As is the case in many African countries, Gabon depends heavily on imports for the supply of food staples and other basic products; this is in large part due its over-reliance on the oil and gas sector. Over the years, logistical costs have remained structurally high due to a lack of infrastructure and a persistence of administrative and regulatory barriers. In an attempt to boost Gabon’s export competitiveness and reduce the price of imports, authorities have launched the construction of new terminals in the Port of Owendo – which are expected to substantially reduce congestion and transfer times – and put in place a series of strategies to lower transportation costs throughout the whole logistical chain. These improvements include infrastructure and equipment upgrades, new administrative procedures and training programmes.
As a means of substantially speeding up Customs clearance procedures, the Ports and Harbours Office of Gabon (Office des Ports et Rades du Gabon, OPRAG) is currently working with Gabonese Customs on the development of a multi-modal one-stop-shop platform in ports, airports and terrestrial borders. The authorities are looking to improve Gabon’s business environment, reinforce the attractiveness of its ports to international operators, reduce the volume of administrative documentation and protect local companies from unfair competition. Simultaneously the authorities are also expecting to use computing system interconnections for data exchange to generalise between different players in the logistics chain. To implement the project, the authorities are currently searching for a private partner with the necessary expertise.
As a means to adapt to new global practices on port activities, Gabonese port authorities are also set to switch shortly from a category-based pricing scheme to a per-box pricing scheme. In addition, authorities are also working on a more flexible port-charging system, with the implementation of more attractive rates, notably for cargo kept beyond the free period. According to the authorities, all of these measures should contribute to reducing import costs by 10-15%.
In March 2016, OPRAG convened a meeting with all the port operators to announce the gradual and regulated liberalisation of containerised cargo transportation. As such, a number of port operators, including Necotrans, Maersk Gabon, Panalpina, Olam, Pil Gabon, CMA, CGM, Satram, MSC, SDV-Bollore, have been required by OPRAG to lower their prices. It was in this context that, Rigobert Ikambouayat Ndeka, managing director at OPRAG, told local media that “adjusting the tariff structure of containerised cargo transportation will foster a fairer and more transparent competitive environment and allow for consumers to have access to cheaper goods”.
Following in the footsteps of Cameroon, Gabonese port authorities are also looking to set up designated “communities” in the ports of Owendo and Port-Gentil. These will serve as platforms for gathering all the port players together as a means to improve port productivity. This management unit is expected to foster better cohesion between public, quasi-public and private port operators via the creation of formal concentration frameworks. In recent years, Cameroon succeeded in implementing the “Community of Douala Port” which significantly boosted Douala’s port activities.
In recent years, the authorities have continuously worked to upgrade port infrastructure in order to lower operational costs. Since 2009, OPRAG acquired three mobile cranes in Owendo allowing the port to increase productivity from eight movements per hour to 20 movements per hour. New scanners for freight checks were rolled out in September 2015 in an attempt to accelerate control procedures. Similarly, warehouses and logistical areas have been built and renovated to ease cargo storage.