Mauritania's Business World

Mauritania has both African and Arab influences, and it strives to overcome a legacy of poverty, state-centric policy, and Arab nationalism through the building of a market based economy. The country is a physical link between northern and Saharan Africa, and it has a long tradition of trade from the north to the south, making it an ideal destination for foreign investors and entrepreneurs.

Over the past ten years, the Mauritanian government has opened the country for foreign investment and trade. With support from the IMF, the World Bank, and other sources, the exchange system of Mauritania has been liberalized and its fiscal and financial systems have been reformed.

Major challenges for the Mauritanian business world continue to be the pervasive poverty, a very fragile economy, and non-diverse exports. The country's taxes and tariffs are high when compared with its neighbors, and corruption and complex customs procedures are a big concern for new companies. The country's infrastructure is limited, but it is steadily improving. Communications systems are rife with problems, but the issues are not severe enough to limit investment and trade. However, higher land, housing and utility prices are becoming a sticking point for investors.

In Mauritania, the official language is Arabic, but all international business is conducted in French. All package labeling has to be in either Latin or Arabic characters, to include the quantity, quality and country of origin. Imports of firearms, pork and alcohol are strictly forbidden. The best opportunities for foreign investors are the fishing, tourism, gas, mineral and oil industries; drilling has uncovered rich deposits of gas and oil both on and offshore.

The production and export of iron ore is Mauritania's largest revenue source, and exploration has shown other mineral deposits as well. Copper mining began in 2006, and gold mining began shortly thereafter. The Mauritanian government is still granting licenses to foreign investors for mineral exploration and research. The tourism sector also provides another opportunity for investment; the country is a natural tourist destination due to its pristine beaches and beautiful desert landscape.

Unfinished projects in Mauritania's business world are mostly infrastructural; such as a proposed bridge over the Senegal River. There are also opportunities in power generation, utilities, information technology, and mineral prospecting. The reformed investment code of Mauritania is in place to encourage joint ventures and foreign investment, and the government especially wants investors from the United States.

The best way to enter the Mauritanian business world is by establishing a relationship with a local partner who has connections. A local will know the market and will be able to help a foreign investor understand business etiquette and culture. Before deciding to do business in Mauritania, a foreign investor should visit the country first for discussions with local colleagues.

Investors should set up meetings with authorities in their chosen sector, for discussion of establishment/incorporation procedures. Distributors and agents are commonly used, and Mauritanians are willing to represent foreign interests in all sectors.

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