Image: Society of Petroleum Engineers
Out of the various countries that constitute the MSGBC Basin – an area comprised of Mauritania, Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, and Guinea-Conakry – Mauritania is undoubtedly one of the most promising for investors, but also one of the least well known.
Mauritania lies at a strategic crossroads between North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and at the heart of various Atlantic shipping corridors. The country benefits from a privileged location with an Atlantic coast of over 754km, proximity to Europe, as well as direct access to important regional markets like Morocco, Senegal, Mali and Algeria. In recent years, the process of opening the Mauritanian economy has been underway and the steady increase in investments showcase the growing confidence and optimism that investors place in Mauritania.
In 2019, a new government was elected in Mauritania. In spite of the challenging global economic context due to the onset of the pandemic in 2020, there is still a firm commitment to increase FDI, continue improving the business climate and bolster efforts to maximize transparency and fight corruption at every level of the economy. Since taking office in August 2019, H.E. President Mohamed Cheikh El Ghazouani has undoubtedly made this quest for greater accountability a cornerstone of his administration.
The Mauritanian authorities are increasingly eager to attract higher levels of foreign direct investment. The Government of Mauritania is working closely with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the international community to further upgrade laws and regulations that are creating a more conducive investment climate. The Ministry of Economy offers tax benefits to enterprises in Special Economic Zones as well as other strategic sectors of the economy.
The Economist Intelligence Unit notes that economic Policy will focus on combatting the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. The economy will average real GDP growth of 3.5% in 2021-2022 following a 1.5% contraction in 2020. The main sectors of economic activity in Mauritania includes fisheries, agriculture, mining, telecommunications, tourism, and a burgeoning oil and gas sector. The major exports from Mauritania are currently frozen fish, iron ore, silver, and gold. Commercially significant quantities of oil and natural gas are set to come onstream in 2023.
State owned enterprises (SOEs) and parastatals still play an important role in the Mauritanian economy and are active in a wide range of sectors including energy, mining, petroleum, telecommunications, transportation, and fisheries. The National Mining Company, SNIM, is the single largest Mauritanian enterprise and the second largest employer in the country after the government.
Although mining is a well-established industry in Mauritania, it is the oil and gas sector that is really generating interest from international investors. Over the past six years the MSGBC Basin has attracted increased interest from IOC´s. In 2015, U.S. independent company Kosmos Energy made a major natural gas discovery, the Grand Tortue Ahmeyim (GTA), in an area located in the ultra-deep waters straddling Mauritania´s block C8 and Senegal´s Saint Louis Profond Block. The GTA discovery is reported to have a total of 15 Tcf of recoverable gas reserves. The focus of the GTA gas development project is a floating liquefied natural gas (FLNG) export to enable the quick and phased monetization of the discovered gas resources. This will make available natural gas supplies not only for export, but also for the domestic energy markets of Mauritania and Senegal. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the commissioning of the first phase of the GTA project, which was initially planned for 2022, has been delayed to 2023. The capacity of this Phase 1 FLNG project is about 2.5 mtpa. And subsequent phases of this LNG export project are expected to potentially expand the project´s LNG export capacity to 10 mtpa. In December 2016, Kosmos Energy farmed out 61% of its GTA share to BP. The GTA field is being developed to supply an LNG export project and BP is currently the project´s operator.
The national oil company, Société Mauritanienne Des Hydrocarbures et de Patrimoine Minier (SMHPM), receives the state’s share of oil and the national resource fund, Fonds National de Revenus des Hydrocarbures (FNRH), manages all oil and gas revenues.
But in order for Mauritania to fully capitalize upon this new hydrocarbon wealth it needs to continue undertaking significant investments in infrastructure. It is particularly important to upgrade the country´s power generation grid, which has suffered from insufficient investment in recent years. A number of large-scale infrastructure projects are currently underway inclduing the expansion of Dhar, Nouakchott International Airport, the upgrade of Port de l´Amitié, the National Road Plan and a variety of initiatives to accelerate business activities in Special Economic Zones. Also, in 2019, a joint- venture between Arise and Meridiam to support the modernization of the Nouakchott Port via a specific public-private partnership (long-term concession of 30 years) was signed. The project is expected to further strengthen Mauritania´s potential as a regional trading hub as well as providing a good basis for developing the maritime logistics that the growing oil and gas sector will require.
Mauritania is also looking to further develop capacity-building and local content in order to prepare the country for a future as an important oil & gas producer in the MSGBC Basin. In 2018, as part of the company´s CSR programs, Kosmos Energy launched the Kosmos Innovation Center in Mauritania. The program is helping young, entrepreneurial Mauritanians develop their business skills and potential, encouraging and challenging them to turn ideas for new products and services into reality. Over 30 young entrepreneurs were selected to participate in the inaugural Mauritania Innovation Challenge.
Other IOC´s like ExxonMobil, and BP who are currently operating in Mauritania are equally increasing their corporate social responsibility programs.
In response to growing demand for renewable power, and increasing interest by international stakeholders to invest, develop, and succeed in Africa, Energy Capital & Power will hold the MSGBC Oil, Gas, & Power 2021 conference and exhibition on the 1-3 December 2021. Focused on enhancing regional partnerships, spurring investment and development in the oil, gas and power sectors, the conference will unite regional international stakeholders with African opportunities, serving as a growth-oriented platform for Africa’s energy sector.