The island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe (STP) is located in the equatorial Atlantic in the Gulf of Guinea.  STP is gradually taking positive steps toward improving its investment climate and making the country a more attractive destination for foreign direct investment (FDI).  STP is a stable, multi-party democracy and the government is working to combat corruption and create an open and transparent business environment. To facilitate the tax receipts and enforcement, STP enacted a Value Added Tax (VAT) Law (13/2019), which will come into force in September 2020. A modern Labor Code (6/2019) enacted in April 2019, is designed to make labor standards easier for investors to understand and implement. In June 2019, STP became the 25th African country ratifying the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). The first ever Public Private Partnership (PPP) Law, the new Notary Code and the Commercial Register Code entered into force in 2018; the Regulation of Investment Code adopted in 2017;  the new Investment Code and the new Code of Fiscal Benefits and Incentives were adopted in 2016.  Together, these laws and related regulations adopted in the past year provide a more modern, attractive, and transparent legal framework for foreign investment.  A Millennium Challenge Corporation Country Threshold Program, implemented from 2007 to 2011, modernized STP’s customs administration, reformed its tax policies, and made it less burdensome to start a new business.  An anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing law adopted in 2013 brought STP into compliance with international standards.  With limited domestic capital, STP continues to rely heavily on outside investment and as such is committed to taking necessary reforms to improve its investment climate.

The consensus among government authorities and economic analysts is that considerable FDI is needed for STP to realize its development goals and potential.  However, foreign investors, face challenges identifying viable investment opportunities due to STP’s weak domestic market, inadequate infrastructure, small market, slow justice system, high cost of getting credit, and limited access and as well as the high cost of electricity.  STP is a developing country with gross domestic product (GDP) of roughly $422.2 million and a population of 211,028 according to 2018 World Bank estimates. Due to STP’s very limited revenue sources, foreign donors finance roughly 90 percent or more of its budget.  For the 2019 state budget, STP’s main sources of foreign assistance were China, Equatorial Guinea, Japan, Portugal, the World Bank, European Union, FAO and the African Development Bank. Creating “robust economic growth” focusing in the provision of services, including tourist, financial, technological, logistics, and health service associated with digital economy, is one of the four axes of the four-year Government program approved December 2018. Special attention will be also given to traditional sectors, mainly agriculture, livestock and marine resources. The STP’s extensive maritime domain (160,000 km2) might present opportunities for hydrocarbon production as technology improves.  Seeking to modernize its port infrastructure and capitalize its fishing potential, under Sino-STP cooperation signed in 2016. In early 2019, the Government announced advanced negotiations with China for the construction of a multifunctional commercial port. Additionally, in November 2019, the Ministry of Public Works launched an international public tender for the construction of a deep-water port in Fernão Dias, Lobata District, north of STP, under a public-private partnership model.  STP also announced Chinese funding in 2020 for airport recertification and upgrades. With $29 million Word Bank support, STP will rehabilitate 27 km of road linking the capital São Tomé to the north of the island. As a former Portuguese colony, STP has strong economic ties with Portugal and other Lusophone countries including Angola and Brazil.

STP is politically stable, and the government and business community appear focused on building consensus to develop the country economically and to improve basic social services for the country’s young and growing population.  STP has had peaceful demonstrations with a recent history of smooth political transitions.  Free and fair legislative and municipal elections held in October 2018 led to a formation of new government led by the Movement of Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe/ Social Democratic Party (MLSTP/PSD) in coalition with the PCD-MDFM-UDD coalition. Prime Minister Jorge Bom Jesus, who took office in December 2018 is focused on fighting corruption, improving business environment, attracting FDI and promoting economic growth.  In July 2016, STP peacefully elected the president, Evaristo Carvalho; a member of the opposition Independent Democratic Action party (ADI). President Carvalho supports increased foreign investment and welcomes closer U.S. engagement on economic matters.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2019 64 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 170 of 190 https://www.doingbusiness.org/
Global Innovation Index 2019 Not Ranked https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2018 $21 https://apps.bea.gov/international/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $1,960 https://data.worldbank.org/country/

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

São Tomé and Príncipe is taking steps toward sustainable economic growth.  Its economic prospects likely depend on the government’s ability to attract sustained FDI.  Therefore, the government is anxious to improve the country’s investment climate to make it a more attractive destination for foreign investors.  Under Article 14 of the Investment Code, the State guarantees equal and non-discriminatory treatment to both foreign and domestic investors operating in the country.  The Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (APCI), housed under the Ministry of Planning, Finance and Blue Economy, promotes and facilitates investment through single-window service and multi-sectoral coordination. However, due to lack of capacity the agency is struggling to fully comply with its mandate. www.apcistp.com 

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

According to Article 4 of the Investment Code, both domestic and foreign investors are free to establish and own business enterprises, as well as engage in all forms of business activity in STP, except in the sectors defined by law as reserved for the state, specifically military and paramilitary activities and as well as the Central Bank operations.  STP is gradually moving toward open competition in all sectors of the economy, and competitive equality is the official standard applied to private enterprises in competition with public enterprises with respect to access to markets, credit, and other business operations.  The government has eliminated former public monopolies in farming, banking, insurance, airline services, telecommunications, and trade (export and import).

There are no limits on foreign ownership or control except for activities customarily reserved for the state.  The form of public participation, namely the percentage of government ownership in joint ventures, varies according to the agreement.  Based on Article 8 of the Regulation of the Investment Code, all inbound investment proposals must be screened and approved by the applicable ministry for the economic sector in coordination with APCI.  According to Article 14, an investment proposal can be rejected if it threatens national security, public health, or ecological equilibrium and if the proposal has a negative effect or insufficient contribution to country’s economy.  However, these mechanisms do not go beyond the law’s mandate and are not considered barriers to investment.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The government has not conducted any investment policy reviews through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  Neither the World Trade Organization (WTO) nor United National Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has conducted a review.  STP is not currently a member of WTO but has observer status, and it is a member of UNCTAD.

Business Facilitation

STP has taken steps to facilitate investment and improve the business environment in recent years.  The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) worked with STP from 2007 to 2011 on a Threshold Country Program to improve investment opportunities, including creating a “one-stop shop” to help encourage new investments by making it easier and cheaper to import and export goods, reducing the time required to start a new business and improving STP’s tax and customs clearance administration.  Currently a business can be registered within one to five days.  In 2013, with the support of the International Trade Center, APCI was created.  These business facilitation services, including the “one-stop-shop” for business registration, offer equal treatment for women and underrepresented minorities in the economy; however, there is no special assistance provided to these groups.  The Single Window website  (http://gue-stp.net/spip.php?article24 ; Portuguese language only) provides information and application form on creating and registering companies in STP.

Outward Investment

While STP’s government does not actively promote outward investment, it does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

STP and Portugal signed a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) and a Double Tax Agreement in 1995 and 2015 respectively.  Both documents are still pending ratification.

STP is closely working with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to implement the value-added tax (VAT) system. The VAT Code (13/2019) approved in November 2019 will come into force in September 2020. STP has not signed either a BIT or bilateral taxation treaty with the United States. There were no ongoing systemic tax disputes between the government and foreign investors or any taxation issues concerning U.S. investors.

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The laws and regulations that affect direct investment, including environmental, health, and safety rules and regulations, apply equally to foreign and domestic firms.  STP tax laws reward citizens who return to the home country to invest, while also containing provisions for attracting foreigners to invest in STP.  The STP legal code is based on Portuguese law, and laws and regulations are applied at the national level.  Rule-making and regulatory authority exists at the national level and regulations are developed at the ministerial level, approved by the National Assembly and promulgated by the President. The ministry concerned is responsible for any regulatory enforcement mechanisms. Rarely, drafted bills or regulations are made available for public comment.  Copies of most regulations can be purchased online at https://www.legis-palop.org/  or directly at the Ministry of Justice, Public Administration and Human Rights in the format of the Official Gazette.

International Regulatory Considerations

STP is a member of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).  ECCAS’s fundamental goal is to promote exchange and collaboration among the member countries and give an institutional and legal framework to their cooperation.  ECCAS is the largest economic community in Central Africa, including Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) member states (Gabon, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of Congo, and Equatorial Guinea), as well as Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Rwanda, and São Tomé and Principe.  Covering an area of 6,640,600 square kilometers, ECCAS has a total population of approximately 130 million.  STP is not a member of the WTO, but has observer status.  STP is among the forty-four African Nations that signed the agreement on African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in March, 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda, and became the 25th African country ratifying the AfCFTA in June 2019.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Despite some case with emphasis to the dispute between the local businessman and Angolan investors which led to a compulsive and unconstitutional dismissal of Supreme Court Judges by the parliament in May 2018; the disputes are generally solved through dialogue or negotiations between parties without litigation, and there are few known instances of disagreements involving foreign investors reaching international courts. The country has a written commercial law but does not have specialized courts.

Despite the above-mentioned case, overall, the legal system is perceived to act independently.  The judicial process is procedurally fair but is subject to manipulation on occasion.  All regulations or enforcement actions are appealable to the Supreme Court.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

A VAT Law (13/2019) will come into force in September 2020. A modern Labor Code (6/2019) enacted in April 2019, is designed to make labor standards easier for investors to understand and implement. In June 2019, STP became the 25th African country ratifying the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). The first ever Public Private Partnership (PPP) Law, the new Notary Code and the Commercial Register Code all entered into force in 2018; the Regulation of Investment Code adopted in 2017;  the new Investment Code and  the new Code of Fiscal Benefits and Incentives were adopted in 2016.

Due to the establishment of a “one-stop-shop” for starting a new business, supported by the MCC program, the cost and waiting period to start a new business are substantially reduced.  A new business can obtain expedited registration within 24 hours for approximately $455 or between three to five days for approximately $234. Despite this improvement, STP ranks 150 out of 190 in terms of starting a new business according to the 2020 Doing Business Report; two positions drop in comparison to 2019 and 2018 respectively. In 2017, STP ranked 35 out of 190 economies.  Although no online business registration process exists, companies can easily register their businesses at the counter.

The following is a general description of how a foreign company can establish a local office:

  1. Provide full company documentation, translated into Portuguese.
  2. Check the uniqueness of the proposed company name and reserve a name.
  3. Notarize the company statutes with the registration office at the Ministry of Justice.
  4. File a company declaration with the Tax Administration Office at the Ministry of Finance, Commerce, and Blue Economy.
  5. Register with the Social Security Office at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.
  6. Publish the incorporation notice in the official government gazette (Diario da Republica).
  7. Publish the incorporation notice in a national newspaper.
  8. Register the company with the Commercial Registry Office at the Ministry of Finance, Commerce, and Blue Economy.
  9. Apply for a commercial operations permit (also known as an “alvara”).
  10. Apply for a taxpayer identification number with the Office of Tax Administration at the Ministry of Finance, Commerce, and Blue Economy.
  11. Register employees with the Social Security Office.

Other required documents include: 1) copies of the by-laws of the parent company and of the minutes of the meeting of the board of directors in which the opening of the STP branch is approved; 2) a certificate of appointment of the general manager for the STP office; 3) a copy of any agreement signed with a São Toméan company or with the STP government; 4) two copies of permits from the Court authorization to operate; and, 5) two photographs and a copy of the passport of the General Manager.

In addition, the Single Window website  (http://www.gue-stp.net/spip.php?article24 ; Portuguese language only) provides information on creating and registering companies in STP.

Beyond the new “one-stop shop” to help encourage new business, there are no agencies or brokers that provide services to further simplify the procedures for establishing an office in STP. Some companies hire a legal office for assistance.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

AGER (General Regulation Authority of the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Principe) was created to promote competition, as well as to prevent operator abuses in the water, electricity, telecommunications sectors and well as in the postal service.  AGER was established in 2005 and is housed under the Ministry of Public Works, Infrastructures, Natural Resources, and Environment.  AGER supervision does not go beyond its mandate.  For other economic sectors, STP does not have specific agencies that review transactions for competition-related concerns.

Expropriation and Compensation

The STP Constitution and the Expropriation Code allow only the central government to expropriate private property.  The law permits expropriation of private property only if it is deemed to be in the national public interest and only with adequate compensation.  There is no evidence to suggest that the government would undertake expropriation in a discriminatory manner or in violation of established principles of international law and standards.

Aside from a massive land expropriation from colonial farmers in 1976 – later recognized by the government as detrimental to STP’s economy – there have not been any documented cases of expropriation of foreign-owned properties.  The government has reportedly considered expropriating land to expand the runway at the international airport, but thus far has been reluctant to do so out of concern that any expropriation will be a deterrent to new investment.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

STP is a member of the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention) and the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention).

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

STP does not have a Bilateral Investment Treaty with the United States. In May 2018, a dispute between a local businessman and Angolan investor over a brewery led to a Government intervention and unconstitutional approval of a parliamentary resolution dismissing Supreme Court Judges including its President. There are no reports of investor-state disputes that have involved a U.S. person in the past 10 years.  STP courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

STP does not have any conflict mediation system but the country has a Voluntary Arbitration Law (LAV).  The LAV is largely based on the Portuguese Arbitration Act of 1986.  Nevertheless, many of the principles of the UNCITRAL Model Law are incorporated into the LAV.  The Arbitration Center, which was housed under the Chamber of Commerce, never fully played its role and has ceased its activities.

The STP legal system recognizes international arbitration, and local courts recognize foreign arbitral awards, though enforcement may be difficult.  No state-owned enterprise (SOE) is currently involved in an investment dispute.

Bankruptcy Regulations

STP has a bankruptcy law, but it is not well developed.  In the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report, STP ranks 168 out of 190 economies on the ease of resolving insolvency, the same rank as in 2019 report.

Investment Incentives

According to the 2016 Investment Code, all investments above 50,000 Euros are eligible for guarantees and benefits, including fiscal incentives stated in the Fiscal Benefits and Incentives Code of November 2016.  Examples of such incentives include tax deductions for corporation tax, stamp tax, taxes on baking operations, and withholding tax.  Other incentives include reduction or exemption of import and re-export tariffs.  The government also provides incentives for human resources training, as well other exceptional and complementary benefits, and incentives.  Based on Article 31 of the Fiscal Benefits and Incentives Code, the incentives are granted through the Private Investment Registration Certificate (CRIP) issued by the Trade and Investment Promotion Agency on approval of the investment project.  However, contrary to the 2008 Investment Code, the 2016 Code does not provide access to State-owned land and facilities as incentive to investments. Not any significant measure was adopted in the previous year, 2018, to incentive investments.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

STP currently has no free trade zones or free ports.  In 2016, Article 33 of the Fiscal Benefits and Incentives Code, defines the districts of Cantagalo, Lemba, Lobata and Caue, as well as Principe, as Special Development Zones.  Therefore, any new investment established in these areas under the Investment Code can qualify for special incentives.  According to Article 14 of the Investment Code, the state assures fair, non-discriminatory, and equal treatment of all investment in the national territory. Companies that qualify may benefit from reductions or exemptions of taxes under the conditions set forth in the Code of Free and Offshore Activities.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The government encourages but does not mandate local employment. STP has no specific performance requirements as a condition for establishing, maintaining, or expanding investment. However, under the Code of Fiscal Benefits and Incentives, the government offers better incentives for those companies that choose to reinvest or expand their investment. There are no requirements for investors to buy local products, to export a certain percentage of output, or to invest in a specific geographical area. There is no blanket requirement that STP nationals own shares in foreign investments in STP.  The visa application process is straightforward and transparent, and visas or work permits are usually easy to obtain if companies meet all the requirements.  Nevertheless, few São Toméan embassies worldwide process visa applications.  Under the Legal Regime of Foreign Citizens in STP, STP lifted visa requirements for citizens of the United States, EU, Canada, and the Community of Portuguese Language Countries.  Also, any foreign citizen holding a valid passport with a valid Schengen or U.S. visa can enter and stay in the country up to 15 days.  STP recently began accepting online visa applications. Information regarding procedures to submit an online visa application is available in Portuguese and English language at http://www.smf.st/evisa/index.php  .

However due to Covid-19 outbreak, as a preventive measure, in March 2020, the government enacted travel restrictions for flights and travelers from certain countries.  Check travel.state.gov for country-specific information while planning travel.

Real Property

Based on Article 46 of the Constitution, private property rights are guaranteed by the state.  According to Article 13 of the Expropriation Code, authorities must provide fair, adequate, and effective payment at market value in advance before expropriating any private property.  The government owns the vast majority of land in the country, most of which is agricultural land granted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fishing and Rural Development through concession of land titles under the Land Reform Law. Less than 10 percent of land is held by private owners.  Foreigners cannot purchase land, although they can purchase structures. The 2019 World Bank’s Doing Business Report ranks STP 172 out 190 economies in terms of registering properties. The new Notary Law approved in 2018 provides the country with a legal, modern, practical and which makes it possible to grant speed and efficiency in the practice of notarial acts and as well as ensure judicial security.  U.S. companies have not raised property rights concerns with the Embassy.

Intellectual Property Rights

U.S. companies have not raised Intellectual Property (IP) Rights concerns with the Embassy.  During the past year, not any new IP related laws and regulation was enacted nor reform bills pending.  All copyright and industrial property rights proceedings are covered by the Directorate of Industry in collaboration with National Directorate of Culture, both under the Ministry Tourism, Culture, Commerce and Industry.

STP is not listed in USTR’s Special 301 report and is not listed in the notorious market report.  STP is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).  The Regulation on Industrial Property regulates the enforcement of IP, including geographical indications, patents, and trademarks.  STP does not report on seizures of counterfeit goods.  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/ .

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Portfolio investment is undeveloped and unclear.  The Central Bank of STP (BCSTP) issued Treasury bills (T-bills) for the first time on June 29, 2015 for 75 million Dobras (around USD 3.7 million) at the fixed interest rate of 6.2 percent, with a maturity of six months.  The demand was 20 percent higher than the offer, resulting from the participation of three domestic banks.  The most recent issuance occurred on March 15, 2018.  STP does not have a stock market.  Articles 13 and 14 of the Foreign Exchange Regulations facilitate the free flow of financial resources under the supervision of the Central Bank.  Foreign investors are able to get credit on the local market; however, access to credit is difficult due to the limited variety of credit instruments, high interest rates, and the number of guarantees requested by the commercial banks. As a result, on the World Bank Doing Business Report 2020, STP ranked 165 out 190 economies regarding access to credit, representing 4-points dropping comparing to the previous year, 2019.  There are currently few significant U.S. investors active in STP.

Money and Banking System

STP has four private commercial banks.  Portuguese, Nigerian, Angolan, Cameroonian, Gabonese and Togolese interests (as well as those of STP) are represented in the ownership and management of the commercial banks.  In early 2018, the Central Bank (BCSTP) declared commercial bank “Private Bank” insolvent and opened a public tender to liquidate its assets and liabilities.  The Gabonese investment bank BGFI opened its São Toméan operation in March 2012.  Banking services are available in the capital with a few smaller branches in cities in the north, south, and center of the country, as well as in Principe.  STP lacks credit card and bank card processing; credit card purchases are currently primarily denominated in foreign currency, such as the euro and processed through foreign banks.

In addition to retail banking, commercial banks offer most corporate banking services, or can procure them from overseas.  Local credit to the private sector is limited and expensive, but available to both foreign and local investors on equal terms.  The country’s main economic actors finance themselves outside STP.  Foreigners must establish residency to open a bank account.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Central Bank supervises the national financial system and defines monetary and exchange rate policies in the country.  Among other responsibilities, the Central Bank sells hard currency and establishes the reference rate. In case of its shortage, the access to foreign currency is limited; however, there is no official norm restricting access.  The Article 18 of the Investment Code, foreign investors are allowed to transfer, or repatriate funds associated with an investment.

The dobra (STD) is the country’s national currency.  In July 2009, STP and Portugal signed an economic cooperation agreement to peg the Dobra to the euro rather than a weighted basket of currencies.  Based on the 2017 Monetary Law, the Central Bank introduced a new currency to modernize and strengthen the country’s financial system.  With the introduction of the new dobra in January 1, 2018, the exchange rate is currently 1 euro is equal to 24.5 dobra (22.4 dobras per $1).  This anchorage offers credible parity, minimizes monetary instability costs, and provides better credibility for exchange rate and monetary policy.

Remittance Policies

Repatriation of capital is possible with prior authorization.  According to both the Foreign Exchange Law and the Investment Code, transfer of profits outside the country is also allowed after the deductions for legal and statutory reserves and the payment of existing taxes owed.  The government encourages reinvestments with associated reductions in income taxes.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

STP does not have a traditional sovereign wealth fund (SWF).  It does have a small National Oil Account (NOA).  The NOA was previously funded by signing bonuses paid by energy and oil companies to gain rights to conduct exploration and production activities.  According to officials from the budget department, the Law of Petroleum allows the government to withdraw up to 20 percent of the balance of the NOA every year as calculated on June 30 of the previous year.  Details are available on the state budget and under NOA online.

When STP’s cocoa plantations were shut down in the late 1980s, most SOEs also closed.  EMAE (Water and Power Supply Company), ENAPORT (Port Authority Company), ENASA (National Company for Airports and Air Safety), and Empresa dos Correios (Post Office) are 100 percent state-owned enterprises but with some financial autonomy.  Under joint venture, the government holds 49 percent of CST (Santomean Telecommunication Company) while the largest Brazilian telecommunication company, OI, owns 51 percent.  The government has a 48 percent stake in BISTP (International Bank of STP), while the Portuguese Caixa Geral de Depositos holds 27 percent, and the African Investment Bank holds 25 percent.  All four fully owned state enterprises are unprofitable and are annually audited by the Ministry of Planning, Finance and Blue Economy and biennially by the Court of Audit.  They have financial autonomy, but largely depend on funds from the state budget.

Privatization Program

STP does not have an active privatization program. However, thorough its periodical reports, IMF has been recommending the privatization of the SOEs, especially EMAE.

There are no rules or legislation pertaining to responsible business conduct (RBC) in STP.  Companies generally act in accordance with labor, environment, flora and fauna protection, consumer protection, taxation, and other related laws.  There is limited awareness of expectations of or standards for responsible business conduct.  STP participates in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

STP has an overall positive trajectory in combatting corruption due to reforms the government has undertaken in recent years; ranking 64 out 180 countries and territories on the 2019 Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, keeping same position as a previous year.  The government approved a new anti-corruption law in 2012.  To reduce corruption by civil servants and to track the flow of money, authorities put in place a new requirement that all payments to government entities over $5 be made directly at the Central Bank and all salary payments to civil servants be paid directly to the employees’ accounts at the commercial banks.  A 2004 oil revenue management law received recognition for responsible management of future oil revenues. The government has also taken steps to review and update existing contracts with some foreign companies to support liberalization and free market competition.  The government has denounced corruption and pledged to take necessary steps to prevent and combat it.

Although corruption in customs was historically an issue for foreign investors, the MCC Threshold Program resulted in a modern customs code and related decrees.  The MCC program introduced modern customs tracking software and eliminated manual procedures, removing the link between the customs officials and cash payments.  Customs agents now handle payments on behalf of the importer.  As a result, customs revenues have increased significantly while incidents of corruption have reportedly declined.  This modernization effort represents a fundamental legislative change from colonial-era customs laws and processes to internationally recognized and transparent best practices and principles.

In 2013, the parliament adopted a fully amended and restated anti-money laundering/counter-terrorist financing (AML/CFT) law which complies with international standards.  Of note, the law includes a clear description of the crimes involving money laundering and terrorism financing activities, specifies the persons and entities that authorities can hold criminally responsible, describes the sanctions that authorities can impose and the assets they can confiscate in connection with the criminal activities, and sets forth STP’s regulatory structure.  The law designates the Financial Information Unit (Unidade de Informaçao Financeira) as the central agency in STP with responsibility for investigating suspect transactions.  After appearing on previous versions, STP was removed from the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) October 18, 2013 list of countries that have strategic deficiencies in their AML/CFT standards and that have not made sufficient progress in addressing the deficiencies.  STP is a member of the Inter-Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA), a FATF-style regional body.

According to the 2016 Investment Code, all investment proposals must be submitted to the APCI, which is responsible to carry out all legal inter-institutional coordination with different sectors involved in the analysis and approval of the investment project under the Investment Code. The new law limits contacts between investment proponents and officials involved in the investment approval process. On the other hand, the new law defines precise time for each investment approval procedure; therefore, it is a positive instrument in fighting corruption and briberies.

STP signed and ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention; however, it is not party to the Economic Co-operation and Development Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

STP does not have a designated agency responsible for combatting corruption.

Resources to Report Corruption

“Watchdog” organization:

Deodato Capela
Centro de Integridade Pública de São Tomé e Principe (STP Public Integrity Center) – Anticorruption, Transparency and Integrity -NGO
P.C: 330, Almeirim-São Tomé; São Tomé e Principe
+ 239 991 1116

STP is relatively stable, has no ethnic tensions, and has a relaxed lifestyle which locals refer to in local dialect as leve-leve (“take it easy”).  Since country’s democratic reforms in 1990, the archipelago has been a good example of democracy in the sub-region with a history of the peaceful transfer of power and consensus in decision making; however, protests in early 2018 over the creation of the Constitutional Court highlighted the lack of consensus in that decision, and a Supreme Court decision over a brewery dispute led to unconstitutional dismissal of court’s judges including its president, in the mid-2018. Later, in October, a lower court decision to recount the votes of October 7 legislative, local and regional elections, instigated demonstrations in front of the Agua Grande district electoral commission and consequent unexpected burning of a judge’s car.

Despite the post-elections incident highlighted above, the results of October 7 legislative elections led to the formation of a new Government headed by the Movement of Liberation of São Tomé and Principe/ Social Democratic Party (MLSTP/PSD) in coalition with the PCD-MDFM-UDD coalition and a peaceful transition of power.

The National Assembly is made up of 55 seats. Currently, Independent Democratic Action has 25 seats, the MLSTP/PSD, 23 seats, the coalition PCD-MDFM-UDD, 5 seats, and the São Tomé and Principe Independent Citizen Movement (MCISTP), 2 seats.

STP has a generally good human rights record and demonstrates a respect for citizens’ and workers’ rights.  Strikes are not the primary means to settle labor disputes and labor strikes have been sporadic in recent times.

Since independence in 1975, there have been no incidents of politically motivated attacks on projects or installations.  There is no anti-American sentiment and instances of civil disorder are rare.  There is a maritime piracy and terrorism threat in the Gulf of Guinea, but the impact on STP and its territorial waters has been limited.  STP has sought to be an active partner in regional maritime security efforts, although its capacity and resources are minimal due to budget constraints.  Despite two violent murders in early 2020, violent crime rates are historically low. The murders include a Portuguese resident woman who was violently killed with machete by an employee of the hotel she was managing in the north of São Tomé and as well as money changer  shot dead by an Member of Parliament in front of the Judiciary Police, over an alleged unpaid debt.

A significant portion of STP’s workforce is young, relatively well-educated, and multilingual (Portuguese and French).  Further training of the workforce is needed, however, for the economy to continue developing.  The percentage of foreign/migrant workers is low and also covered by the new Labor Code (Law 6/2019).  The government does not officially require but does encourage companies to hire nationals.  For the first time in 2016, the government set the national minimum wage for private and public sectors.  The basic salary varies by the size of the enterprise and will increase over time.  For micro enterprises or family businesses, the minimum wage is around USD 35.7 per month, small business USD 44.6, medium enterprise USD 58.0 and large enterprise USD 71.4.  The basic salary for the public sector is approximately USD 49.3.  Minimum wage, workday, overtime, paid annual vacations, and holidays are established under the labor laws. According to the new Labor Law, Women are entitled to state-funded maternity leave for a period of 14 weeks, including 8 weeks after childbirth.  The law recognizes the right of workers to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively.  While the law provides for the right to strike, including by government employees and other essential workers, the law strictly regulates this right.  The law does not prohibit anti-union discrimination or retaliation against strikers.  Labor laws including occupational health and safety standards, which are poorly enforced due to a lack of resources.  Workers’ collective bargaining agreements remain relatively weak due to the government’s role as the principal employer and key interlocutor in labor matters, including wages. The new Labor Law came into force in April 2019.

While the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation is authorized to do business in STP, currently there are no active programs in the country, nor have there been in the past.

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) 2018 $422 2019 $429 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A N/A N/A BEA data available at
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) N/A N/A N/A N/A BEA data available at
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP N/A N/A N/A N/A UNCTAD data available at

* Source for Host Country Data: Ministry of Planning, Finance and Blue Economy, 2019 

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Data not available.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

John McGuire
Economic Chief
U.S. Mission to Gabon and São Tomé & Príncipe
Tel: (241)

2020 Investment Climate Statements: São Tomé and Príncipe
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