Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Houston Forum Presents Investment Opportunities In Equatorial Guinea

Favorable conditions for U.S. investment in a modern, diversifying economy.President Obiang seeks U.S. companies for IT, telecoms, fisheries, agribusiness, mining, tourism. 

The government of Equatorial Guinea laid out the welcome mat in Houston Monday for U.S. investments in information technology, telecommunications, fisheries, construction, agriculture and agroindustry, mining and hydrocarbons.
Some 200 representatives of companies from the Houston area and beyond gathered for a day-long forum on the diversification of Equatorial Guinea’s economy sponsored by the Greater Houston Partnership, an organization that promotes economic prosperity in the 10-county Houston region. They were joined by U.S. Representatives Al Green (D-TX) and Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX).

President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and several cabinet members presented the government’s plans to diversify the country’s economy, which is currently largely dependent on petroleum extraction. The officials also explained the regulatory regime, infrastructure, economic environment, government assistance and economic incentives foreign investors will find in Equatorial Guinea, including a one-stop shop to assist businesses in getting established.

Positive U.S. Role in Remarkable Development

President Obiang praised the role U.S. investment has played in the development of his country over the last 15 years. He noted that American companies had invested in Equatorial Guinea when it was considered high-risk and had been amply rewarded. He placed total U.S. investment in the country at nearly $30 billion, mostly in the oil and gas sector. Much of that investment has come from Houston.

“Nearly 20 years ago, I made my first visit to Houston. At that time, Equatorial Guinea was the poorest country on the continent…. I came here and met with American businessmen and I invited them to invest in the petroleum sector, owing to my disappointment when Spanish and French companies determined after ten years of exploration that Equatorial Guinea did not have petroleum. And at that time, I lamented I didn’t think nature could be so unfair, since to the north, we have Nigeria which is a petroleum producer, and to the south we have Gabon, which also has petroleum. And Cameroon also is a petroleum producer. But Equatorial Guinea, which is in the midst of those three countries, supposedly had none.”

He recalled that it was an American, Joe Walter, “who decided to invest in Equatorial Guinea. He named his company Walter International. It was a small company.  And after six months, he discovered the first gas deposits in the very field where the others had spent ten years.”
Today, Equatorial Guinea is the third-largest producer of petroleum in sub-Saharan Africa, and it has used its income from petroleum to launch an ambitious program to develop its infrastructure. Called Horizon 2020, the program’s goal is to make Equatorial Guinea a self-sufficient, emerging economy by the year 2020. The nation has invested heavily in power generation, ports, roads, education and health in an effort to create a modern infrastructure and build the capacity of the nation’s people.

Today, Equatorial Guinea attracts foreign migrants seeking opportunities in its growing economy and makes strong efforts to control illegal immigration in order to preserve opportunities for its citizens. Ninety-six percent of the population is below the age of 64, and 40% is younger than 15. The literacy rate is 93%.

Obiang expressed confidence in the ability of American companies to help diversify the economy in an environment that now has few risks. Equatorial Guinea is “now considered a model country in African development,” said President Obiang, and other African countries frequently consult with his government in formulating their own development policies.

The government officials at the forum revealed that Equatorial Guinea offers numerous services and incentives to investors, including significant reductions in taxes, fees and duties, a favorable regulatory regime and a one-stop shop in government to assist investors in getting established.

Telecommunications Solve Challenges of Geography

Equatorial Guinea is composed of territory on the African continent and several islands. The capital, Malabo, is on the island of Bioko while the nation’s business and financial center, Bata, is located on the mainland. This geography has made telecommunications a high priority for the government, which currently is upgrading its network and has three companies providing telephone, wireless and Internet service. A fiber-optic network and an undersea cable connecting Bioko and the mainland territory, Rio Muni, will form the country’s telecommunications backbone.

The country is developing its petrochemical industry and is building storage and port facilities for natural gas.

In agriculture, Equatorial Guinea is a traditional exporter of high-quality cacao and other tropical products, such as coconut and palm oil. President Obiang and other officials hope to promote the production of tropical fruits and plants, peanuts, corn and other agricultural products, and further develop the nation’s livestock industry.

Equatorial Guinea’s exclusive maritime economic zone is ten times larger than its land mass, with vast potential for fisheries. Officials also pointed out deposits of gold, diamonds, manganese and tantalum that offer potential for mining investment.

Tourism is another area with potential for investment. Officials pointed out the country’s unspoiled beaches and forests and the presence of major companies such as Hilton and Accor operating modern hotels.