COUNTRY NAME: Islamic Republic of Mauritania
LAND AREA: 1 million km2
POPULATION: 3,2 million (2010 est.)
LANGUAGE: Arabic (official), French, others
CURRENCY: 1 Mauritanian Ougiya (MRO) = 5 Khoums; 1 EUR = 397,11 MRO (Nov. 2010)
MAIN CITIES: Nouakchott (capital), Nouadhibou, Kaedi, Zouérat
NATIONAL DAY: 28 November – Independence Day
TIME ZONE: Standard Time is GMT + 0
Mauritania lies mainly in the Sahara Desert belt of West Africa and shares borders with Morocco, Algeria, Mali and Senegal. The capital city and major port is Nouakchott while other major towns are Kaedi and Zouerate and the port of Nouadhibou. The country possesses a 700 km Atlantic coastline and in total is approximately twice the size of France, although over half of the land mass is desert.
Apart from its newly developed oil and gas sectors, Mauritania depends on traditional agriculture, fishing off its rich coastal waters and a modern mining industry that developed in the 1960s following the discovery of high-grade iron ore. Raising crops and pasturing livestock remain the main economic activities. Major agricultural products, produced chiefly near the Senegal River on irrigated lands and in scattered oases, are millet, dates, sorghum, and yams. Livestock such as sheep, goats, cattle, and camels are raised. Iron ore sales account for about half of the country’s export earnings. Gypsum and salt are also mined. Mauritania has large copper ore reserves, but difficult mining conditions and low world commodity prices have resulted in mine closures. The country’s few manufactured goods are made up principally of processed food (especially frozen fish) and clothing. Smaller industries include brewing, dairy processing, oil and sugar refining.
The important fishing industry contributes around 10 percent of the country’s GDP and 45 percent of its export earnings. The main species of fish that can be caught are deep sea and shellfish, such as shrimp which are exported to markets like Japan. Fish stocks off the coast of Mauritania are reputed to be among the richest and most diverse in the world. The commercial value of the fish stock is high. It is estimated, for example, that the country enjoys the largest stocks of octopus and croakers in the world. Effective regulations and protective measures such as patrols off the coastal waters help to prevent overexploitation of the marine zone. A new fisheries code of the commercial fishing industry, expansion of artisanal fisheries, reorganisation and modernisation of the fleet and development of processed product exports. Mauritania has signed bilateral fishery agreements with Algeria, Japan, Morocco, Russia, Senegal, Tunisia and the European Union. The potential for export development in this sector lies in the expansion of artisanal and coastal fisheries. There is a new zoning system in place to help boost the level of activity and increase processing of fish products, particularly, pelagic species, which are still underexploited. Enhanced quality management and better promotion will help to improve product access and value on foreign markets.
This sector is the largest employer in the country, accounting for nearly 50 percent of all jobs. The sector has been liberalised to allow private operators to operate where once the state sector was dominant. One of the key measures of reform has been the development of farm credit, which, initially, was available only for rice production and is now open to other agricultural sectors.
Telecommunications & New Technologies
Mauritania has offshore oil and gas deposits and a growing upstream oil industry. Offshore oil extraction began in February 2006. GDP surged to 11.2% in 2006, which was one of the highest growth rates in the world. Production is expected to stabilise at around 30,000 barrels p/d thereby moderating expectations of GDP growth. Mauritania is one of the four oil refining countries in West Africa. Its downstream oil industry is now a significant element in the country’s economy. Oil derived products supply 95% of the country’s commercial energy needs.
Mining of mainly iron ore is a major economic activity accounting for around 12 percent of the country’s GDP and is the leading employer after the public service. Activity in the sector is dominated by the leading mining company, Societe nationale industrielle et miniere (SNIM). The country’s other commercially exploitable mineral deposits consist of copper and cobalt. Gold and diamond rich sites have also recently been discovered through prospecting and they may prove economically viable. De Beers and other leading diamond companies are currently exploring the country’s potential in this regard. On the strength of the deposits that have so far been discovered, the World Bank reported that Mauritania could become a diamond producer in the medium term.
Manufacturing, handicrafts and fish-processing together contribute about 7 percent of the country’s GDP. Food processing is the main manufacturing activity, while nonfood manufacturing activities include chemicals and plastics, building materials, paper and packaging. However, these are all conducted on a small scale and are not particularly attractive to foreign investors.
Expansion of the tourism sector offers new and promising potential, if it were to receive a sufficient investment, particularly to improve facilities and infrastructure. It is still very underdeveloped with annual revenues estimated at only $20m and visitor numbers are currently only in the thousands. Most visitors are business travelers to the capital Nouakchott, where there are international standard hotels. Tourism in Mauritania consists mainly of desert holidaying, which has seen demand increase steadily over recent years, but other niche tourism activities are emerging, such as fishing, hunting and nature watching. In addition to an attractive and extensive coastline, Mauritania boasts a rich and ancient heritage which includes the old trading and religious centres of Ouadane, Chinguetti, Tichitt and Oualata. These areas could attract more visitors if marketed energetically and if basic infrastructure was improved. These ancient settlements were founded in the 11th and 12th centuries to serve the caravans crossing the Sahara and became focal points of Islamic culture. They have preserved an urban fabric that evolved between the 12th and 16th centuries. Typically, houses with patios crowd along narrow streets around a mosque with a square minaret. The four ancient cities have been designated UN World Heritage Sites, while the nature reservation of Banc d’Arguin is also protected. Mauritania is trying to balance preservation of its natural environment with development of tourism and increasing the number of visitors. One factor hampering the growth in tourism is the fact that international flights into the country are infrequent and expensive. The part privatised national airline, Air Mauritanie, flies to Paris and countries in West Africa. Three international airports at Nouadhibou on the coast, the main airport serving the capital Nouakchott, also on the coast, and a third airport at the inland city of Atar, have connections to 13 national airports and an additional 20 airstrips.
Banking & Finance
Mauritania’s financial system includes 11 retail and commercial banks, most of which began as joint ventures between the state and foreign or domestic investors, and were progressively privatised. As of December 2006, the 11 banks had aggregate assets of $1.0 billion and managed approximately 125,000 bank accounts, making Mauritania’s banking penetration rate a mere 4.2 percent. This is one of the lowest across all of Africa and particularly in the surrounding Maghreb countries, where banking rates are around 50 percent. However, bank deposits have recently registered an annual growth rate of 11 percent. The arrival of more new international players reflects the greater attractiveness of the sector. France’s BNP Paribas Group was granted authorisation from the Mauritanian authorities to open a full-service bank in the country in September 2006. In April 2008, Emerging Capital Partners (ECP), an international private equity firm focused on investing across the African continent, announced it had invested $15.9 million to acquire a controlling interest in BACIM Bank, the seventh largest banking group in Mauritania and whose parent organization is the Central Bank of Mauritania. ECP’s investment will enable BACIM to transform into a top-tier banking institution by strengthening management, consolidating resources, and upgrading technology infrastructure and improving risk management. “The Mauritanian banking sector is poised for significant growth over the next five years due to solid macroeconomic fundamentals, an emerging consumer market, and a growing corporate sector,” said Vincent Le Guennou, executive vice president of ECP. “We expect that the growing Mauritanian economy and the increasing confidence of the international community will continue to stimulate foreign direct investment in the country, resulting in substantial gains for the banking sector”. Mauritania has adopted ambitious banking sector reforms, in agreement with the IMF backed Financial Sector Assessment Programme recommendations. This is seen as critical to creating the conditions for higher private sector-led growth. The increased presence of foreign banks is likely to boost competition, and, along with improved banking supervision, should strengthen the financial sector. The country saw the establishment of its first exclusively
Islamic bank with the launch of Al Wataniya in March 2008, according to North Africa Times. The new bank is a pioneer in the sector and seeks to attract capital into
Mauritania’s major export industries are iron ore, fish and fish products, while its most important imports are machinery and equipment, petroleum products, capital goods, foodstuffs and some consumer goods.
There are development opportunities in the artisanal sector, if initiatives are taken to improve artisan productivity, product quality and markets access. The government adopted a plan for the handcraft industry designed to develop and modernise sector. Financial and insurance services, air transportation, health and education have all been privatised. All these sectors offer attractive investment opportunities, particularly for foreign direct investments.
Source: Austro-Arab Trade Directory 2011.
The mentioned data are subject to modification. No responsibility is taken for the correctness of the details provided.
Last modified: 26 January 2011