Libreville "Gabon is open to investors. We have a stable country, in the heart of Africa, that offers many investment opportunities, particularly in the mining sector. Since 2010, we have managed to attract over $4 billion of direct foreign investment from outside of the oil and extraction industries. This is a clear sign of our credibility. [...] I encourage the business leaders of Gabon to come to Australia and those from Australia to come to our country. Gabon will welcome you with open arms."
The President of the Gabonese Republic, Ali Bongo Ondimba, ended his speech with the above appeal to the Australian businessmen he met in Perth this morning, the "mining capital" of Australia, at a breakfast meeting organised by the AABC (Australian African Business Council) and the AAMIG (Australian Africa Mining Investment Group). For the final leg of his state visit to Australia, he wanted to place extra emphasis on the mining sector.
Mining potential at the heart of Gabon's economic development
With numerous mineral resources available, such as manganese, iron, copper, gold, diamond, bauxite, phosphate salts, magnesium and rare-earth metals, and more than 900 mineral deposits currently listed, Gabon's mining sector offers excellent prospects for development. Gabon is expected to become the world's leading producer of manganese by 2015.
It also boasts enormous iron ore potential. The Belinga deposit is estimated at 4 billion tonnes, with 1.5 billion tonnes of proven reserves. The first industrial extraction of gold has just begun with production already estimated at nearly 1.2 million tonnes of pure gold per year.
In order to highlight the importance of the mining sector to Gabon, the Gabonese Head of State went on to say: "We are in the process of reforming our institutions and shaking up our economy. We have oil, but this is not enough to support our development. We are looking to diversify, and we believe that mining could be the driving force behind Gabon's growth. That is why we are here. We are looking for strong long-term partners to work with us on local mining and processing projects."
An attractive environment for investors
While listing the country's various natural resources, the Minister of Industry and Mines, Régis Immongault, presented the benefits offered by Gabon to foreign investors:
political and macroeconomic stability;
fiscal policy stability;
an emphasis on transparency and good governance: Gabon is rated by the agencies Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor's;
an efficient financial sector;
the launch of a National Infrastructure Plan that will support mining activities in particular.
Furthermore, Gabon has recently revised its Mining Code, with the new version due to be adopted in the coming months. This will provide a more attractive framework for investors.
"We are asking Australian companies to help us to develop our mining sector. Gabon is a prime destination, open to all investors in the mining and infrastructure sectors," said the Minister.
Adopting best practices
Yesterday, the Gabonese Head of State visited mine sites operated by BHP Billiton in Western Australia, at Port Hedland and Whaleback. These large-scale mining sites and the associated infrastructure are similar to projects currently being studied in Gabon.
In Africa, BHP Billiton operates mainly in South Africa, Mozambique, Algeria and Angola. The Australian mining giant, whose market capitalisation at the end of 2011 was estimated at over 110 billion USD, is considered to be an international authority in the field of mining site management.
President Ali Bongo Ondimba therefore wanted to review the organisation and management methods employed by the Australian mining giant, particularly its infrastructure - roads, railway, dedicated deep-water port and power plant - and also the investments made at the level of the community in the creation of new towns. This kind of infrastructure is regarded as a development tool for this type of project and also as a fundamental element in assessing the project's viability.
The other expertise sought by the Gabonese delegation in Australia was in relation to capacity building. The development of the mining sector in Gabon will require, over the coming years, qualified human resources to meet the needs of businesses. Officials from the Ministry of Industry and Mines met with the leaders of the International Mining for Development Centre for this purpose. This centre, specialising in mineral resources and their extraction, was established by the University of Western Australia (UWA), the leading university in Western Australia. During this meeting, both sides exchanged views on the support that may be afforded to Gabon for the creation of a mining school in the African country and for the provision of professional development programmes for Ministry officials.
A new achievement in the policy to diversify partnerships
Considering the new possibilities of bilateral cooperation explored in the fields of mining, agriculture and capacity building, President Ali Bongo Ondimba's six-day state visit to Australia - the first made by a Gabonese President - may already be considered a success.
"We came here to share and to learn. Australian businesses are regarded as international authorities in several sectors. [...] I am extremely confident about the future of our partnership with Australia," he concluded at the end of his visit.
In 2010, Gabon was the third most important African partner in Australia behind South Africa and Nigeria, with trade amounting to nearly 400 million USD, mainly from oil exports to Australia. This state visit should help to increase trade and aid between the two countries and allow them to diversify beyond oil.