Interview: Nina Abouna
What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of Gabon’s investment regime?
NINA ABOUNA: As an investment destination, Gabon offers an incentives framework that is in line with global standards. Several factors contribute to its appeal, including political stability, implementation of structural reforms, an economic strategy for diversification, a liberal economic system, and a solid banking and finance system with a stable currency pegged to the euro.
Gabon protects investors via an independent court system and through compliance as a member of global organisations such as the World Trade Organisation, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, the Organisation for the Harmonisation of Business Laws in Africa and the Inter-African Conference of Social Security. The country has also recently created special economic zones (SEZs) to encourage new investors. The SEZ at Nkok offers numerous advantages to investors, including total tax exemption on VAT, customs duties, land taxes, dividends and profits for the first 10 years. Investors in Nkok will also be free to repatriate 100% of their funds and will benefit from a 50% discount on the cost of electricity. A special agricultural zone will also be set up in Franceville to reduce Gabon’s dependence on imported foodstuffs.
Gabon has improved its business climate and has made it easier to create a company. Establishing an efficient single window for investors has reduced the time it takes to set up a company. Initial capital requirements have also been reduced. Investors are assisted during their first three years, thanks to the creation of APIEX and the Centre for Enterprise Development. APIEX’s three strategic objectives are to promote foreign direct investment, provide tailored counsel to investors and to support export activity.
Following its reorganisation, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry is more efficient, and reform of Customs is under way. The tax code confers numerous advantages for new companies in the housing, hotel and tourist sectors, among others. However, businesses still face difficulties accessing financing from banks. To address this, the government has altered the mandate of the Banque Gabonaise de Developpement (BGD) to better address demand and has transferred the resources of the Development and Expansion Fund and the Aid and Guarantee Fund for small and medium-sized enterprises to the BGD.
What are the main challenges facing the implementation of the Industrial Gabon programme?
ABOUNA: Industrial Gabon is focused on promoting local processing and value addition for raw materials as well as the export of high added-value products. Forestry, manganese, gold, and oil and gas offer the most potential for investors in this sense. The industrial sector has also benefitted from a vast investment programme through the construction of several SEZs. Gabon has significant mining resources, and our ambition is to fulfil this immense potential through mining-led industrialisation. However, one significant challenge has been ensuring the production of the energy necessary for industrialisation while respecting environmental standards. It is for this reason that a national plan for reducing gas flaring has been adopted in collaboration with the oil sector, and emphasis has been placed on the production of clean energy.
Given greater emphasis on processed exports, what scope is there for reforming trade procedures?
ABOUNA: APIEX and the Office of Ports and Harbours are planning to set up a single window that will facilitate import/export activities and improve the logistics chain. Concomitantly, there is a transport infrastructure investment programme under way to facilitate the movement of goods via the hinterland and encourage trade flows in the region. A similar project is slated to improve links between the Republic of the Congo and Gabon. To this end, a land-based multimodal port near Franceville is capable of receiving merchandise from both countries, easing bottlenecks at Libreville’s port.
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