administrative authority for special economic zones (SEZs). The agency has significantly reduced stated processing times for registration of new companies (from 15 days to one day) and construction permits (from 90 to 30 days). In practice, APIEX faces capacity constraints, processing times can be longer than stated, and its website is often out of date and lacks information on the latest regulations and laws. The Investment Code, amended in 2020, establishes conditions, advantages, and rules applicable to domestic and foreign direct investment.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Beninese law guarantees the right to own and transfer private property. The court system enforces contracts, but the judicial process is inefficient and suffers from corruption. Enforcement of rulings is problematic. Most firms entering the market work with an established local partner and retain a competent Beninese attorney. A list of English-speaking lawyers and legal counselors is available on the Embassy’s website:
Other Investment Policy Reviews
In 2015, the Beninese government conducted a joint investment policy review (IPR) with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Further to a 2016 fact-finding mission, the UNCTAD Report on the Implementation of the IPR of Benin assesses progress in implementing the original recommendations of the IPR and highlights policy issues to be addressed in the investment climate. The full report may be found at: https://investmentpolicy.unctad.org/investment-policy-review/23/benin
Benin ranked 149 out of 190 countries on the 2020 World Bank Doing Business rankings, rising five spots from 2019. APIEX is responsible for facilitating business startups and reducing administrative barriers for investors and businesses. APIEX states that new businesses can be opened online through its website in as little as 24 hours (https://monentreprise.bj/).
In an effort to facilitate business travel and tourism, Benin implements a visa-free system for African nationals and an online e-visa system for holders of other passports (). The country is working to open four new trade offices abroad to enhance Benin’s international business opportunities. One is already underway in Shenzhen, China; others are planned for Europe, the United States, and the Middle East.
Benin’s 2017 Property Code made property registration simpler and less expensive in order to boost the real estate market, improve access to credit, and reduce corruption in the registration process. The measures apply to real personal property, estate and mortgage taxes, and property purchase receipts. In order to register property, individuals and businesses must present a taxpayer identification number (registration for which is free). Land registration and property purchase certifications are free, but there is a fee for obtaining a property title.
Benin Control – a private company operating under the supervision of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport – is charged with expediting customs clearances and minimizing processing barriers to clearing cargo at the Port of Cotonou. Benin Control makes it possible to obtain cargo clearance within as little as 48 hours after its off-loading at the Port of Cotonou, though in practice this can take longer. The reinstitution of the cargo inspection and scanning program known as PVI, first tried in 2012, resumed operations at the Port of Cotonou in 2017. Under the PVI program, Benin Control scans 10 percent of all imports, with containers selected randomly for scanning. Benin Control bills all containers exiting the Port of Cotonou – regardless of whether they are selected for scanning – at the rate of 35,000 FCFA ($68) for a 20-foot container, and 45,000 FCFA ($78) for a 40-foot container.
The Beninese government has no policies or incentives in place to encourage the country’s businesspeople to invest abroad. The Beninese government does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.
Benin has bilateral investment treaties signed and in force with Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union, Burkina Faso, Canada, Germany, Kuwait, Netherlands, Switzerland, and United Kingdom. Benin is listed as a member country to International Investment Agreements with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), and the African Union. The United States and WAEMU have an Agreement Concerning the Development of Trade and Investor Relations, which contains investment provisions. Benin does not have a bilateral taxation treaty with the United States, though it is eligible under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) to export certain items duty-free to the United States.
Benin is a member of UNCTAD’s international network of transparent investment procedures. Foreign and domestic investors can find detailed information on administrative procedures applicable to investment and income generating operations at , including the number of steps, name and contact details of the entities and persons in charge of procedures, required documents and conditions, costs, processing time, and legal bases justifying the procedures. There is no rule to prevent a monopoly over a particular business sector. The Benin Private Investment Council (http://www.cipb.bj/) is the only business-related think-tank or body that advocates for investors. Generally, draft bills are not available for public comment though promulgated laws are available at https://sgg.gouv.bj/documentheque/lois/. Individuals, including non-citizens, have the option to file appeals about or challenge enacted laws with the Constitutional Court.
International Regulatory Considerations
Benin is a member of WAEMU and the Organization for the Harmonization of African Business Law (OHADA) and has adopted OHADA’s Universal Commercial Code (codified law) to manage commercial disputes and bankruptcies within member countries. Benin is also a member of OHADA’s Common Court of Justice and Arbitration and the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). OHADA provisions govern bankruptcy. Debtors may file for reorganization only, and the creditors may file for liquidation only. Benin is member of the WTO and notifies all draft technical regulations to the organization’s Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).
Legal System and Judicial Independence
Benin’s has a civil law system. The legal framework includes various legislative and regulatory texts covering family law, land law, labor law, criminal law, criminal procedure, and civil, commercial, social, and administrative proceedings. The Cotonou commercial court, created in 2017, enforces commercial laws and regulations. In 2018, Benin created an anti-terrorism, drugs, and economic crimes court (CRIET), which until recently lacked a mechanism for substantive appeal. The CRIET has convicted and sentenced several of President Talon’s detractors and political opponents, raising concerns about its independence. In February 2020, Benin created an appeals chamber within the CRIET. In general, judicial processes are slow, and challenges to the enforcement of court decisions are common. Magistrates and judges, though independent by law, are appointed by the Executive. Benin’s courts enforce rulings of foreign courts and international arbitration.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
The Investment Code provides the legal framework for foreign direct investment. The Code establishes conditions, advantages, and rules applicable to domestic and foreign direct investment. https://benindoingbusiness.bj/ makes available online information on foreign direct investment regulations and procedures, though its website is often incomplete and out of date. Benin is a member of OHADA’s Common Court of Justice and Arbitration (CCJA) and the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). Investors may include arbitration provisions in their contracts in order to avoid prolonged entanglements in the Beninese courts. The United Nations investment guide for Benin (https://www.theiguides.org/public-docs/guides/benin/) provides a general guide for foreign direct investment steps and procedures.
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
Benin’s legal framework does not address anti-trust or competition issues. The government does not have an agency or office that reviews transactions for competition-related concerns.
Expropriation and Compensation
The government is forbidden by law from nationalizing private enterprises operating in Benin.
In 2017, the government announced that it was terminating concessions for the management of four state-owned hotels (two in Cotonou and two in northern Benin), and instructed the Minister of Justice to file reparations claims against the concessionaires on the grounds that they had not fulfilled their concession agreements.
In 2012, the government took control of the private bank Banque Internationale du Benin (BIBE) stating that poor management risked leading the bank to bankruptcy and possible systemic risk to the banking sector. BIBE is still in government hands. https://www.ohada.org/index.php/fr/ohada-au-quotidien/role-des-audiences-publiques-de-la-cour-ccja In 2012, the government seized assets belonging to the parastatal SODECO, a major cotton production company partly owned by President Patrice Talon. In 2014, the OHADA Common Court of Justice and Arbitration (CCJA) judged that the Beninese government had illegally seized SODECO assets. In 2016, after Talon took office, the government returned the assets to SODECO.
Benin is a member of ICSID. Benin is a party to the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
Benin does not have a bilateral investment treaty with the United States.
There is an ongoing investment dispute between the Beninese government and a U.S. immigration and aviation security company. In 2016, the U.S. company alleges the government canceled a contract for the provision of immigration security systems at Cotonou’s airport. In 2017, the U.S. company filed a request for arbitration with the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). In 2019, the ICC found the government at fault for cancelling the contract and issued a $95 million judgment in favor of the U.S. company. The government is currently appealing the decision.
Since 2010, three other disputes between U.S. investors and the Beninese government were resolved in favor of the U.S. investors.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Benin has adopted OHADA’s Universal Commercial Code (codified law) to manage commercial disputes and bankruptcies. Benin is a member of the OHADA, CCJA, and ICSID.
OHADA provisions govern bankruptcy. Debtors may file for reorganization only, and creditors may file for liquidation only. Benin ranked 108 out of 190 in the “Resolving Insolvency” category of the 2020 World Bank Doing Business report.
Depending on the size of the investment, investors may benefit from reduced tax liability on profits or imported industrial equipment for up to one year from the date of business registration. Investors must meet several criteria including employing a minimum number of Beninese nationals, safeguarding the environment, and meeting nationally accepted accounting standards. The Investment Control Commission monitors companies that receive these incentives to ensure compliance.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
The Investment Code allows for the creation of SEZs and establishes incentives such as tax reductions for investors. There are currently three SEZs in Benin, but only one, located in southeastern Benin, is active. SEZ zone investors may benefit from reduced tax liability on profits and exemptions for import and export duties. Investors must meet several criteria including employing a minimum number of Beninese nationals, safeguarding the environment, and meeting nationally accepted accounting standards. Local entities and foreign investors enjoy the same opportunities.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
There are no government-imposed conditions on permission to invest and there is no “forced localization” policy pertaining to the use of domestic content in goods or technology. There are no requirements in place for foreign IT providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to encryption.
The Benin Post and Communications Regulatory Authority (ARCEP) ensures the confidentiality of the content of all communications by the service provider or operator, whether this is information or other data the service provider obtains in the course of providing the services offered. No information may be disclosed without the written consent of ARCEP or a signed order of the competent judicial authority. Additional information may be found at www.arcep.bj.
The Land Act, amended in 2017, codifies real property rights. Land ownership disputes account for roughly 80 percent of the cases seen by Beninese tribunals. The Land Act is designed to ensure fair access to land and protect ownership rights. The Land Act establishes a transparent legal procedure for obtaining and documenting ownership, reduces property speculation in urban and rural areas, and encourages land development. The Land Act stipulates that development projects financed by international or multinational agencies cannot implement or result in forced evictions. The state is obligated to do everything possible at each stage of project development to ensure due respect of economic, social, and cultural rights recognized by international conventions and the Beninese constitution.
Secured interests in real and personal property are recognized and enforced. Secured interests in property are registered with the Land Office of the Ministry of Finance. However, it is recommended that foreign and non-resident investors buy land with title deeds and the intervention of a notary public in order to avoid land disputes that may result from the acquisition process. Large land leases for investment in rural areas are enforced by local city halls in conformity with the Land Act. Additional information regarding the acquisition of property may be found at the Beninese Land Agency’s website at https://www.andf.bj/
Intellectual Property Rights
The 2005 Law on Copyright and Related Rights regulates intellectual property rights. Benin is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and has acceded to WIPO treaties and conventions on copyrights and intellectual property protection. However, enforcement of intellectual property rights in Benin is constrained by the government’s limited capacity.
Benin is not included in the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List.
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.
Government policy supports free financial markets, subject to oversight by the Ministry of Finance and the West African States Central Bank (BCEAO). Foreign investors may seek credit from Benin’s private financial institutions and the WAEMU Regional Stock Exchange (Bureau Regional des Valeurs Mobilieres – BRVM) headquartered in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire with local branches in each WAEMU member country. There are no restrictions for foreign investors to establish a bank account in Benin and obtain loans on the local market. However, proof of residency or evidence of company registration is required to open a bank account
Money and Banking System
The banking sector is generally reliable. Thirteen private commercial banks operate in Benin in addition to the BCEAO and a planned subsidiary of the African Development Bank. Taking into account microfinance institutions, 22.5 percent of the population had access to banking services in 2018. In recent years, non-performing loans have been growing; 15 percent of total banking sector assets are estimated to be non-performing. The BCEAO regulates Beninese banks. Foreign banks are required to obtain a banking license before operating branches in Benin. They are subject to the same prudential regulations as local or regional banks. Benin has lost no correspondent banking relationships during the last three years. There is no known current correspondent banking relationship in jeopardy. Foreigners are required to present proof of residency to open bank accounts.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
All funds entering the country from abroad for investment purposes require reporting and registration with the Ministry of Finance at the time of arrival of funds. Evidence of registration is required to justify remittances of investment capital, earnings, loan/lease repayments, or royalties. Such remittances are allowed without restrictions. Funds entering the country from abroad for investment purposes must be converted into local currency. For the purposes of repatriating such funds, either the invested funds or the interest/earnings or royalties can be converted into any world currency.
The currency of Benin is BCEAO-CFA Franc (international code: XOF). XOF has a fixed parity with the Euro and fluctuates against all other currencies based on this parity. This parity was established at the time of the Euro’s creation (January 1, 1999) and has not changed since then. The parity stands at XOF 655.957= EUR 1.00, guaranteed by the French government under an arrangement between the Treasury of France and the European Union.
There have been no recent changes to investment remittance policies. Banks require documents to justify remittances related to investments. The waiting time to remit investment returns does not exceed 60 days in practice.
There are several wholly owned SOEs operating in the country, including public utilities (electricity and water), fixed and mobile telecommunications, postal services, port and airport management, gas distribution, pension funds, agricultural production, and hotel and convention center management. There is also a number of partially owned SOEs in Benin. Some of these receive subsidies and assistance from the government. There are no available statistics regarding the number of individuals employed by SOEs.
With the exception of public utilities (including electricity and water), pension funds, and landline telephone service for which the public telephone company retains a monopoly, many private enterprises compete with public enterprises on equal terms.
SOE senior management may report directly to a government ministry, a parent agency, or a board of directors comprised of senior government officials along with representatives of civil society and other parastatal constituencies. SOEs are required by law to publish annual reports and hold regular meetings of their boards of directors. Financial statements of SOEs are reviewed by certified accountants, private auditors, and the government’s Bureau of Analysis and Investigation (BAI). The government audits SOEs, though it does not make available information on financial transfers to and from SOEs.
SOEs are established pursuant to presidential decrees, which define their mission and responsibilities. The government appoints senior management and members of the Board of Directors. SOEs are generally run like private entities and are subject to the same tax policies as the private sector. The courts process disputes between SOEs and private companies or organizations.
Foreign investors may participate in privatization programs. The Talon administration has targeted divestiture programs rather than total privatization of state-owned enterprises. The state-owned telecommunications company, Benin Telecom Infrastructure, is targeted for either a divestiture program or dissolution by 2021. With support from MCC, the state-owned electricity utility, Société Beninoise d’Energie Electrique (SBEE), is managed privately through a management contract through 2023, even though the government retains full ownership. The government is pursuing major transactions to attract private investment into thermal and solar power generation, as well as natural gas supply for power generation. In 2017, the government signed a three-year renewable management contract for the Port of Cotonou with the Belgian firm Port of Antwerp International (PAI). PAI took over management of the port in May 2018. The move was intended to improve port management and attract foreign investors to fund a planned project to modernize and expand the port.
In general, government policies and public tenders are made public online and in the newspapers. Anti-corruption, human rights, environmental protection, and consumer NGOs and activists are active in Benin, though their ability to report misconduct and violations of good governance has weakened under the current government. There are government-funded agencies in charge of monitoring business conduct. They include the National Anti-Corruption Authority (ANLC), ARCEP, the Supreme Court Chamber of Accounts, the National Financial Information Processing Unit, and the National Commission on Systems and Freedom.
Benin has laws aimed at combatting corruption, though corruption remains a recurring problem in areas including public administration, government procurement, customs and taxation, and the judiciary. The ANLC is the lead government entity on corruption issues and has the authority to refer corruption cases to court. The ANLC also has the authority to combat money laundering, electoral fraud, and economic fraud in the public and private sectors. Benin’s State Audit Office is also responsible for identifying and acting against corruption in the public sector. The CRIET processes cases related to economic crimes, which can include corruption. In 2018, the National Assembly approved the lifting of parliamentary immunity of a small number of opposition parliamentarians accused of corruption or embezzlement during their past positions in former governments.
Bribery is illegal and subject to up to ten years’ imprisonment, but enforcement is uneven. Private companies often establish their own codes of conduct.
Beninese procurement law allows for open and closed bid processes. Contracts are often awarded based on government solicitations to short-listed companies with industry-specific expertise, often identified based on companies’ commercial activities conducted in other overseas markets. The government often uses sole sourcing for projects, including for PAG implementation, and in these cases does not publish procurement requests before selecting a vendor. Foreign companies have expressed concerns about unfair treatment, biased consideration, and improper practices specific to the process of selecting short-listed companies.
Benin is a signatory of the UN Anticorruption Convention and the OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.
Resources to Report Corruption
Contact at government agency or agencies responsible for combating corruption:
NAME: JeanBaptiste Elias
ADDRESS:01 BP 7060 Cotonou, Benin
TELEPHONE NUMBER: +229 21 308 686
EMAIL ADDRESS: email@example.com
NAME: Ms. Blanche Sonon
ORGANIZATION: Social Watch
ADDRESS: 02 BP 937, Cotonou, Benin
TELEPHONE NUMBER: +229 21042012 229 95961644
EMAIL ADDRESS firstname.lastname@example.org;
Benin has been a stable democracy since 1990, enjoying until recently a reputation for regular, peaceful, and inclusive elections. In 2018, the National Assembly adopted and the government implemented stringent rules for political parties to qualify to participate in legislative elections. In 2019, the government held legislative elections for which no opposition party qualified to participate and that were neither fully competitive nor inclusive. The National Assembly is currently made up exclusively by two pro-government parties. Elections-related unrest in 2019 left several people dead. The largest security issues facing Benin are the threat of terrorism spilling across its porous northern borders and piracy offshore in the Gulf of Guinea.
The government adheres to internationally recognized rights and labor standards. Benin’s constitution guarantees workers’ freedom to organize, assemble, and strike. Government authorities may declare strikes illegal if they are deemed a threat to public order or the economy and may require those on strike to maintain minimum services. In 2018, the Constitutional Court reinstated a law prohibiting public employees in the defense, health, justice, and security sectors from striking, and a new law limited strikes to a maximum of 10 days per year for private-sector workers and public employees not covered by the existing ban. Approximately 75 percent of salaried employees belong to unions. There are several union confederations. Unions are obliged to operate independently of government and political parties, but in practice often act to further political aims. Benin’s labor code, as revised in 2017, is favorable to employers.
The official unemployment rate in Benin in 2018 was 2.3 percent, though estimates of actual unemployment figures are much higher. Unskilled and skilled labor and qualified professionals are generally available. Nearly 90 percent of youth between the ages of 15 and 29 work in the informal sector. The standard legal workweek is 40 hours and payment of overtime is allowed.
In 2017, the government adopted a law on the framework for private sector and government employment, termination of employment, and placement of labor in Benin. The law sets a maximum limit of three to nine months’ salary (calculated using the last 12 months of salary) to be paid to an employee in case of abusive termination of employment or layoffs. If fired on legitimate grounds, but short of being caught red-handed doing something unlawful, an employee with a minimum of one year on the job is entitled to receive two months’ salary as severance pay. The law also allows for multiple renewals of limited time contracts. Under the former law, private companies who dismissed employees for unsatisfactory performance were routinely sued.