2010 Investment Climate Statement
Bureau of Economic, Energy and Business Affairs
March 2010
Report

SUMMARY
The Central African Republic (CAR) is a landlocked country of 4.5 million people in an area slightly smaller than the state of Texas, with large swathes in the east almost uninhabited. After decades of coups, violence and mismanagement, the CAR now ranks 178 out of 179 on the United Nations’ Human Development Index. More than two-thirds of the population live in poverty, less than half are literate, and the average life expectancy hovers around 40 years, resulting in a very young population with almost fifty percent under the age of 18, and only four percent aged 60 and over. Per capita income is USD 456. The CAR ranks 183 out of 183 on the World Bank’s Doing Business Index. Its economy is based mainly on agriculture, diamonds and logging. Diamonds and timber are the country's principal exports, but some gold, iron and uranium exploration and development exists. The CAR has the potential to become a major agricultural product exporter. However, the CAR's economy is disadvantaged by the country's landlocked position, which isolates it from foreign suppliers and markets and contributes to high import prices. The CAR is believed to have petroleum deposit along its border with Chad, which could be exploited. It also has hydroelectric potential that could be developed for export to neighboring countries that have power shortages. The Central African Republic remains extremely hazardous for investment and the U.S. embassy must recommend the very greatest caution before investing in the country.

Openness to Foreign Investment

The government has undertaken structural reforms to stimulate the private sector development by attracting domestic and international private investment in the Central African Republic. In June 2001, it adopted a more attractive investment code for investors, renaming it the Central African Investment Charter. The charter, common to the six member-states of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community or CEMAC (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo Brazzaville, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Chad) focuses more on export-generating activities than the previous investment code. It is designed to open up the country to foreign investors, while still complying with the CEMAC treaty. The investment Charter created a fiscal and customs framework that involves notable changes, including:

- Enforcement of more moderate and harmonized customs taxes and external tariffs more in line with CEMAC
- Suspension of temporary admission taxes
- No value-added tax applied to exported goods
- Reduction of fees on the establishment of new companies, and
- Encouragement of technical training of local staff and environment protection through tax reduction program.

The Investment Charter is not applicable to the mining, forestry and tourism sectors, which have their own investment code, or to the usual trading activities that do not generate value added, such as retail. However, the new charter does give the National Commission for Investments, located at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the responsibility of facilitating the bureaucratic process of establishing new businesses in the CAR by working with and on behalf of potential investors.

The labor code was reviewed to provide more flexibility in terms of salary and job management. The National Assembly adopted a new mining code in 2009, controversially rejecting several recommendations from the World Bank that would have increased transparency in the sector. It should be noted also that in 1998, the National Assembly ratified the treaty on business regulation in Africa; these reforms included privatization of state-owned companies.

-- Judicial system: The Central African judicial system is comprised of civil, administrative, criminal, commercial and financial courts. It also includes a criminal court. At the top of the judicial system is the Constitutional Court.

-- Economic and industrial discrimination: There is no discriminatory industrial and economic strategy with any negative impact on foreign-owned investments in the Central African Republic.

-- There is no single sector/matter in which foreign investors are denied equal treatment in this country.

-- Real estate: Foreign investors can acquire real estate in the CAR.

-- Local stock exchange: There is no stock exchange in the CAR. However, there is a regional stock exchange in Libreville, Gabon for the six CEMAC state members including Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. Foreign investors can buy shares on this stock exchange on the same basis as local investors.

-- There is no screening of foreign investments in the CAR. There are no closed/screened sectors in the CAR. All economic sectors are open to foreign investments.

Foreign investor treatment in privatization programs:

Having committed to reduce its role in the commercial and industrial activities, the Central African Republic Government (CARG) is currently conducting a privatization program. After privatizing various parastatals including water and petroleum and some banks, the CARG plans to privatize SOCATEL, the telecommunications company. The CARG holds 60% of SOCATEL's share capital, with 40% owned by France Cable, a French company. ENERCA, the state owned electricity company, is to be privatized also. Foreign and national investors are given the same treatment. Bidding criteria are clear.

-- There is no official discrimination against foreign investors at any time in the investment process.

-- Laws or regulations specifically authorizing private firms to adopt articles of incorporation or association, which limit or prohibit foreign investment, participation or control: There is no such law or regulation in the CAR.

-- There is no practice by private firms to restrict foreign investment, participation in, or control of domestic enterprises.

TI Corruption Index: 158 out of 180
Heritage Economic Freedom Index: 156 out of 179
World Bank Doing Business: 183 out of 183
MCC Government Effectiveness: -0.66 (11%)
MCC Rule of Law: -0.55 (15%)
MCC Control of Corruption: -0.12 (39%)
MCC Fiscal Policy: -0.3 (63%)
MCC Trade Policy: 58.1 (10%)
MCC Regulatory Quality: -0.65 (19%)
MCC Business Start-Up: 0.740 (7%)
MCC Land Rights and Access: 0.307 (0%)
MCC Natural Resource Management: 59.53 (48%)

Conversion and Transfer Policies

-- There is no restriction on converting or transferring funds associated with an investment. The Investment Charter provides that the investment capital, earnings or loan payments are freely transferable. The Ministry of Finance must authorize the transfer process.

-- There is no change in remittance policies.

-- Foreign exchange is legally obtained only at the banks, but a black market does exist.

-- Average delay for remitting investment returns is 30 days. However, in practice the operation could take more than that amount of time.

-- Money transfer requires authorization from the Ministry of Finance. There is no ceiling; any amount can be transferred. The costs of transferring money from the Central African Republic are as follows:

- Inside the Franc zone: 0.25% of the amount of the money to be transferred plus 18% of the value of 0.25%.

- Outside of Franc zone: 1% of the amount of the money to be transferred plus 18% of the value of 1%. (Example: $100,000 x .01 = $1,000 x .18 = $1,000 + $180 = $1,180)

- Remitting investment returns through a legal parallel market including one utilizing convertible negotiable instruments (such as dollar-denominated host government bonds issued in lieu of immediate payment in dollars) is not common in the Central African Republic.

-- According to the experience of some foreign investors consulted on this issue, there is no discrepancy between the stated policy and its implementation.

Expropriation and Compensation

-- There have not been any reported cases of expropriation in the CAR during the last twenty years.

-- There is no particular sector that is more at risk for expropriation or similar action in the CAR.

-- There is no law that forces local ownership in any sector in the CAR.

-- There are no reported cases of "creeping expropriation" or government action tantamount to expropriation. However, in 2008, 8 of the 11 diamond buying houses in the CAR were shut down by the government. The government cited an obscure procure property regulation to justify their closure of the houses and seizure of the companies’ records and property. This action caused wide spread hunger in various diamond producing areas and an increased flow of stones to neighboring countries.

Dispute Settlement

-- The CARG handles investment disputes by taking dispute cases to court when attempts to reach a "gentlemen's agreement" fail.

a). A long running dispute between CARG and a US-Canadian joint venture oil exploration project has been referred to the International Office of Settlements for arbitration. The CARG is seeking to find a settlement through private negotiation as of January 2010.

The French mining company, AREVA signed a deal with the Central African Republic Government in Bangui on August 1, 2008 after a year-long dispute. Difficulties continue with AREVA recently receiving a tax bill for over USD 300 million. While no mining has actually taken place, the mine has the potential to be worth USD 40 million to the Central African Government over five years. Success of the project is dependent upon a resolution.

A Canadian company, Axmin, had its 2006 mining convention first renegotiated and then had all its concessions except for gold terminated in 2008. All of its mining activity is currently on hold and efforts to sell the company have been unsuccessful. AXMIN’s proven reserves are cautiously estimated at a present value of USD 120 M.

-- Legal system: The legal system in the Central African Republic is comprised of regular courts (civil, commercial, administrative, criminal and financial) and a military court. At the top of the judiciary is the Constitutional Court. Enforcement of property and contractual rights is uneven. The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but there are reliable reports of executive interference.

-- The CAR signed judicial treaties with France and most francophone countries. It also ratified the treaty related to the African Organization for Harmonizing Business Law (Organisation pour l'Harmonisation en Afrique des Droits des Affaires.)

-- The country has a written and consistently applied commercial law that is similar to French law.

-- Judgments are usually made in local currency.

-- CAR accepts binding international arbitration of investment disputes between foreign investors and the state.

-- Since 1965, the CAR has been a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). ICSID provisions are included in the Central African Investment Charter.

Performance Requirements/Incentives

Compliance with WTO TRIMS:

-- According to the Ministry of Commerce officials, the CAR is in compliance with WTO TRIMS notification. The Central African Government does not maintain any measures that appear to violate the WTO TRIMs agreement.

-- Performance requirements or incentives are applied uniformly to both domestic and foreign investors in the CAR.

-- Investment incentives: As mentioned above, the new Investment Charter (investment code) conforms to the CEMAC treaty and is designed to open up the country to foreign investment favoring the export sectors. All investment, foreign and domestic can qualify for benefits generated by the new Charter. The minimum investment required is CFA 10 million or USD 22,222 - (1 USD = CFA 450). For any investment of CFA 100 million - USD 222,223, the taxes on the benefits are reduced 100% during the three years following the investment date. After three years, taxes are restored as follows:

-- 4th year: 25%
-- 5th year: 50%
-- 6th year: 75%
-- 7th year: 100%

Investment incentives are also influenced by geographic location. Investment in areas outside the capital benefits from additional tax exemption periods as follows:

-- 100 km from Bangui: 1 additional year
-- 100 km to 300 km from Bangui: 2 additional years
-- More than 300 km: three additional years.

-- Performance requirements are imposed to access tax exemption and investment incentives.

-- There is no requirement that investor purchases from local sources or export a certain amount of output in general. However, it should be noted that the Central African Forestry Code requires that the logging companies operating in the CAR convert at least 60% of the wood cut locally and export only 40% in the form of raw timber.

-- In the telecommunication sector, a decree dated December 31, 1997 requires that a Central African owns/controls a portion of the share capital of any telecommunication company operating in the country.

-- “Offset” requirement: Such requirement does not exist in the CAR.

-- There are no government-imposed conditions on permission to invest in terms of specific geographic area or specify percentage of local content (goods or services). In terms of employment, the Central African Government encourages the employment of Central Africans in those areas of economic activities where there are qualified personnel. There is no specific quota requirement. However, before a foreigner is employed at any level in a private company, permission from the Ministry of Labor is required. The permission is usually granted.

-- Enforcement procedures for performance requirements: There is no indication that the CARG intends to increase or decrease requirements. The CARG does not require the disclosure of proprietary information as part of regulatory approval process.

-- U.S. and other foreign firms can participate in government financed/subsidized research and development program on national treatment basis.

-- There is no discriminatory or excessively onerous visa, residence, work or other such requirements inhibiting foreign investors in CAR.

-- There are no discriminatory or preferential export or import policies affecting foreign investors in the CAR.

Rights to Private Ownership and Establishment

- Foreign and domestic private entities are entitled to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity.

-- There is a right of private entities to freely establish, acquire and dispose of interests in business enterprises.

-- There is no discrimination with regard to access to markets on a competitive and equal basis. There is an entity called the Markets Committee, which is responsible for evaluating and selecting offers from private as well as public enterprises competing for access to Government markets. There is also equality of access to credit, and other business operations.

Protection of Property Rights

-- Secured interests in property are recognized and enforced. The concept of a mortgage is common in the CAR. The recording of such security is based on the French recording system.

-- There is a legal system that protects and facilitates acquisition and disposition of all property rights, such as land, buildings and mortgages.

-- Adherence to key international agreements on Intellectual Property Rights: The CAR became a member of the African Intellectual Property Organization on March 27, 1997.

-- Adequate protection for intellectual property patents and copyrights: In 1983, the government established an office in the Ministry of Commerce to deal with industrial and intellectual property rights. In principle, there are legal provisions protecting the authors' rights, but implementation in this area remains poor.

-- WTO TRIPS Agreement: A notable step was taken with the Bangui Agreement on Intellectual Property signed by 17 African countries in February 1999. The agreement embodies and harmonizes all aspects of both the intellectual and the industrial property rights in the signatory nations. For the Central African Republic, this agreement was reviewed by the Council of Ministers and ratified by the National Assembly in 2001. In 1990, the country established, the National Office for the Protection of Copyrights (BUCADA). In principle, patents, trademarks, copyrights and related rights are monitored and protected by this entity.

Transparency of the Regulatory System

-- The CARG adopted a law in 1992 to liberalize the commercial sector by canceling price controls and encouraging sound competition in order to stimulate private sector development in the country.

-- Tax, labor, health and security laws do not distort or impede investment in the Central African Republic.

-- Bureaucratic procedures: The government is in the process of streamlining bureaucratic procedures to improve transparency. In an effort to reach this goal, the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and craft industry has established a one-stop shopping office to complete the different steps needed to establish a business on behalf of the investors.

-- There are no such informal regulatory processes managed by NGO or private sector organizations involved in discrimination against foreign investors in CAR.

-- It is not common in the CAR that draft laws or regulations be published for public comments. Most of the time, draft laws and regulations come from the executive branch for review and adoption by the National Assembly. The only way to influence a draft law during the process of its adoption is to lobby the National Assembly members individually or as a group for the draft law’s adoption or rejection.

-- Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems in the CAR are transparent and consistent with international norms.

-- There is no private sector and/or government/authority effort to restrict foreign participation in industry standards-setting consortia.

Efficient Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

-- There is no efficient capital market or portfolio investment in the CAR.

The banking and financial sector of the Central African Republic consists primarily of the Regional Central Bank of Central African States (BEAC), four commercial banks and a credit union. The Central African banking system is mainly a short-term market. With the exception of a few real estate development projects, there are very limited long-term resources. Some 60% of all deposits are for less than six months.

-- Credit is allocated on market terms and foreign investors can obtain credit on the local market although this market remains modest with only four commercial banks operating in the country.

-- The private sector has access to a limited range of credit instruments available in the country.

-- There is no effective regulation system to encourage and facilitate portfolio investments in the Central African Republic.

-- The largest commercial bank in the Central African Republic is ECOBANK/Centrafrique. Its address is as follows:

ECOBANK Centrafrique (ECA)Place de la Republique
P.O. Box 910 Bangui, Central African Republic
Tel # (236) 21 61 00 42
Fax # (236) 21 61 61 61 36
E-mail: ecobankcf@ecobank.com

ECOBANK is the leading commercial with 48% of all deposits and 41.4% of credits. ECOBANK has 11 agencies throughout the country employing 166 personnel. The breakdown of its share capital is as follows:
Ecobank Transnational inc.: 75%
Local private: 16%
Central African Government: 9%

-- Soundness of banking system:

According to a June 2009 report from BEAC, the regional central bank, of the four main commercial banks operating in the country, only the Commercial Bank of Central Africa (CBCA) failed to conform to the regional bank requirements in terms of soundness

Overall the Central African banking system’s deposits increased by 12% compared to June 30, 2008. Credits to the economy increased by 2.8%. Contrary to recent years, credits to the government decreased by 34.5% in 2009 as a result of the significant country debt cancellation and better management of the public expenses.

The local bank with the most international correspondents is CBCA.

Competition from State Owned Enterprises

--Private and public enterprises are allowed to compete under the same terms and conditions with respect to access to markets, credits and other business operations such as licenses and supplies.

--State owned enterprises are active in three sectors: water, electricity production and distribution, and fixed landline telephones with the last being partially private.

--Corporate governance of SOE: The SOE management reports to an independent board of directors and there are board seats specifically allocated to representatives of interested ministries. There is no seat specifically allocated to politically-affiliated individuals in the board of directors of SOE.

--There is no sovereign wealth fund in CAR.

Corporate Social Responsibility

CSR has limited aplicability in the CAR.

Political Violence

Over the past years, CAR has suffered from chronic political instability characterized by repeated internal conflicts. Former Army Chief of Staff and current President Francois Bozize came to power by overthrowing former President Ange Felix Patasse on March 15, 2003. General Bozize declared himself President and engaged upon a transition period marked by a national dialogue with political parties and civil society organizations, a constitutional referendum, and the holding of general and Presidential elections in May 2005.

Rebel activity in the northwestern and northeastern parts of CAR in 2006 led to bitter fighting between the government and rebel groups, in which atrocities committed by both sides contributed to a displaced population of over 300,000 people. By December 2008, an Inclusive Political Dialogue built upon a Comprehensive Peace Accord helped bring an end to the instability in CAR. The Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) Process was recently initiated in August 2009, but violence in the Northeast of the country in 2009 and early 2010 imperils both the processes and the overall stability of certain parts of the country.

Currently, the overall security situation in the Central African Republic is uneven. There are many incidents of highway robbery and intimidation of citizens by robbers in the countryside.

Corruption

-- Multiple US firms have identified high level corruption as the major obstacle to foreign direct investment in the CAR. Corruption is pervasive in government procurement, dispute settlement and taxation.

-- Laws and penalties to combat corruption effectively in the CAR: The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption; however, the government does not implement these laws effectively. Yet it should be noted that the CARG recently took some measures to combat corruption by initiating basic reforms. In March 2008, Prime Minister Touadera set up a national committee to fight corruption that included representatives from the government, trade unions, NGOs, private sector, religious organizations, and the media.

-- Bribery: In the framework of the fight against corruption in the Central African Republic, the National Assembly adopted a law against bribery in 2003. According to this law, bribery is considered a criminal act.

-- Bribery by local companies to foreign officials as well as bribery by foreign to local officials is reported to be pervasive and rarely, if ever, punished. Some senior government officials are not taking anti-corruption efforts seriously.

-- A bribe to a foreign official cannot be deducted from taxes.

-- Enforcement of anti-corruption law: the law can be enforced if a complaint is filed. During 2009, 12 civil servants from the Tax Division of the Ministry of Finance were arrested for having decreased the taxes owed by local companies. Eight of them were sentenced from one to three years of imprisonment.

-- The CAR is not a signatory of the OECD convention on combating bribery.

-- Transparency International 2009 Corruption Index ranked the CAR 158 out of 180 countries.

Bilateral Investment Agreement

The Central African Republic has bilateral commercial agreements with the CEMAC member states (Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Chad) as well as with following countries: Morocco, China, Sudan, Egypt, Nigeria, Libya, Iraq, Germany, South Korea and Romania.

The Central African Republic has a bilateral agreement, investment treaty with the U.S.:

The Investment Guaranties Agreement between the United States of America and the Central African Republic is dated December 31, 1964 and entered into force on January 1, 1965.

OPIC and other Investment Insurance

The Central African Republic is not an OPIC eligible country.

Potential for operation of OPIC: The CAR has a democratically elected government and is engaged in an IMF/World Bank economic restructuring program which includes the privatization of state owned companies.
Small domestic surpluses over 2006 – 2008 were achieved through a conservative fiscal policy and several structural reforms, helping restore a measure of order to public finances. The Poverty Reduction Strategy enacted since 2007 covers public finance management, debt management and other key areas of economy policy. Due to these reforms, the CAR reached the completion point under the enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative. Debt relief of some USD 741 million in net present value (NPV) was signed with creditors. Additionally, multilateral creditors provided debt relief amounting to USD 525 million in NPV.
Note: This comes from a report issued by IMF on January 4, 2010. I got it from IMF web site.: OK-- The average exchange rate for the twelve previous months: is CFA 471 to $1.00.

Devaluation risk: the CFA Franc is linked to the Euro. There is no indication that the CFA Franc is at risk of devaluation or depreciation to the Euro.

Labor

Labor is available in most of the economic sectors, depending on what the local training institution can provide. However, there are shortfalls of skilled personnel in some technical fields.

Labor-management relations are regulated by the labor code. Depending on the economic sector, labor-management relations are regulated through specific agreements.

The CAR adheres to the ILO convention protecting workers rights.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports

There is no foreign trade zone in the Central African Republic.

Foreign Direct Investment Statistics

CAR economy is based mainly on agriculture, diamonds, gold and logging sectors. Diamonds and timber are the country's principal exports. Uranium exploration project just started in the East of the country.

The world financial crisis strongly affected principal Central African export products such as diamonds and timber, which accounted for 40% to 32% of the country’s exports. Other exports include gold, cotton, coffee and tobacco. More generally, foreign direct investments are primarily in diamonds, gold, uranium and telecommunications. Among new foreign investments recorded from 2007 through 2009, the telecommunication sector ranks as the largest new investment field by volume. According to the National Investment Committee, operating under the Ministry of Commerce, major investments recorded during, 2007, 2008 and 2009 in the telecommunications sector represented respectively 53.2%, 67.9% and 26.7% of total foreign direct investments. Gold and uranium benefited from substantial foreign direct investments as well over the same period. In terms of origin, most foreign direct investments come from France, Canada and South Africa and India. However, China’s share of investments in the country increased significantly over the last four years.

Foreign Direct Investments Statistics (in CFA billions)
If a scroll bar appears below the following table, swipe the table to move left/right of the dashed line.
2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
Total gross investments
45.4466.96 44.9140.18Not available
Private gross investments
1.355.723.222.852.60

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