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Business with America enhanced for the long-term

Article - June 4, 2015

The West African nation is making it easier and more secure for international investors to help diversify its economy

PRESIDENT OF EQUATORIAL GUINEA TEODORO OBIANG NGUEMA MBASOGO WITH THE OBAMAS IN 2014 (CREDIT: AMANDA LUCIDON)

One of Africa’s richest, yet least-known countries, Equatorial Guinea is now entering the exciting second phase of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo’s ambitious Horizon 2020 plan to transform the country into an emerging economy by the target year with private investors invited to join the party.

In the first phase, his government used the nation’s vast petroleum wealth to build the transport infrastructure needed to help diversify Equatorial Guinea’s economy away from hydrocarbons and toward other industries, such as agribusiness and livestock, energy and mining, fishing, tourism, and services. Now, the aim is to attract domestic and foreign investors to these sectors with U.S. companies more than welcome. “I can assure you that the transformation this country is experiencing now is due to the foreign companies, many of which are American, operating here,” declares Mr. Obiang. “And
we are definitely looking forward to more participation from American firms in other sectors beyond oil and gas.”

For many years, Equatorial Guinea was barely on the U.S. radar, neither in the power centers of Washington, nor in the boardrooms of American multinationals, until the West African country took the initial step. “Even though Equatorial Guinea didn’t really interest the U.S. government, when we invited American oil companies to come here, they helped set the stage for the good relations we now have with the United States,” Mr. Obiang explains.

Those relations are reflected in the United States’ standing as a leading trade partner. Currently, the U.S. is Equatorial Guinea’s fourth-largest export market after Japan, France and China, and third in providing imports after Spain and China. Around 17% of natural gas consumed in the U.S. is from Equatorial Guinea and the country’s largest foreign investors are all American multinationals.

Successive U.S. administrations have worked closely with Equatorial Guinea to not only foster economic ties, but also to boost the country’s nascent democracy, as well as improve political freedom, human rights, and the standard of living for all its estimated 750,000 citizens. Indeed, bilateral relations are so good that U.S. passport holders do not need visas to enter the country, with the U.S. one of only three foreign countries accorded that unique privilege. 

In the most recent signal of Washington’s support for the changes occurring in Equatorial Guinea, President Obiang met with his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama at last year’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington.

Situated on the Atlantic Ocean near major international sea traffic routes, Africa’s sole Spanish-speaking country measuring 11,000 square miles (slightly smaller than the state of Maryland) wants to punch above its weight and become, in the words of government officials, “the Singapore of Africa.”

It makes sense. The country would be perfect as a logistics platform for its surrounding neighbors on the Gulf of Guinea, easing access for goods and services to a growing and increasingly affluent market of 300 million consumers, as well as increasing Equatorial Guinea’s industrial capacity.

“We need to develop our industrial sector and see what we can make here ourselves, with foreign investment assistance, to reduce imports and conserve our foreign exchange,” notes Mr. Obiang. 

“For example, we could produce cement, which every growing economy needs if it wants to be self sufficient. And that is the aim of Horizon 2020. It is something we are very much focusing on,” he adds.

Africa is the continent of the future, Mr. Obiang argues, “because we have natural resources and demographic growth. Equatorial Guinea, of course, will be an integral part of the continent’s development, and we want the United States to join us in building that future for the good of all.”

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