Interview: Nina Abouna

What will be the main functions of the planned single service window and how will it benefit international investors?

NINA ABOUNA: On April 9, 2014, the government signed a loan agreement for $18m in order to finance the Promotion of Investment and Competitiveness Project aimed at improving the investment climate and supporting the development of companies in the country. Within the framework of this project a new entity is going to be created, the Gabon Agency for the Promotion of Investments (Agence de Promotion des Investissements du Gabon, ANPI-Gabon), and it will include the following functions: the promotion of investments and exports; supporting small and medium-sized enterprises; managing public-private partnerships; and helping companies to set up.

This new agency will act as the only gateway for investment into the country, reducing administrative procedures, and subsequently costs and wait periods. Some of its main objectives include the ability to establish a company within 48 hours, increasing the volume of private investment and positioning Gabon among the top 10 African countries for doing business. The goal is to create a better business environment by facilitating the arrival of investment and encourage competitiveness among existing firms. This single window is expected to enable the achievement of all these objectives set by the government.

What sectors have the most potential for exports, especially in the sub-region?

ABOUNA: The analysis of the country’s export flows shows that the sub-region only accounts for 5% of total exports. For example, we only export 273 products to Congo-Brazzaville and 179 products to Equatorial Guinea. Nowadays, with the implementation of transformational policies, we expect to see a considerable increase in agricultural exports. On the other hand, we also see potential in the tertiary sector, which will eventually play an important role in diversifying the economy. In this regard, banking services, telecoms, real estate and health services also have high export potential. The increase in exports to the sub-region will also be boosted by the implementation of an Export Promotion Fund and a single service window that will act as a springboard for local companies to tackle new markets abroad.

What legal and fiscal modifications should be launched to improve Gabon’s attractiveness?

ABOUNA: Within the current tax and Customs framework, the government has launched several initiatives to transform Gabon into an attractive business centre. The General Code of Taxes (Code General des Impôts) has included specific incentives targeting the main sectors and is expected to boost the economy in the coming years. The incentives, segmented by sector, are classified under agricultural, forestry, fisheries, mining and hydrocarbons codes.

However, there is still room for improvement, starting mainly with Law No. 15/98 that establishes the Charter for Investment in the Gabonese Republic, and encourage exchanges between the tax administration and potential partners. These new strategies focus on the implementation of a neutral and transparent tax system; an increase in companies’ competitiveness by reducing tax burdens, including an already effective measure decreasing taxes from 35% to 30%; the improvement of the Customs tax system; and the simplification and modernisation of tax procedures such as online declaration.

Regarding the benefits of operating in special economic zones (SEZs), the government forecasts the possibility of repatriating profits through Law No. 010/2011. We are also developing new mechanisms to encourage companies benefitting from special tax measures in SEZs to reinvest in the country. Actually, this is going to be one of the main roles of ANPIGabon, which will set up a special department focused on supporting companies’ development.