The deterioration of the global economy that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic had a severe impact on the Mauritanian economy and reversed the previously bright economic outlook that led to the reduction of the country’s poverty rate from 10.9 percent in 2008 to 6.0 percent in 2014. The Mauritanian government response has been swift in mitigating the impact of the pandemic with the support from international partners by way of assistance funds and debt service suspensions. As a response to the pandemic’s economic impact, President Ghazouani launched the Economic Recovery Plan (ProPEP) in September 2020. ProPEP aims to boost the economy and improve the living conditions of vulnerable populations by reducing extreme poverty, expanding basic socio-economic infrastructures, organizing the information sector, and adopting a regulatory framework conducive to private sector development. As part of his annual speech to the parliament on January 29, Prime Minister Bilal presented a brighter picture of Mauritania’s economic outlook highlighting the government’s push to attract more investors. His presentation highlighted Mauritania’s natural resources which consist of deposits of copper, gypsum, uranium, and hydrocarbons including one of Africa’s largest offshores discoveries, the Greater Tortue Ahmeyim (GTA) natural gas field.
The 2022 budget reflects the Mauritanian government’s priorities as it attempts to revitalize the national economy and alleviate poverty, especially in the informal sector which was particularly impacted by COVID-19 and comprises 70 to 75 percent of the total economy. With its considerable natural resources, Mauritania places great importance on foreign direct investment (FDI). The continued global demand for iron-ore boded well for Mauritania throughout the pandemic as iron ore production is a main contributor to the country’s GDP. Real GDP is expected to grow from 2.8 percent in 2021 to 4.2 percent in 2022.
Mauritania has substantial renewable energy potential, particularly when it comes to solar, wind, and hydro power resources. The natural gas reserves at GTA are expected to enter production in 2023. The energy sector (hydrocarbons and renewable energy) offers opportunities for increased U.S. direct investment in Mauritania. On February 28, Kosmos Energy announced that it will increase investments in Mauritania and Senegal in 2022 by USD 300 million to accelerate development of the GTA gas field. According to Power Africa, the Government of Mauritania is working to expand its electricity supply and encourage investment in the renewable energy sector to stimulate the economy with the aim of reaching universal access by 2030. To do this, the GIRM will:
- Increase new production capacity from local resources, mainly natural gas;
- Increase the share of renewable energies in its total energy production, targeting 60 % by 2030;
- Further develop the transmission network and interconnections with neighboring countries; and
- Implement decentralized solutions in isolated areas.
Traditionally, U.S. investment in Mauritania has been primarily in the hydrocarbons and mining sectors. However, the Mauritanian government’s efforts to meet the challenges of food self-sufficiency provide an opportunity for U.S. agro-businesses to engage with Mauritania through supplies and equipment sales, as well as technical training. In 2019, Mauritania ranked as the United States’ 157th largest goods export market amounting to USD 91 million. Mauritania’s top export categories were machinery (USD 24 million), meat poultry (USD 15 million), vehicles (used and new) (USD 9 million), minerals fuels (USD 9 million).
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
The Government of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania (GIRM) has been proactive in attracting more Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and has signed several MOU’s with international firms mainly from the Gulf and Turkey Mauritania is rich in minerals, has one of Africa’s richest fishing grounds and excessive potential in renewable energy, natural gas, and agriculture. Mauritania’s geographical position makes it a potential hub between Europe, North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa.
The GIRM promotes international investment through the Agency for the Promotion of Investment in Mauritania (APIM), which was launched in 2021. APIM aims to attract FDI to accelerate the government economic development plan. Through APIM, the government hopes to make Mauritania the new investment frontier for the Sahel by improving the investment code and providing a stable business environment. In addition to APIM, the Economic Governance and Investment Management Support Project (PA2GI) — an African Development Bank project active from 2021-2024 – will prioritize public and private investment in strategic sectors of the President’s Economic Recovery Plan (ProPEP). It is an institutional support project intended to assist Mauritania in its efforts to ensure robust, sustainable and job-creating economic growth. It involves striving to ensure public investment optimization, private investment promotion and the strengthening of tax and land governance in support of Mauritania’s Strategy for Accelerated Growth and Shared Prosperity (SCAPP) and President Ghazouani’s Economic Recovery Plan (ProPEP).
There is no law prohibiting or limiting foreign investment in any sector of the economy. There are no laws or regulations specifically authorizing private firms to adopt articles of incorporation or association, which limit or prohibit foreign investment, participation, or control. There are no other practices by private firms to restrict foreign investment. The government continues to prioritize foreign investment in all sectors of the economy and is working closely with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the international donor community to improve basic infrastructure and to update laws and regulations.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Both domestic and foreign entities can engage in all forms of remunerative activities, except activities involving selling pork meat or alcohol. There are no limits on the transfer of profit or repatriation of capital, royalties, or service fees, provided the investments were authorized and made through official channels. The government performs mandatory screening of foreign investments. These screening mechanisms are routine and non-discriminatory. The “Guichet Unique” created in 2020 is a one-stop shop that takes care of all administrative needs related to registering a company. The Guichet Unique provides the administrative review for all sectors, except for the petroleum and mining sectors, which require approval from a cabinet meeting led by the president.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
The latest investment policy review occurred in February 2008. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) review is available online, in French, at: http://unctad.org/en/Docs/iteipc20085_fr.pdf . The report recommended that Mauritania diversify its economy, improve its investment potential through increasing revenue generated by the exploitation of natural resources, accelerate required reforms, and enhance the business and investment climate. On November 2021, Mauritania joined the Inclusive Framework on BEPS and participates in the agreement to address the tax challenges arising from the digitalization of the economy. By joining this framework, the GIRM joins the international efforts against tax evasion.
In May 2018, Mauritania underwent its third World Trade Organization (WTO) trade policy review. The report is available online at https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp471_e.htm . The report states that, since its second Trade Policy Review (TPR) in 2011, Mauritania has had five years of products (chiefly iron ore) and massive public investment in the new airport, the extension of the port of Nouakchott, and road infrastructure. In addition, the report indicates that Mauritania’s goods imports and export mechanism has been modernized and simplified since 2011.
There are no civil society organization within Mauritania and neighboring counties that have provided reviews of investment policy-related concerns. Sporadically, Members of Parliament will request reviews of existing contracts (mainly in the fishing sector), but thus far, no formal results have been shared.
The GIRM continues to amend its laws and regulations to facilitate business registration. Under the Ministry of Economy, the Public Private Partnership Unit is responsible for providing technical support and expertise to the inter-ministerial committee during the process of identification, preparation, development, and execution of PPP projects in Mauritania. Created in February 2020, this inter-ministerial committee consists of the Prime Minister, Minister of Commerce, Minister of Economy, Minister of Finance, and the Private Sector Association. The committee is chaired by the Prime Minister and is charged with improving the business climate and driving investment.
In March 2021, the government created the Agency for Promotion of Investment in Mauritania to facilitate the administrative work of foreign investors. APIM helps investors navigate the business permit process, various administrative procedures, and the rules and regulations concerning foreign workforces.
To further expedite the business registration process, the government moved the one-stop shop Guichet Unique from the Nouadhibou Free Trade Zone Authority ( http://www.ndbfreezone.mr/ ) to become a stand-alone unit ( https://www.guichetunique-mr.info/ ) that is mandated to help set up companies and complete all business registration. This one-stop shop has started digitizing the business registration process which has led to the reduction of the standard registration time from seven days to 48 hours. The government is hoping this move to create an independent one- stop shop will serve to further encourage FDI.
Government incentives toward promoting outward investment remain limited. Mauritania’s major exports are iron ore (46 percent), non-fillet frozen fish (16 percent), and gold (11 percent). There are no investment restrictions on domestic investors from investing abroad.
2. Bilateral Investment and Taxation Treaties
Government incentives toward promoting outward investment remain limited. Mauritania’s major exports are iron ore (USD 1.68 billion or 46 percent of the GDP), non-fillet frozen fish (USD 692 million or 16 percent of the GPD), and gold (USD 600 million or 11 percent of the GDP). China, Switzerland, France, Spain, Japan, Italy, and the United Arab Emirates are the main trading partners. There are no laws or regulations that limits or prohibits domestic and foreign investments.
Mauritania has bilateral investment agreements with France, Belgium, Spain, Arab Maghreb Union (Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia) as well as with Saudi Arabia. Following recently imposed ECOWAS sanctions on Mali, the Mauritanian government signed an agreement with the Malian government to transit Malian goods (mainly cotton) through Mauritanian ports. In addition, agreements also exist with Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Gambia, Ghana, Mauritius, Italy, Lebanon, Qatar, Yemen, Korea, and Egypt.
Mauritania is a signatory to the Cotonou Agreement between the European Union (EU) and the group of African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, and thus enjoys free access to the EU market. Due to its least-developed country status, Mauritania also benefits from duty-free access to the European market under the Everything-But-Arms initiative.
In 2018, Mauritania was among the first countries to sign and ratify the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement. In May 2017, the GIRM, through the Ministry of Commerce, and the other ECOWAS countries signed a cooperation agreement to revitalize their relationship and improve the economic and security situation in region. This new consensus allows the free flow of goods and helps consolidate the economic integration of ECOWAS members. In 2019, Mauritania implemented the Commune Tariffs Agreement ECOWAS countries.
Mauritania is still not eligible for benefits under the U.S. African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) due to insufficient progress in combating forced labor. Mauritania remains eligible, however, for the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), which allows marketable goods produced in Mauritania to enter the U.S. market duty-free.
Mauritania does not have a bilateral investment agreement or bilateral taxation treaty with the United States.
In November 2021, Mauritania joined the Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion Profit Shifting (BEPS). As the 141st country to become a member of the Inclusive Framework, Mauritania also joined the OECD global tax pact agreed on October 8, 2021 relating to the adoption of a minimum tax and new profit allocation rules.
3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
The government continues to adopt laws and regulations to improve transparency. During the review period, the government passed the 2022 budget through the parliament, accessible to the public via the Ministry of Finance portal ( https://www.finances.gov.mr/ ). The expansionary budget aims to boost the economic recovery and longer-term inclusive growth. The accounting documents provided a complete picture of the government’s planned expenditures and revenue streams, including natural resource revenues. Budget documents were generally prepared according to internationally accepted principles. The government holds full authority in allocating the licenses for all natural resources and controls their finances. The criteria and procedures by which the government awards natural resource extraction contracts or licenses are specified in Mauritania’s investment code, mining code, and a new hydrocarbon law. Basic information on tenders is publicly available on government websites, through the relevant ministry portal, or via the private job search platform ( https://beta.mr/beta/liste_offres/3 ) .
There is no law or policy impeding foreign investment in Mauritania. However, there is a complex and often overlapping system of permits and licenses required to establish and run a business. There continues to be a lack of transparency in implementation of the legal and regulatory policies.
The government does not require companies environmental, social and governance (ESG) disclosure to facilitate transparency and/or help investors and consumers distinguish between high- and low-quality investments
Post is not aware of any informal regulatory processes managed by nongovernmental organizations or private sector associations, and laws and regulations do not discriminate against foreign investment.
International Regulatory Considerations
Please see Section 2- Bilateral Investment and Taxation Treaties
Legal System and Judicial Independence
The Mauritanian judicial system combines French and Islamic (Malikite school) judicial systems. The constitution guarantees the independence of the judiciary (Article 89), and an organic law also protects judges from undue influence. Civil and Commercial Codes exist and are designed to protect contracts, although dispute settlement can be difficult and court enforcement is slow and often inconsistent. The judicial system remains weak and unpredictable in its application of the law, due in part to the training judges receive in two separate and distinct legal systems: Shari’a law and laws modeled after the French legal system. Judges remain undercompensated and susceptible to tribal pressures and bribery. Specialized commercial law courts exist, but judges sometimes lack training and experience in commercial and financial law. Some judges may only have formal training in the Shari’a legal system, while others are only familiar with the French civil law system. A lack of standardization of applicable legal knowledge in the judiciary leads to inefficiency in the execution of judgments in a timely and efficient manner. Laws and decrees related to commercial and financial sectors exist, but they are not always publicly available.
Most judgments are not issued within prescribed time limits and records are not always well maintained. Judgments of foreign courts are recognized by national courts, but enforcement is limited. During the last few years, the government has taken steps to provide training to judges and lawyers as an attempt to professionalize the system to reduce the backlog and work through cases in a more efficient manner. In 2017, the GIRM passed a small new claims law that covers cases valued at less than USD 11,000. In January 2020, the government opened a new international center for mediation and arbitration. The center provides an alternative legal office for settlement of investment disputes and allows arbitration and mediation from international courts.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
There were no new major investment laws or judicial decisions ratified last year. However, the government launched the Investment Promotion Agency (APIM in French) under the Ministry of Economy to develop and facilitate procedures and processes related to investment. The investment code, which was last updated in June 2012, was designed to encourage direct investment by enhancing the security of investments and facilitating administrative procedures. The code provides for free repatriation of foreign capital and wages for foreign employees. The code also created free points of importation and export incentives. Small and medium enterprises (SME), which register through OPPS, do not pay corporate taxes or customs duties.
Competition and Antitrust Laws
The Ministry of Economy’s Office of Procurement Commission of the Economic and Finance Sectors is the government agency that reviews tenders and bids in accordance with the law and regulations. Suppliers for large government contracts are selected through a tender process initiated at the ministry level. Invitations for some tenders are publicly announced in local newspapers and on government websites. After issuing an invitation for tenders, the Ministry of Economy’s commission in charge of reviewing tenders selects the offer that best fulfills government requirements. If two offers, i.e., one from a foreign company and one from a Mauritanian company, are otherwise considered equal, statutes require that the government award the tender to the Mauritanian company. In practice, this has resulted in contracts awarded to companies that have strong ties to government officials and tribal leaders, regardless of the merits of an individual offer. Preferential treatment remains common in government procurement, despite the government’s recent efforts to promote transparency in the public sector.
In an effort to make tenders more transparent, the National Assembly adopted a bill on December 21, 2021, the Public Procurement Code on December 21, 2021, No. 21-025 repealing and replacing the law No. 044-2010 that was enacted On July 2010. This new code will help the government become more transparent in handling tenders. The current code is structured around:
- Reducing the measures of the preliminary control of the public procurement control body;
- Clarifying the circumstances in which the awarding of contracts by mutual agreement becomes possible;
- Excluding from the provisions of this law, public contracts related to defense and national security needs and procurement operations in emergency situations;
- Promoting small and medium-sized enterprises by facilitating their access to public contracts; and
- Making procedures more flexible to speed up the process of concluding public contracts and handling complaints.
Expropriation and Compensation
The revised Investment Code provides more property guarantees and protection to business owners. The Code protects private companies against nationalization, expropriation, and requisition. However, if a foreign enterprise is facing difficulties, the government can propose an expropriation plan to avoid bankruptcy and to protect jobs of local employees, with fair and equitable compensation.
The only known case of expropriation since Mauritania’s independence was the nationalization of the French mining MIFERMA in November 1974. In that case, the two parties agreed on a compensation plan.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
In 1966, Mauritania ratified the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States. In 1997, Mauritania became a signatory to the convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention). However, there is no specific legislation to ensure enforcement.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
The most recent investment dispute between the Mauritanian government and a foreign investor occurred in 2021. On March 2021, the Mauritanian Copper Mines (MCM) a subsidiary of Canada’s First Quantum Minerals filed an International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) claim against Mauritania over a copper and gold mine in the Northern Part of Mauritania. The claim brought to the ICSID was registered on March 4. MCM owns the Guelb Moghrein copper and gold mining concession that is in Akjoujt, about 250 kilometers from the capital city Nouakchott. MCM started production in 2006, included almost 600,00 tons of copper, gold, and magnetite. Details of the claim have not been disclosed.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
Judgments of foreign courts are not consistently applied. The government accepts international arbitration of investment disputes between foreign investors and government authorities. Judgments of foreign courts are accepted by the local courts, but enforcement is limited. In the past, issues were referred to the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), of which Mauritania has been a member since 1965.
Settling disputes through the courts continues to be a long and complicated process. Inadequate laws and poor administration are the key source of legal disputes encountered in the country. The duration of investment disputes is subject to numerous appeals before reaching a final verdict. Though the government is looking for ways to streamline the system by providing training to judges and lawyers, the court procedures remain long and complicated.
Though there are no recent reports on disputes involving State-Owned Enterprises (SOE). It is likely that domestic courts would favor SOEs during a dispute.
The Mauritanian government guarantees companies that the tax, customs, and legal regulations in force at the time of issuance of an Investment Certificate will remain applicable to them for a period of 20 years. Likewise, in theory, any favorable changes to the corporate tax or customs laws during that guaranteed period will be applicable to the investor.
The country has bankruptcy laws which carry the potential for criminal penalties. Mauritania’s bankruptcy laws were last updated in 2001. The bankruptcy law allows for the reorganization or restructuring of a business. There are very few reported cases of these laws being applied
4. Industrial Policies
Investment incentives such as free land, deferred and reduced taxes, and tax-free importation of materials and equipment are available to encourage foreign investors. The Ministry of
Economy offers tax benefits, including exemptions in some instances, to enterprises in Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and some companies in priority sectors throughout the country (e.g., mining, hydrocarbons, and fishing). The Investment Code outlines standard investment incentives, but foreign investors may negotiate other incentives directly with the government. In 2018, the government adopted the Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) law. This law supports the 2017 budget diversification agenda through increased private sector participation in non-extractives sectors. The law provides legal and regulatory framework for PPPs participation in the national economy. It also addresses land tenure and property rights issues to facilitate credit access. According to World Bank and IMF analysis, the PPP law will enable the country to reduce reliance on commodities and raises long-term growth prospects in a more sustained and inclusive manner.
Although Mauritania has high energy potential, the government does not offer any incentives, such as feed-in tariffs, discounts on electricity rates, or tax incentives, for clean energy investments (including renewable energy, energy storage, energy efficiency, clean hydrogen).
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
The Investment Code creates Special Economic Zones (Free Export Zone or Cluster of Development in the Interior https://www.ndbfreezone.mr/en/home/ ) by decree. SEZs are subject to continuous monitoring by the Customs Service in a manner specified in the decree. Nouadhibou, the commercial capital of Mauritania, is designated as a Free Trade Zone by the government. The Nouadhibou Free Trade Zone has its own regulatory structure. As of January 2020, the Nouadhibou Free Trade Zone has granted 750 authorizations for companies, primarily in the tourism, services, and fisheries sectors.
The Investment Code provides three main preferential tax regimes: Small and Medium Enterprises Regimes, which apply to any investment between USD 167,000 and USD 667,000; Free Export Zones/Clusters of Development; and Targeted Industries, which includes agriculture, artisanal fishing, tourism, renewable energy, and raw material processing. Land concessions allocated to companies located in Free Economic Zones will follow a rental rate determined by joint decision of the relevant Minister and the Minister of Economy, which sets land allocation prices. As for tax advantages, companies will be exempt from taxes, excluding personnel taxes such as for retirement and social security, if they have invested at least USD 1.6 million and generated at least 50 permanent jobs, and show a potential to export at least 80 percent of their goods or services.
Additionally, under the provisions in the revised Investment Code, companies will not be taxed on patents, licenses, property, or land, but rather assessed a single municipal tax that cannot exceed an annual amount of USD 16,000. Companies established in free zones are exempt from taxes on profits for the first five years. Additionally, companies established in free zones benefit from a total exemption of customs duties and taxes on the importation and export of goods and services.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
The government mandates that companies may employ expatriate staff in no more than 10 percent of key managerial staff positions, in accordance with the Labor Code and are required to have a plan in place to “Mauritanize” expatriate staff positions. Expatriate staff may be hired more than 10 percent with authorization from the appropriate industry authority by establishing that no competent Mauritanian national is available for the vacancy. Foreign companies are required to transfer skills to local employees by providing training for lower-skilled jobs. The law is specifically geared toward extractive companies to encourage recruitment of Mauritanian Nationals. It is important to note that this law has not yet been enforced with companies operating within the Nouadhibou Free Trade Zone Authority.
Current immigration laws do not discriminate nor are they considered to apply excessively onerous visa, residence, or work permit requirements inhibiting foreign investors’ mobility. However, some U.S. companies have expressed frustration with the difficulty in obtaining or renewing work and residency permits for their employees who are not Mauritanians.
The government imposes performance requirements as a condition for establishing, maintaining, or expanding an investment, or for access to tax and investment incentives. Foreign investors consistently report that government-sponsored requests for tenders lack coherence and transparency. The revised Investment Code requires investors to purchase from local sources if it is available and is of the same quality and price as could be purchased abroad. There is no requirement for investors to export a certain percentage of output or have access to foreign exchange only in relation to their exports. If imported “dumped” goods are deemed to be competing unfairly with a priority enterprise, the government will respond to industry requests for tariff surcharges, thus providing some potential protection from competition.
Expatriate staff members working for companies in accordance with the Labor Code are eligible to import, free of customs duties and taxes, their personal belongings and one passenger vehicle per household, under the regime of exceptional temporary admission (Admission Temporaire Exceptionelle or ATE). All sales, transfers, or withdrawals are subject to permission of customs officials.
The Mauritanian government does not have any requirements or a mechanism that impedes companies from transmitting data freely outside the country. There are no laws in place on local data storage.
5. Protection of Property Rights
Property rights are protected under the Mauritanian Civil Code, which is modeled on the French code. It can be difficult to gain redress for grievances through the courts. Mortgages exist and are extended by commercial banks. There is a well-developed property registration system for land and real estate in most areas of the country, but land titling and tenure issues in southern Mauritania, particularly the area along the Senegal River, are the subject of much controversy. Investors should be fully aware of the history of the lands they are purchasing or renting and should verify that the local partner has the proper authority to sell/rent large tracts of land—particularly in this region—before agreeing to any deals. For instance, in early 2021, there was a case of an alleged land grab by local authorities in the villages of Mbagne and Ferala in southern Mauritania. The land was designated for a World Bank project but following regional protests, over ownership of the property, the World Bank withdrew. The World Bank placed the project on hold until the issue between the community and the government is resolved.
The Ministry of Housing continues to digitize land licenses to provide more transparent land allocation. All information regarding the property titles is available at the Land Registry Agency housed at the Ministry of Housing, including information related to mortgages and other tax related matters. The Land Registry Agency performs due diligence prior to making the final title transfer. To register a property, owners need to have their notarized sale agreement along with the title certificate. There remains a large percentage (over 10 percent) of available owned land without a clear title. Even if property is legally purchased, there is always the possibility that the property is occupied by squatters.
Intellectual Property Rights
The legal protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) remains a relatively new concept in Mauritania. Those seeking legal redress for IPR infringements will find very little historical record of cases or legal structures in place to support such claims. There is no separate judicial circuit that specializes in IPR.
Mauritania is a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) and the African Organization of Intellectual Property (OAPI). In joining the latter, member states agree to honor IPR principles and to establish uniform procedures of implementation for the following international agreements: the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, the Hague Convention for the Registration of Designs and Industrial Models, the Lisbon Convention for the Protection and International Registration of Original Trade Names, the Washington Treaty on Patents, and the Vienna Treaty on the Registration of Trade Names. Mauritania signed and ratified the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) in 1994 but has yet to implement it. The government also signed and ratified the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Convention in 1976, but it has not signed or ratified the WIPO Internet treaties. The government is in the process of launching reforms related to property, product certification, and accreditation bodies to protect IPR. The Agency for Consumer Protection, housed at the Ministry of Commerce, oversees quality control and the prevention of sales of counterfeit goods in local markets, but its capabilities to track and enforce its regulations are very constrained.
Mauritania 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/
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
The government is favorable to portfolio investment. Private entities, whether foreign or national, have the right to freely establish, acquire, own, and/or dispose of interests in business enterprises and receive legal remuneration. Privatization and liberalization programs have also helped put private enterprises on an equal footing with respect to access to markets and credit. In principle, government policies encourage the free flow of financial resources and do not place restrictions on access by foreign investors. Most foreign investors, however, prefer external financing due to the high interest rates and procedural complexities that prevail locally. Credit is often difficult to obtain due to a lax legal system to enforce regulations that build trust and guarantee credit return. There are no legal or policy restrictions on converting or transferring funds associated with investments. Investors are guaranteed the free transfer of convertible currencies at the legal market rate, subject to availability. Similarly, foreigners working in Mauritania are guaranteed the prompt transfer of their professional salaries.
Commercial bank loans are virtually the only type of credit instrument. There is no stock market or other public trading of shares in Mauritanian companies. Currently, individual proprietors, family groups, and partnerships generally hold companies and portfolio investments.
Money and Banking System
The IMF has assisted Mauritania with the stabilization of the banking sector and as a result, access to domestic credit has become easier and cheaper. A proliferation of banks has fostered competition that has contributed to the decline in interest rates from 30 percent in 2000 to 10 percent in 2018, to 6.5 percent in 2020, to an annual 5 percent as part of the Central Bank of Mauritania’s (CBM) measures to countering the effects of the global pandemic. This interest rate does not include origination costs and other fees.
Nevertheless, the banking system remains fragile due to liquidity constraints in the financial markets. The country’s five largest banks are estimated to have USD 100 million in combined reserves; however, these figures cannot be independently verified, making an evaluation of the banking system’s strength impossible. As of April 2020, 25 banks, national and foreign, operate in Mauritania, even though only 15 percent of the population hold bank accounts.
The Central Bank of Mauritania oversees regulating the Mauritanian banking industry, and the Central Bank has made reforms to streamline the financial sector’s compliance with international standards. The Central Bank performs yearly audits of Mauritanian banks. There are no restrictions enforced on foreigners who wish to obtain an individual or business banking account.
In 2018, the Central Bank of Mauritania lost all correspondent banking relationships with banks in the United States due to de-risking policies enforced by U.S. banks. The Central Bank subsequently was able to reestablish a correspondent banking relationship in 2019; however, there are still no private Mauritanian banks that have been able to do the same. Local branches of international banks (such as France’s Société Générale or Morocco’s Attijari) do maintain correspondent banking relationships with U.S. banks and are able to clear transactions in USD.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
There are no legal or policy restrictions on converting or transferring funds associated with investments. Investors are guaranteed the free transfer of convertible currencies at the legal market rate, subject to the availability of such currencies. Similarly, foreigners working in Mauritania are guaranteed the prompt transfer of their professional salaries. To transfer funds, investors are required to open a foreign exchange bank account in Mauritania. There are no maximum legal transaction limits for investors transferring money into or out of Mauritania, although regulations to withdraw money may be complicated in practice.
Businesses transfer money through the traditional Hawala system—they deposit their money in a Hawala store and designate a beneficiary for pick up. The Hawala system has become a reliable substitute to the high interest rate, long wait period and transaction fees imposed by local banks. However, in 2019 the Central Bank closed 691 illegal money transfer points to restructure the financial sector. Currently, only nine agencies have a provisional authorization for transfer of funds. Individuals and companies may obtain hard currency through the informal market and commercial banks for the payment of purchases or the repatriation of dividends. If the bank has hard currency available, there is no delay in effect for remitting investment returns. However, if the bank does not have enough reserves, the hard currency must be obtained from the Central Bank to conduct the transfer. The Central Bank is required to prioritize government transfers, which could present further delays. Delays of one to three weeks, although relatively uncommon, can occur.
In January 2018, the government of Mauritania introduced a new currency. The new currency drops a zero from the country’s previous currency; the value and the name of the currency remained the same, although the currency code changed from MRO to MRU. Local banks had to adapt their software, change their checkbooks, and reconfigure their ATMs to bring them into compliance with the new currency.
There is no limit on the inflow or outflow of funds for remittances of profits, debt service, capital, or capital gains. The local currency, the ouguiya, is freely convertible within Mauritania, but its exportation is not legally authorized. Hard currencies can be obtained from the Central Bank, local commercial banks, or within the parallel financial market in the informal sector. The Central Bank holds regular foreign exchange auctions, allowing market forces to fix the value of the ouguiya.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
The Central Bank administers the National Fund for Hydrocarbon Reserves, a sovereign wealth fund (SWF), which was established in 2006. The SWF is funded from the revenues received from the extraction of oil, any royalties, and corporate taxes from oil companies, and from the profits made through the fund’s investment activities. The fund’s mandate is to create macroeconomic stability by setting aside oil revenues for developmental projects. However, the management of the SWF lacks transparency and the projected revenue streams remain unrealized.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
SOEs and the parastatal sector in Mauritania represent important drivers of the economy. They have an impact on employment, service delivery, and most importantly fiscal reserves given their importance to the economy and the state budget. In 2020 parastatal companies and SOEs experienced significant business and financial problems in the form of increasing levels of debt, operational losses, and payment delays because of the COVID pandemic. This increase in fiscal reserve risk led the government to provide subsidies to SOEs.
Hard budget constraints for SOEs are written into the Public Procurement Code but are not enforced. SOMELEC, the state-owned electricity company, has been operating in a precarious financial situation for many years. In principle, larger wholly government-owned enterprises are operated on a commercial basis. Nevertheless, many have operated at a loss since the 1970s and failed to provide the services for which they were responsible.
Most state-owned enterprises in Mauritania have independent boards of directors. Most board members are usually appointed based on political affiliations.
The Mauritanian government is putting a strong emphasis on liberalizing the trade and foreign investment frameworks and privatizing SOEs. While the GIRM has worked through its various economic reform program to privatize SOEs, (several SOEs remain, (most importantly the State Industrial and Mining Company (SNIM), the State Electricity Company (SOMELEC), the State Water Distribution Company (SNDE) and the National Airlines (Mauritania Airlines). The remaining SOEs are active in a wide range of sectors including energy, network utilities, mining, petroleum, telecommunications, transportation, commerce, and fisheries. Parastatal and wholly owned SOEs remain the major employers in the country. This includes the SNIM, which is by far the largest Mauritanian enterprise and second largest employer in the country after the government.
The publicly available financial information on parastatal and wholly owned SOEs is incomplete and outdated, except for budget transfers. There is no publication of the expenditures SOEs allocate to research and development. In addition, they execute the largest portion of government contracts, receiving preference over the private sector. According to the Public Procurement Code, there are no formal barriers to competition with SOEs. However, informal barriers such as denial of access to credit and/or land exist.
Post is not aware of any privatization programs during the reporting period.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
Historically, corporate social responsibility in Mauritania is not a widespread practice. However, this is changing as more foreign-owned companies enter the Mauritanian market. Certain state-run industries have provided basic educational and training opportunities for the children of their employees and/or scholarships for their employees to study abroad, but this is usually the extent of social responsibility initiatives. Companies in the mining and hydrocarbon industries send young Mauritanians overseas to complete their studies on scholarship programs; many of the scholarship recipients have family ties to powerful individuals in the companies. The larger fishing companies have recently started to provide more opportunities for qualified youth to study at the fishing and naval training school in Nouadhibou to prepare them for careers in the fishing industry. Current projects by foreign-owned companies include providing free water to local communities; building vocational training centers, health clinics, and roadways; and providing healthcare equipment and medicines to towns near company operations.
Since 2011, three of Mauritania’s largest mining companies—Kinross, Mauritanian Copper Mines (MCM), and SNIM—funded a School of Mining with the goal of increasing the number of qualified Mauritanians to serve in the mining industry. The school has a partnership with the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal and with the mining companies. The school is considered a public entity under the Ministry of Petroleum, Mines, and Energy. In 2017, Kosmos Energy provided financial support to Diawling National Park in the south of the country, and in 2018, launched the Kosmos Innovation Center in Mauritania to invest in youth entrepreneurs and small business who have big ideas with the goal of contributing to the overall economic growth of Mauritania. In addition to Kosmos, companies such as BP and other international oil companies now operating in Mauritania are likewise increasing corporate social responsibility programs.
Department of State
Department of the Treasury
Department of Labor
Mauritania submitted its updated National Determined Contribution (NDC) in October 2021 primarily focusing on increasing Mauritania’s resilience to climate change through the promotion of low carbon growth, while increasing adaption for low lying coastal areas, upgrading infrastructure, and strengthening the country’s food security position.
Highlights from the NDC
Mauritania raised its climate ambition with a new target to cut greenhouse (GHG) emissions by 11% in 2030.
With more substantial support, Mauritania could ensure carbon neutrality and potentially reach a 92% reduction of its greenhouse gas emissions.
As well as increased mitigation targets, Mauritania enhanced the adaptation component of its NDC, including the creation of green jobs.
The NDC is intended to serve as a framework for consultation and dialogue to design transformative resilience programs that meet the needs of the populations and ecosystems affected climate change.
Mauritania’s NDC is based on the sectoral development programs and the strategic framework for the fight against poverty. These have the overall objective of contributing to development that is low-carbon and resilient to the impacts of climate change.
The NDC provides that at the request of the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development (MEDD in French), each Ministry has a designated ‘Sectoral Focus Point’ in charge of climate change for its sector. Mauritania has thus developed a network of Sectoral Focus Points within ministerial departments to improve implementation of the objectives of the Convention.
Mauritania launched its National Adaption Plan (NAP) process in April 2019 with a two-day capacity building workshop led by the MEDD. The NAP is a three-year plan supported by $2.6 million from the United Nation’s Green Climate Fund (GCF). This UN contribution will provide technical support to advance climate science, ecosystem-based adaption, environmental economics, and integrated adaption strategies in Mauritania.
Mauritania’s NAP aims to strengthen the country’s technical and institutional capacities to better manage climate change adaptation planning. The NAP will improve quality and access to climate change data and enhance the monitoring and evaluation of adaptation planning at the national and local levels. According to the NAP-Global Support Programme (NAP-GSP), climate change is exacerbating desertification and loss of biodiversity in Mauritania. These trends are expected to worsen in the future based on current climate projections. The NAP supports Mauritania’s commitments to the Paris Agreement by addressing the adaptation component of Mauritania’s NDC to the UNFCCC.
Mauritania recognizes its vulnerability to climate change and has made some progress to increase its climate resilience. As mentioned above, Mauritania is a member of multiple
multilateral environmental agreements, including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (1994), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD) (1996) and has signed onto several Protocols and sub-agreements, such as the Kyoto, Nagoya and Montreal Protocols and the Paris Agreement. Nationally, at the policy level, the country’s 2011-2016 planning framework (CSLPII, 2011-2016) included a vision on climate change with a plan of action considering the risks of climate change and a monitoring system (SEPANE 2).
More recently, the Sector Environment and Sustainable Development Strategy, 2017-2021 (SNEDD) provides a strategic background for integrating environmental, climate change and sustainable development goals into other sectoral policy frameworks. The country’s National Development Strategy (SCAPP 2016 – 2030, adopted in 2018) guides this integration with more focus on the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC, 2015). Specifically, Mauritania has also developed a National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) (2004). In September 2015, Mauritania submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) for the Paris Climate Agreement.
Since taking office in August 2019, President Ghazouani has made fighting corruption one of the cornerstones of his administration. In October 2019, the Court of Accounts published a detailed audit report covering fiscal years 2007 through 2017. The report highlighted lack of transparency in government tenders, weakness in public finances management, and provided credible recommendations. Based on the audit report findings, a parliamentarian committee was set up to further investigate four major government infrastructure and fisheries projects that were awarded to Chinese companies. The judiciary system moved forward with the investigation during the 2021 reporting period. On March 11, 2021, former President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and 14 other suspects were charged for mismanagement of State property and resources, bribery, illicit enrichment, and money laundering. Aziz and the 14 other suspects were placed under judicial supervision (i.e. house arrest). In June 2021, after violating the terms of his house arrest, the investigative judge decided to send Aziz to pre-trial detention at the Nouakchott police academy.
Tax evasion and corruption have deprived the government of a significant source of revenue, weakening its capacity to provide necessary services. In 2009, the government passed a law requiring all high-ranking government employees to publicly declare their assets, although this law is not enforced.
Corruption is an obstacle to foreign direct investment in Mauritania, but firms generally rate access to credit, an underdeveloped infrastructure, and a lack of skilled labor as even greater impediments. Corruption is most pervasive in government procurement, bank loans, fishing license attribution, land distribution, access to port facilities and tax payments. Giving or accepting a bribe is a criminal act punishable by two to 10 years imprisonment and fines up to USD 700, but there is little application of this law. Firms commonly pay bribes to obtain telephone, electricity, and water connections, and construction permits more quickly.
There are several organizations that track corruption within Mauritania. Transparency International has a representative who reports on local corruption policies and events.
In practice, annual auditing of government accounts is not enforced and therefore rarely conducted. However, the government rectified previously misreported financial data to be more transparent; this included publishing quarterly financial statements on a government treasury website: www.tresor.mr .
In April 2016, a new anti-corruption bill was introduced to address the provisions of the UN Convention against Corruption and to provide protection to NGOs involved in investigating corruptions cases.
Resources to Report Corruption
Contact at the government agency or agencies that are responsible for combating corruption:
Cour Des Comptes Mauritanie
Telephone: +222 4525 34 04
Fax: +222 4525 49 64
Contact at a “watchdog” organization:
“Publiez ce que vous payez” (Publish What You Pay)
10. Political and Security Environment
The August 2019 inauguration of President Mohamed Cheikh El Ghazouani marked the first democratic transition of power from one elected leader to another in the country’s history and ushered in a broad sense of optimism. Mauritania has not suffered a terrorist attack on its soil since 2011. And while the country continues to struggle in respecting human rights, the government is beginning to take concrete steps to address these issues. On October 20, 2021, President Ghazouani’s cabinet adopted the implementing decree for the Law on Associations (“NGO Law), which was adopted by the Parliament in January 2021. The law replaces the authoritative registration system with a declarative system more in line with international standards, allowing previously excluded non-government organizations to begin officially operating. The Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA) is one such organization that benefits from this new regulation; IRA’s anti-slavery mission includes combating child forced labor.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
The Mauritanian economy is highly informal (especially in agriculture, artisanal fisheries/ mining, and animal husbandry) and according to the Ministry of Employment and Youth, the unemployment rate is estimated to be around 37 percent. While labor is abundant, there is a shortage of skilled workers and well-trained technical and managerial personnel in most sectors of the economy. As a result, there are few sectors of the economy that use advanced technologies because the skilled labor required to operate them is not readily available. The mining sector is led by the national company SNIM; the subsidiary of a Canadian gold mining company, Kinross-Tasiast; and the subsidiary of a Canadian company, MCM. These companies provide advanced training for their employees.
The “Mauritanization law” requires that employers give priority to nationals over foreign workers, unless the skills required for the position cannot be filled by the national labor force. Employers must develop a “Mauritanization” plan to transfer skillsets to local workers within a period of two years.
There are no restrictions on employers reducing their workforce in periods of unfavorable market conditions. However, the law requires that compensations be granted to laid-off employees.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) reported in 2018 that a significant pay gap between staff in the labor inspectorate and staff in other government inspection departments who receive better remuneration (such as tax inspectors or education inspectors) led to attrition. The ILO also reported that the labor inspectorate was subject to undue influence by employers and the government, thereby reducing the effectiveness of inspection activity. The law provides that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work. The two largest employers, the civil service and the state mining company, observed this law; most employers in the private sector reportedly did not. In the modern wage sector, women also received family benefits, including three months of paid maternity leave. Women face employment discrimination, because employers usually prefer to hire men, and women are overrepresented in low-paying positions
In March 2021, in partnership with ILO, the Mauritanian Government organized regional consultations and roundtables with child labor and protection stakeholders to draw up the list of hazardous work for children under 18 years of age, as established by the international and national standards of child labor. After collecting data from all fifteen regions, the government consolidated the data in June 2021 and narrowed the list down to 44 activities officially identified as hazardous work.
On January 17, 2022, with the support of the ILO, the Mauritanian Government banned hazardous child labor. The Ministry of Public Service and Labor issued a regulatory text listing hazardous work (LTD in French) that are prohibited for children. ( https://www.ilo.org/africa/countries-covered/mauritania/WCMS_835859/lang–en/index.htm )
12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), and Other Investment Insurance or Development Finance Programs:
The World Bank’s Logistics Performance Index (LPI) ranks Mauritania 157 out of 167 countries for the quality of infrastructure. This LPI sub-factor covers the quality and performance of ports, roads, railroads, and information technology. In addition, the World Economic Forum’s infrastructure quality rating for Mauritania’s is 2.6 out of 7, and 46 percent of companies in the country identify transportation inefficiencies as a major constraint on business. Currently, there is no investment with financial support from the Development Finance Corporation (DFC).
In 2019, Arise and Meridiam SAS entered a joint venture to support the modernization of the Nouakchott Port via a specific public-private partnership with a long-term concession of 30 years. Meridiam SAS received USD 24,840,000 in OPIC financing and political risk insurance. The project is not expected to have a negative impact on the U.S. economy. There is no U.S. procurement associated with this project, and, therefore, the project is expected to have a neutral impact on U.S. employment. But the project is expected to have a significant economic impact by expanding Mauritania’s port infrastructure capacity.
In December 2021, Arise inaugurated the new container terminal in Mauritania. This project represents a total investment of 278 million euros or USD 305 million. It is the first project developed under a Public Private Partnership scheme in Mauritania. Its scope covers the development, financing, construction, maintenance, and operation of a new and dedicated container terminal at the port of Nouakchott, designated to have an initial handling capacity of 250,000 TEUs (2), and the extension and deepening of the port area from previously 12m to 14,70 m to allow access of larger container vessels. The project foresees a significant potential for extending the capacity of the terminal in the future, which could be able to handle a potential maximum capacity of 600,000 TEU i.e., almost four times the actual container capacity.
13. Foreign Direct Investment Statistics
Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Data not available.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.
14. Contact for More Information
U.S. Embassy Nouakchott