Strengthening the US-Mauritania economic relationship

Strengthening the US-Mauritania economic relationship

An MCC program, inclusion in the AGOA trade scheme and a new one-stop shop for investors will catalyze investments into Mauritania


Mauritania’s reputation on the international stage is solidifying, says Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and Mauritanians Abroad Mohamed Salem Ould Merzoug: “Our president has strong credibility and his leadership has made our country a benchmark for security and stability.” As well as securing the country from extremism, the government has addressed wider concerns of investors. “Without security of investments, the trust of the partners we need, particularly private sector ones, would remain fragile. We have made significant structural reforms in the area of justice to ensure legal certainty and predictability, guaranteeing transparency, fairness and sound governance in line with international standards,” he explains. “The combination of territorial and investment security qualifies our country as an oasis of peace and security in the region.”

Reflecting the rising trust of investors, around $1 billion flowed into Mauritania during 2021 and 2022. In addition to security, attractions included copious mining and hydrocarbon assets, as well as an advantageous location. “Mauritania opens to the Maghreb region of North Africa, the Mediterranean and sub-Saharan Africa, while its long Atlantic frontage faces Europe and the Americas. It acts as a hub connecting continents and, thanks to this role, we have also built bridges on a cultural, spiritual and civilizational level. We have the ability to communicate with everyone in these worlds,” states Merzoug.

The bridges between Mauritania and the US in particular are expanding, he adds: “Our commitments to democracy, rule of law, human rights and innovative social and economic policies have enabled a new dynamic in our relationship.” That relationship goes back to 1960, when the US was the first country to recognize Mauritania’s independence from France. Since then, they have collaborated on a variety of security and developmental issues. In 2022, for instance, the US state provided Mauritania with over $68 million for education, humanitarian and other development programs. To date, trade and investment partnerships have been more limited. In 2022, the US imported goods worth $6.1 million from Mauritania, while US investments into the African nation have mainly targeted extractive sectors. The most notable US investor at the moment is Kosmos Energy, which is helping to exploit natural gas reserves. According to Aïssata Lam, director general of the Investment Promotion Agency of Mauritania (APIM), “Kosmos is an excellent ambassador for us as it is very happy with the support it is receiving.”

Investment and trade relationships are expected to mushroom soon due to two decisions from the Biden administration. Last December, it announced that, as a result of the government’s reform progress, Mauritania has been selected for a Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) threshold program, which will identify and fund the resolution of constraints to economic development. This year, it revealed that the same reforms were sufficient to reinstate duty-free access on goods and services between the two countries under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which will come into effect in January. 

“Meeting the MCC’s standards is a huge step toward strengthening our economic relationship. We worked with the US Embassy in Mauritania, which gave us amazing support as we had the same objective: making sure we have the right policies and initiatives to channel US investments into the country,” Lam enthuses. “We also worked with the embassy for our reintegration into AGOA, another key element that will make US investment in Mauritania easier.” 

A further crucial factor in simplifying investments is APIM, which was established in 2021 by President Ghazouani. “We have four main objectives. The first is to give Mauritania its rightful place in the international investment scene and to make sure Americans and other foreign investors  know and understand the country better. We have worked hard on this, more investors are coming and we are slowly going from being a country that is a mystery, to one where the potential is clear,” she says. “Our second goal is to create investment opportunities. We aim to go to investors with not only bankable projects but ones with the right elements to make their investment decision easy. APIM’s third goal is to be a one-stop shop that facilitates all administrative processes, while our fourth is to follow up on investments. There are a lot of incentives for investors to come and there are also responsibilities in terms of job creation, the environment and so on.”

Additionally, APIM is the bridge between private and public sectors, Lam notes: “We make sure the right reforms are implemented, that investors are heard at the highest level and that projects are implemented. We are a young agency with big ambitions for investment numbers and those numbers need to translate into a positive impact on Mauritanian people.”

While emerging natural gas and mineral projects will buttress the country in the short- and medium-term, the government wants to diversify the country’s commercial and productive sectors to strengthen economic resilience. APIM is keen to showcase Mauritania’s potential in agriculture, livestock and fisheries, for example. “We have a fish-rich coast, more than 20 million cattle and over 80% of the rural population’s livelihoods come from agriculture,” she states. “In the past, we have been geared to raw exports in these industries, but now our focus is on local transformation, value and job creation to generate inclusive, sustainable growth. We want to encourage investors to invest responsibly.” 

Other sectors worth investigating include tourism, declares Lam: “In the next few years, Mauritania will become a destination of choice because we offer everything including the ocean, desert and beautiful countryside, and we are so close to Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and the US. There is plenty of opportunity to develop this sector and I do not think we are exploiting even 1% of its potential today. Renewable energy is another noteworthy sector. Mauritania has the ideal conditions to develop green hydrogen, for instance, and we have signed five memorandums for that sector so far.”

The government is currently working to put the right infrastructure and fiscal policies in place to support investors in these sectors, such as improving access to land and energy, building up skills capacities and establishing dedicated special economic zones for productive industries. Overall, Lam stresses, “Mauritania is the land of opportunities and the land of the future. Producing and exporting natural gas is going to be a tool for the country’s transformation, but Mauritania’s potential goes way beyond gas because of its people and their will, its strategic position and its many natural resources. I’m very hopeful and optimistic for Mauritania.”