Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
The Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea is still actively soliciting foreign investments. The government considered 2019 to be the “Year of Energy,” with new licensing rounds for hydrocarbons fields and various events to encourage investment. This was supposed to continue into the 2020 “Year of Investment,” focusing on hydrocarbons, mining exploration, and petrochemicals, which was disrupted by the pandemic. In 2017, the Government started the donor facilitation initiative with the World Bank, as part of a strategy towards membership in the World Trade Organization. The government also passed a law to establish a “Single Window” for investors and simplify the process to register a business, which launched in Malabo in January 2019 but was generally moribund pending identification of priority investment areas from the April 2019 third national economic conference, the final report for which has yet to be published. The government continued to partner with the World Bank on reviewing improvements to the process. A second office was expected to open in Bata in 2020 but was put on hold due to COVID-19
Statutorily, the Minister of Economy, Finance, and Planning approves investment permits. A new state entity, Holdings Equatorial Guinea 2020, was created to help guide diversification efforts. This entity was expected to serve as a hub for foreign investors. For now, however, investors still work with the relevant government ministries to negotiate contracts. The government, including at the highest levels, has regular meetings and conferences with business leaders and investors, though we are unaware of any formal business roundtable. For example, in November 2018, the World Bank and the Singapore Cooperation Programs led a conference in Equatorial Guinea on improving the business climate.
The country’s Minister of Mines and Hydrocarbons, Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima, has been leading a campaign to increase investment. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on oil prices and African economies, the Minister of Mines and Hydrocarbons granted oil and gas companies a two-year extension on their exploration programs. The Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons will also encourage flexibility on the work programs of producing companies to ensure growth and stability in the market. The measure reflects broader efforts to drive global investment into Equatorial Guinea in line with its 2020 Year of Investment campaign. The extensions may particularly aid U.S. companies, which represent the majority of investment in Equatorial Guinea’s energy sector and are currently in the early stages of exploration and seismic interpretation of several new areas in existing offshore blocks. The Year of Investment, which was to include several in-country conferences and a global investment roadshow, was adapted to COVID-19 restrictions by using webinars and video conferencing to connect with investors. In February 2021, a consortium led by Noble Energy/Chevron, Marathon Oil, and EGLNG achieved the first gas flow from the successful execution of the Alen Gas Monetization project, a $475-million investment representing the first phase of Equatorial Guinea’s Gas Mega Hub plan. The Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons is currently promoting several capital-intensive projects – including the construction of modular oil refineries, a gold refinery, liquefied petroleum gas strategic tanks, a urea plant, and the expansion of a compressed natural gas project – which are open for investment. In December 2020, the Ministry announced a forecast of $1.1 billion in foreign direct investment in oil and gas activities in 2021.
The government also took several steps to support small and medium enterprises suffering during the pandemic, such as delaying and lowering tax payments, temporarily reducing the cost of electricity, and providing some small grants for micro-enterprises.
The Equatoguinean authorities have been willing to receive and protect all Foreign Direct Investment, including through changes in the country’s legal framework in recent years.
Currently there is no law or practice that discriminates against investors based on their origin, sex, age, race, political creed, or religion. The Law on the Investment Regime of the country establishes in Article 12 that the State commits itself to fair and equitable treatment for all investors. Decree No. 72/2018, dated April 18, 2018, and amended Article 2 of Decree No. 127/2004, dated September 14, 2004, eliminates the requirement of having an Equatoguinean partner to invest in the country’s non-oil sector.
Law 7/1992 and Law 54/1994 provide for the creation of an Investment Promotion Center, which must advise the government on investment policies, promote investments and support investors with information and in the resolution of conflicts. These Laws also provide for the creation of a National Investment Commission. Neither the Center nor the Commission is currently operational. Given the need for these types of organizations, in 2015, through Decree No. 134/2015, the Government mandated the Ministry of Commerce and Business Promotion to create and start up an agency to promote, integrate and coordinate the national policy of attraction of investors. In April 2021, this task was still in process and expected to start operating in 2023.
In November 2018, the Government organized a high-level seminar on the business climate in Equatorial Guinea with participation of the public and private sectors and development partners. For three days, they reflected on the position of Equatorial Guinea in each of the parameters of the Ease of Doing Business Ranking and the International Competitiveness Index of the World Economic Forum. As a result of the recommendations of this seminar, the government issued Decree 109/2019, creating a committee in charge of improving the national business environment, bringing together representatives of the government, private sector, and civil society to debate and propose reforms. The World Bank has subsequently partnered with the government to create and implement a plan to improve the business climate.
Even though the country does not currently have an investment promotion agency, the Ministry of Commerce has prioritized the implementation of a national agency for investment promotion within its Enhanced Integrated Framework program with World Trade Organization. The ministry has plans to establish a Foreign Trade Single Window to complement the existing one for domestic businesses.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
The government is generally supportive of foreign direct investment. The Foreign Investment Law (Decree 72/2018 of April 2018) modified the provisions of Decree 127/2004 stipulating that shareholder capital firms and companies operating in the petroleum sector must have Equatoguinean shareholders. The government requires that Equatoguinean partners hold at least 35 percent of share capital of foreign companies or companies created by foreigners in the hydrocarbons sector only. Equatoguinean partners must also account for one third of the representatives on the Board of Directors. Apart from the hydrocarbons sector, investments must not be part of public-private partnerships with a government entity. The Minister of Mines and Hydrocarbons generally approves any major deal in the hydrocarbons sector. Decisions regarding larger investment deals may rise to the presidential level. U.S. investors may reach out to the Equatoguinean Embassy in the United States for guidance regarding connection to the appropriate ministry for outreach efforts.
The Hydrocarbons Law and the National Content Regulation establish various requirements for international oil and gas companies that wish to operate in Equatorial Guinea. These include a minority partner stake for either the state oil company (GE Petrol) or the state gas company (Sonagas). In addition, there are national content requirements, many established in 2014 by the then-Ministry of Mines, Industry, and Energy, which apply to both producers and service companies, including that 70% of staff must be Equatoguinean, 50-100% of services (depending on category) must be procured from national company partners, and a percentage of the company’s revenue must be allocated to corporate social responsibility projects approved by the Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons (the Ministry was divided into two in 2017, including a separate Ministry of Industry and Energy). Ministerial Order 1/2020 (April 2020) established that companies can employ foreign laborers in the oil and gas sector for a maximum period of three years, though companies may apply for extensions in exceptional cases, with compliance overseen by the Ministry’s Director General of National Content. Minister of Mines Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima was quoted as saying, “With the release of this new order, the Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons intends to enhance the capacity of local service companies while guaranteeing the creation of local jobs for our trained and educated youth.” While Equatorial Guinea sought foreign direct investment in several of its capital-intensive energy and petrochemicals projects through its 2020 Year of Investment campaign, the country simultaneously prioritized the procurement of local goods and services and the stimulation of local jobs. The legislation follows the completion of capacity building and training programs, particularly at the gas and oil industry-supported National Technological Institute for Hydrocarbons in Mongomo. Given the generally low quality of education in the country, international companies complain about the difficulty of recruiting qualified locals.
Equatorial Guinea belongs to the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Laws in Africa (OHADA) and falls under the OHADA Uniform Act on the law of commercial companies and economic interest groups of January 30, 2014.
Law 4/2009 on the Land Ownership Regime in Equatorial Guinea establishes that foreigners cannot own land but rather purchase a lease with a maximum duration of 99 years.
The foreign investor is required to justify the origin of the funds used for the creation of a company in Equatorial Guinea.
In 2019, the government began its second attempt to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), submitting an incomplete application and meeting with civil society and other interested organizations. By 2020, the government established two EITI commission offices in Malabo and Bata — the largest cities — and published gas and oil contracts on its EITI website.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
In the past three years, the Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea has not conducted an investment policy review through any institutions, such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the World Trade Organization, or the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. In October 2019, the World Bank presented its Diagnostic Trade Integration Study (DTIS) that analyzed various sectors of the Equatoguinean economy and prospects for increased economic development and trade.
According to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020, starting a business in Equatorial Guinea requires 16 procedures and usually takes 33 days, the same as in 2019. Equatorial Guinea was ranked 183 of 190 in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 for ease of “starting a business.” In 2017, the Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea passed Decree No. 67/2017, published in September 2017, to establish a “Single Window” or “single window” to simplify the process to register a business and speed the process to seven business days. The “single window” was launched in January 2019, after the Government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea equipped facilities for processing applications, and trained staff. There is a webpage with information, https://www.ventanillaempresarialge.com/en/welcome/ , but businesses cannot yet register online. Generally, business must register with various agencies at the national level and some local offices. The Single Window does not eliminate steps, but it does consolidate visits to five offices into one. The below chart illustrates the steps that an entrepreneur can complete at the Single Window:
||Single Window, Ministry of Commerce
||Single Window, Ministry of Commerce
|Ministry of Finance, the Economy, and Planning
||Single Window, Ministry of Commerce
|Ministry of Commerce – General Direction of Commerce
||Single Window, Ministry of Commerce
|Ministry of Commerce – Department of Business Promotion
||Single Window, Ministry of Commerce
|Ministry of Labor
||Ministry of Labor
|Social Security Administration (INSESO)
||Social Security Administration (INSESO)
|Chamber of Commerce
||Chamber of Commerce
|Sectoral ministries according to the activity of the company
||Sectoral ministries according to the activity of the company
The country does not have a business facilitation mechanism for equitable treatment of women and underrepresented minorities in the economy. There are laws that make it illegal to discriminate against women. There is an ongoing effort from the government to include people with disabilities in public administration, including with internship programs and contracts.
By Presidential Decree No 45/2020 from April 24, 2020, the government reduced the paid-in minimum capital requirement for Limited Liability Companies to operate in the country from 1,000,000 XAF to 100,000 XAF. In 2019, the Government established a committee to monitor the country’s performance on the main indicators of ease of doing business, as well as to propose reforms to improve the national business climate. The committee — comprised of several CEOs, the private sector, business organizations and civil society — developed a roadmap with actions to be implemented to facilitate the establishment of companies in the country. While not possible to register online, the government is exploring the option for a business to register by phone.
In February 2020, registration of trade certificates and businesses were included in the Single Window. Currently, would-be investors can access government websites for information on setting up businesses in the country. This includes websites for:
- Single Window [I https://www.ventanillaempresarialge.com/en/welcome/]
- Ministry of Finance, the Economy and Planning [https://minhacienda-gob.com /]
Currently, work is being done to include records from the Single Window in the Ministry of Labor and in the National Institute of Social Security. A Ministerial Order is under discussion to include data of the Ministry of Labor in the Single Window.
The National Institute for Business Promotion and Development launched an entrepreneurship training program with financing available. The program teaches entrepreneurs – with a focus on microbusinesses — how to develop business plans around their ideas, with the best project selected for investment. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is one of the donors, with an emphasis on supporting female entrepreneurship.
Although Equatoguinean citizens may legally invest outside the country, the government of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea does not promote foreign investment. The government and media do not praise or showcase Equatoguineans with business interests abroad. While there are no known restrictions on foreign investment, some individuals and companies have faced delays when transferring money overseas or converting local currency into foreign exchange, exacerbated by new CEMAC rules on foreign currency reserves enacted in 2019.
With technical assistance from UNDP, Equatorial Guinea is currently implementing the WTO Enhanced Integrated Framework program. This multilateral partnership is dedicated to assisting least developed countries (LDCs) use trade as an engine for growth, sustainable development, and poverty reduction. EG’s Action Plan through the Ministry of Commerce prioritizes promoting national products in the subregional and international markets. To encourage agricultural production, the Ministry plans to establish a national food certification institute within the Chamber of Commerce, pending funding from the government. The project was delayed by the pandemic.
After pausing all timber exports and firing the Minister of Agriculture, Timber, Livestock, and the Environment in the fall of 2020, the government lifted the export ban in October via Decree 93/2020. This authorized export of round wood, an industry dominated by Chinese companies. The previous decree had authorized only exports of transformed wood, with the goal of promoting the wood transformation industry in the local economy.