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Issues covered by the WTO’s committees and agreements

TRADE POLICY REVIEWS: FIRST PRESS RELEASE, SECRETARIAT AND GOVERNMENT SUMMARIES

PRESS RELEASE
PRESS/TPRB/200
13 September 2002
Mauritania: September 2002

The WTO Secretariat report, along with the policy statement by the Government of Mauritania, will serve as a basis for the first Trade Policy Review (TPR) of Mauritania by the Trade Policy Review Body of the WTO on 11 and 13 September 2002.

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See also:

Second press release
Chairperson’s concluding remarks


Enhanced international assistance would help Mauritania reap more benefits from its trade liberalization efforts   back to top

Mauritania needs international support and a coherent programme of integrated technical assistance for a more effective participation in the multilateral trading system and to reap the benefits of the liberalization efforts undertaken so far, according to a WTO Secretariat Report on the trade policies and practices of Mauritania.

Since the end of the 1980s, but particularly since the beginning of the 1990s, Mauritania has embarked upon economic reforms intended to liberalize its economy and foreign trade and strengthen the legislative framework. The major reforms focused on: liberalizing prices and eliminating barriers to international trade, liberalization of the exchange regime; stabilizing the financial sector; gradual privatization of State enterprises; and fiscal, customs and judicial reforms. The structural reforms have laid the bases for sustained economic development and have decisively improved the business climate in Mauritania.

These reforms, together with prudent macro-economic policies and foreign support, have allowed Mauritania to register a steady GDP growth, a modest level of inflation, and a marked improvement in public finance and the balance-of-payments. Since 1993, Mauritania's GDP has risen at an average annual rate of 4.5 per cent, sustained mainly by government investment (often financed by external funds) and to a lesser degree by exports. Real GDP per capita has increased substantially since 1992.

The report says that despite the progress achieved, there is still a high level of poverty in Mauritania; it is classified as a least developed country (LDC). Furthermore, Mauritania's external debt remains at a high level (around US$2.5 billion in 1999), equivalent to over 260 per cent of its GDP. Mauritania's economy remains highly vulnerable to external shocks because of its narrow production and export base. Mauritania is dependent on food imports, largely due to its arid climate.

Mauritania's trade regime has been reformed over the past years, with the objective of eliminating barriers to international trade and enhancing the competitiveness of Mauritania's exports. Customs procedures have been simplified and the majority of customs duties rationalized, while most non-tariff measures have been abolished. The simple average MFN import duties (excluding a 3 per cent statistical fee) is 10.6 per cent.

A study carried out by the World Bank in 2001 shows that, despite sustained growth in the economy and significant trade reforms, Mauritania is still not well integrated in the global economy. The key obstacles to the development of Mauritania's trade include supply-side constraints (in particular the very limited number of exportable products), limitations in port and road infrastructure, and the lack of human and institutional resources needed for more effective participation in the multilateral system, in negotiations in particular. In order to tackle these constraints, a coherent programme of integrated technical assistance is needed. Mauritania is one of the first three pilot countries for the implementation of the Integrated Framework for Trade-Related Technical Assistance to LDCs.

Among other points made in the report are the following:

  • Mauritania's foreign trade remains highly concentrated, especially in terms of products; iron and fisheries products account for almost all exports.
  • Bridging the gap between bound tariff rates and those applied, while maintaining the current level of openness in the market, would enhance the predictability of Mauritania's tariff regime.
  • The export regime has also been liberalized. Mauritania does not impose any bans or quantitative restrictions on exports and does not require export licences.
  • In the past, the Mauritanian Government pursued a food self-sufficiency policy, but the agricultural sector has now been liberalized. One of the principal features of the reform has been the development of agricultural credit, formerly reserved for rice production, and subsequently made available for other activities.
  • Fishing is one of the key sectors of the Mauritanian economy. The Government's policy in the sector is focussed principally on the protection of resources, improvement of the sector's performance, and the withdrawal of the State from production and marketing activities.
  • The mining sector is considered to offer great potential for Mauritania. It is also one of the key sectors, and iron ore exports account for around 60 per cent of Mauritania's total exports.
  • The Mauritanian manufacturing sector is comparatively undeveloped. The processing of fisheries products excluded, the sector contributes about 4.2 per cent to GDP (8.4 per cent including the processing of fisheries products).
  • The tourism sector is largely open to foreign participation and, since the adoption of a new law in 1996, investment in the sector has increased.
  • The liberalization and privatization of services such as financial or insurance services was initiated at the end of the 1980s and almost all the banks have been privatized.
  • The liberalization of air transport and basic telecommunication services got under way in the early 1990s. Air Mauritanie and Mauritel were privatized in 1999 and 2001 respectively.

Note to Editors

Trade Policy Reviews are an exercise, mandated in the WTO agreements, in which member countries’ trade and related policies are examined and evaluated at regular intervals. Significant developments which may have an impact on the global trading system are also monitored. For each review, two documents are prepared: a policy statement by the government of the member under review, and a detailed report written independently by the WTO Secretariat. These two documents are then discussed by the WTO’s full membership in the Trade Policy Review Body (TPRB). These documents and the proceedings of the TPRB’s meetings are published shortly afterwards. Since 1995, when the WTO came into force, services and trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights have also been covered.

For this review, the WTO’s Secretariat report, together with a policy statement prepared by the Government of Mauritania, will be discussed by the Trade Policy Review Body on 11 and 13 September 2002. The Secretariat report covers the development of all aspects of Mauritania's trade policies, including domestic laws and regulations, the institutional framework, trade policies and practices by measure, and developments in selected sectors.

Attached to this press release are the Summary Observations of the Secretariat report and parts of the government policy statement. The Secretariat and the government reports are available under the country name in the full list of trade policy reviews. These two documents and the minutes of the TPRB’s discussion and the Chairperson's summing up, will be published in hardback in due course and will be available from the Secretariat, Centre William Rappard, 154 rue de Lausanne, 1211 Geneva 21.

Since December 1989, the following reports have been completed: Argentina (1992 and 1999), Australia (1989, 1994 and 1998), Austria (1992), Bahrain (2000) Bangladesh (1992 and 2000), Barbados (2002), Benin (1997), Bolivia (1993 and 1999), Botswana (1998), Brazil (1992, 1996 and 2000), Brunei Darussalam (2001), Burkina Faso (1998), Cameroon (1995 and 2001), Canada (1990, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998 and 2000), Chile (1991 and 1997), Colombia (1990 and 1996), Costa Rica (1995 and 2001), Côte d’Ivoire (1995), Cyprus (1997), the Czech Republic (1996 and 2001), the Dominican Republic (1996), Egypt (1992 and 1999), El Salvador (1996), the European Communities (1991, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2000 and 2002), Fiji (1997), Finland (1992), Gabon (2001), Ghana (1992 and 2001), Guatemala (2002), Guinea (1999), Haiti (2002), Hong Kong (1990, 1994 and 1998), Hungary (1991 and 1998), Iceland (1994 and 2000), India (1993, 1998 and 2002), Indonesia (1991, 1994 and 1998), Israel (1994 and 1999), Jamaica (1998), Japan (1990, 1992, 1995,1998 and 2000), Kenya (1993 and 2000), Korea, Rep. of (1992, 1996 and 2001), Lesotho (1998), Macao (1994 and 2001), Madagascar (2001), Malaysia (1993, 1997 and 2001), Malawi (2002), Mali (1998), Mauritania (2002), Mauritius (1995 and 2001), Mexico (1993, 1997 and 2002), Morocco (1989 and 1996), Mozambique (2001), New Zealand (1990 and 1996), Namibia (1998), Nicaragua (1999), Nigeria (1991 and 1998), Norway (1991, 1996 and 2000), OECS (2001), Pakistan (1995 and 2002), Papua New Guinea (1999), Paraguay (1997), Peru (1994 and 2000), the Philippines (1993 and 1999), Poland (1993 and 2000), Romania (1992 and 1999), Senegal (1994), Singapore (1992, 1996 and 2000), Slovak Republic (1995 and 2001), Slovenia (2002), the Solomon Islands (1998), South Africa (1993 and 1998), Sri Lanka (1995), Swaziland (1998), Sweden (1990 and 1994), Switzerland (1991, 1996 and 2000 (jointly with Liechtenstein)), Tanzania (2000), Thailand (1991, 1995 and 1999), Togo (1999), Trinidad and Tobago (1998), Tunisia (1994), Turkey (1994 and 1998), the United States (1989, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1999 and 2001), Uganda (1995 and 2001), Uruguay (1992 and 1998), Venezuela (1996), Zambia (1996) and Zimbabwe (1994).

  
  
The Secretariat’s report: summary  back to top

TRADE POLICY REVIEW BODY: MAURITANIA
Report by the Secretariat — Summary Observations

Since the end of the 1980s, but particularly since the end of the military regime in 1992, Mauritania has embarked upon economic reforms intended to liberalize its economy and foreign trade and strengthen the legislative framework. The major reforms focused on: freeing prices and eliminating barriers to international trade, liberalization of the exchange regime; stabilizing the financial sector; gradual privatization of State enterprises; and fiscal, customs and judicial reforms. The structural reforms have laid the bases for sustained economic development and have decisively improved the business climate in Mauritania.

The reforms, prudent micro-economic policies and foreign support have allowed Mauritania's economy to make notable progress that has led in particular to steady growth of the economy, a modest level of inflation and a marked improvement in government finance and the balance-of-payments. Since 1993, Mauritania's GDP has risen at an average annual rate of 4.5 per cent, sustained mainly by government investment (often financed by external funds) and to a lesser degree by exports. Real GDP per capita has increased substantially since 1992. Despite this progress, there is still a high level of poverty in Mauritania and it is one of the least developed countries (LDC).

Mauritania's external debt continues to remain at a high level (around US$2.5 billion in 1999), equivalent to over 260 per cent of the GDP. There is also a relatively high level of debt servicing, although it has improved from 24 per cent of exports in 2000 to 15.5 per cent in 2001. Mauritania has qualified for debt relief under the enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC). In addition to its debt burden, Mauritania's economy remains highly vulnerable to external shocks because of its narrow production and export base. The arid climate helps to make Mauritania dependent on food imports.

Mauritania's economy has traditionally been based on trade and agriculture, especially livestock, to which have been added mining and fisheries. The most important sectors in terms of share of GDP are: services (with around 50 per cent) and agriculture (with around 18 per cent). The fisheries and mining sectors as a whole, however, provide almost all exports of goods, despite their fairly modest share of the GDP (around 5 and 13 per cent respectively). The manufacturing sector remains relatively undeveloped.

International trade plays an important role in Mauritania's economy. The shares of imports and exports in the GDP are around 50 and 40 per cent respectively. Foreign trade remains highly concentrated, especially in terms of products. Commodities play the leading role in trade in goods, particularly exports (iron and fisheries products). The share of staple food products in imports has remained fairly stable (around 36 per cent of the total); petroleum products account for around 16 per cent of total imports.

The European Union (EU) is Mauritania's main trading partner. Depending on the year, it takes between two-thirds and three-quarters of Mauritania's exports; in 2000, the figure was 71 per cent. Asia's share has fallen since 1994, from almost 29 per cent to less than 14 per cent in 2000. As far as imports are concerned, the EU is also Mauritania's major supplier, with a market share ranging from 55 to 64 per cent in the 1990s. Although the shares of America and Africa have in general remained stable in recent years, Asia's share has continually decreased, especially since 1995. Regional trade (with the exception of petroleum products from Algeria) is not very substantial. Mauritania is a net importer of services, particularly transport services.

Institutional and trade policy framework

In 1991, Mauritania introduced multiparty rule into its new Constitution, together with the principle of the separation of powers and recognition of individual and collective freedoms. The current political system consists of an Executive power, vested in the President of the Republic and the Government appointed by him, a Legislative power, exercised by the Parliament, which is composed of two houses, the National Assembly and the Senate, and a Judicial power, together with advisory institutions such as the Higher Islamic Council and the Economic and Social Council.

Primary responsibility for framing and implementing trade policy lies with the Ministry of Trade, Craft Industries and Tourism. Other ministries such as the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Economic Affairs and Development, Finance, Fisheries and the Maritime Economy, Rural Development and the Environment, Interior, Post and Telecommunications, Mining and Industry, Public Works and Transport, and Water Resources and Energy have direct responsibility in their respective spheres. Closer coordination among these ministries would enable Mauritania to have a more consistent trade policy. A formal framework for consultation with the private sector was established in 1996; such consultation has become a regular practice since 1998 and appears to be highly valued by Mauritania's private sector.

Reducing poverty and improving the population's standard of living remain the key objectives of Government policy. The general objectives of the poverty reduction strategy are to reduce the proportion of Mauritanian citizens living below the poverty threshold to less than 17 per cent by 2015 and to attain the social development targets defined in respect of education, health, access to drinking water, and housing. The authorities consider international trade to be an essential tool in economic development and, consequently, in combating poverty.

In recent years, Mauritania has revised and amended a large number of trade-related laws and regulations in order to enhance the trade and investment environment by liberalizing the economy and updating legislation to take into account its obligations under the multilateral trading system. The amendments concerned a variety of areas, including customs valuation, investment, government procurement and competition. The following are among the texts recently amended (2002): the Customs Code, the Investment Code, and the Government Procurement Law. The competition legislation, which establishes freedom of trade, pricing and competition, was incorporated into the new Commercial Code in 2000. Other texts recently adopted include the Arbitration Code, the Code of Obligations and Contracts, and texts regulating the organization of the Judiciary.

Mauritania's participation in the multilateral trading system and in regional and bilateral initiatives are a reflection of its efforts to become integrated in the global economy. It is one of the original WTO Members and grants at least MFN treatment to all its trading partners. Mauritania is neither a signatory to nor an observer in the WTO's plurilateral agreements. At the end of the Uruguay Round, Mauritania had bound 833 of its 5,533 tariff lines, corresponding to around 15 per cent of the total (including agriculture); 100 per cent of tariff lines for agricultural products have been bound. Nevertheless, some confusion still remains because Mauritania's previous commitments (Geneva, Annecy and Torquay Schedules) have not been transposed into the Harmonized System. According to an unofficial provisional transposition made by the WTO Secretariat, Mauritania's tariff bindings cover around 41 per cent of the total tariff lines.

Mauritania has also submitted its schedule of commitments on services. The list does not contain any horizontal restrictions nor exemptions from the obligation to grant MFN treatment. Mauritania has undertaken specific commitments in the tourism sector. At the Fourth Ministerial Meeting of the WTO in Doha, Mauritania underlined the importance of international trade as a tool for poverty reduction and supported the launching of a new round of multilateral trade negotiations. As regards the WTO's dispute settlement mechanism, Mauritania has not been involved in any case. Mauritania has not yet fulfilled its obligations in respect of most of the annual notifications required under the WTO Agreements.

A study carried out by the World Bank in 2001 shows that, despite sustained growth in the economy and significant trade reforms, Mauritania is still not well integrated in the global economy. The key obstacles to development of Mauritania's trade include supply-side constraints (in particular the very limited number of exportable products), inadequate port and road infrastructure, and poor tourism facilities, the lack of human and institutional resources needed for more effective participation in the multilateral system, and in negotiations in particular. In order to tackle these constraints, a coherent programme of integrated technical assistance is needed.

The trade-related areas in which Mauritania has the greatest need of assistance are: knowledge of issues relating to the multilateral system, especially in university circles and the private sector and among officials responsible for implementing trade policy instruments; notifications; implementation of the WTO Agreements and capacity-building for negotiations. Mauritania is one of the first three pilot countries for the implementation of the Integrated Framework for Trade-Related Technical Assistance to least developed countries.

Mauritania has signed a number of trade agreements with countries including Algeria, Egypt, Gambia, Mali, Morocco, Senegal and Tunisia. It did not prove possible to determine definitively the level of tariff preferences covered by these bilateral agreements. Mauritania also belongs to the Arab Maghreb Union (UMA), which does not appear to be operational at present. It was a Member of the ECOWAS until the end of 1999, when it withdrew for political and economic reasons.

Mauritanian products enjoy non-reciprocal preferential treatment on the European Union market under the Cotonou Agreement and the “Everything but Arms” Programme for LDCs. Preferences are also granted to Mauritanian products on the United States market under the African Growth and Opportunity Act and on the markets of other developed countries under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP).

Trade policy instruments

In recent years, Mauritania's trade regime has been liberalized. The purpose of the trade reform was to eliminate barriers to international trade and to enhance the competitiveness of Mauritania's exports. Customs procedures have been simplified, and the majority of customs duties rationalized, while most non-tariff measures have been abolished.

In June 2002, Mauritania amended its customs valuation legislation and now uses the transaction value as the basis for valuing imported goods. It would seem, however, that the minimum import value is still used for second-hand vehicles.

Customs tariffs are Mauritania's main trade policy instrument at the border. A statistical fee of 3 per cent is also imposed on the majority of imported goods. All the customs tariffs applied are ad valorem duties, which makes the Mauritanian tariff system more transparent. Seasonal duties are applied to a limited number of agricultural products. MFN duties have been reduced and rationalized in recent years (the number of rates has fallen from 13 in 1997 to 4 in 2000), and the maximum duty fell from 30 to 20 per cent over the same period. In 2002, the simple average of MFN duties applied (excluding the statistical fee) is 10.6 per cent, with an average of 10.3 per cent for manufactured goods and 12 per cent for agricultural products (WTO definition). The level of binding of MFN duties remains higher. MFN duties on agricultural products have been bound at rates of 25 per cent, 30 per cent, 50 per cent and 75 per cent depending on the category of product; duties on other goods (including leather, rubber, footwear and travel goods, together with transport equipment) have been bound at a uniform rate of 30 per cent. Bridging the gap between bound rates and those applied, while maintaining the current level of openness in the market, would enhance the predictability of Mauritania's tariff regime. Although there is a certain degree of escalation of MFN rates in some branches, in general the situation is less clear-cut.

Overall, the rates applied to raw materials are slightly higher than those applicable to intermediate goods, but are lower than the rates applied to processed goods, which shows a relatively high level of protection given to certain agricultural commodities. In general, escalation is slightly more marked in industry than in agriculture, although there are considerable discrepancies according to the branch of activity.

Imported goods are subject to a value added tax (14 per cent) and some products are subject to excise duty. The rates applied to imported products are the same as those applicable to domestic products.

Some operators are eligible for exemptions from general taxes at the border. Waivers and exemptions from import duties and taxes are classified into the following categories: exemptions for the National Industrial and Mining Company (SNIM); Investment Code; aid and grants; diplomatic exemptions; special exemptions; partial waivers; and other exemptions and waivers.

The Customs Code also includes a regime for the refund of duties under which exporters are eligible for partial or total refunds of duty paid on imported inputs.

Mauritania's import regime includes few non-tariff barriers. The import of the majority of products does not require an import licence. There are very few import restrictions, which are mainly intended to guarantee safety, public order and health. The former quota system, which linked rice imports to purchase of local paddy rice, was abolished in 1999. Mauritania does not have any standardization or quality control systems and does not possess an adequate infrastructure for testing and metrology. It would appear that, for reasons such as safety or health, French, American or other international standards may be applied and required when products are imported into Mauritania.

The new Government Procurement Code came into effect in 2002 and it makes the regime more transparent, although Mauritanian enterprises may still be given a preferential margin of up to 15 per cent. Mauritania does not have any special legislation on the application of anti-dumping, countervailing or safeguard measures. Some provisions on anti-dumping measures can be found in the Customs Code, giving the President the right to impose anti-dumping or countervailing measures through a decree, where necessary, but no measure of this type has yet been applied.

The export regime has also been liberalized. Mauritania does not impose any bans or quantitative restrictions on exports and does not require export licences. Export taxes have been abolished, with the exception of products of the pelagic fishing industry and the small-scale fishing industry. The Government does not grant any special export subsidies.

There are no special incentives given to Mauritanian enterprises. Some measures currently in effect allow enterprises to enjoy fiscal advantages such as the reimbursement of VAT, declining and deferred balances, and a system of free points for exporting enterprises.

The legislation on the protection of intellectual property has been revised at the regional level (within the framework of the African Intellectual Property Organization (AIPO)). Mauritania's international commitments on intellectual property rights are governed by the revised Bangui Agreement of 1999, which came into force in 2002. According to the Mauritanian authorities, the purpose of the revision was to bring the regional system into conformity with the TRIPS Agreement. The national authorities are responsible for ensuring observance of intellectual property rights.

Sectoral policies

Mauritania does not apply any special sectoral trade policies. The new Investment Code, enacted in 2002, establishes free points as the major tool for promoting exports. The Code applies to all sectors of the economy and, unlike the previous Code, no longer defines priority areas. In general, the new Code considerably simplifies the financial incentives and abolishes the special regimes (with the exception of that applying to the national company SNIM).

In the past, the Mauritanian Government pursued a food self-sufficiency policy, but the agricultural sector has now been liberalized. One of the principal features of the reform has been the development of agricultural credit, formerly reserved for rice production, and subsequently made available for other activities. Several programmes are being implemented, the most important of which is the Programme for the Integrated Development of Irrigated Agriculture in Mauritania (PDIAIM). The objective is mainly to increase value added in the agricultural sector and improve the employment opportunities and income of the inhabitants of the Senegal river valley. The principal measures envisaged are the establishment of a favourable legal and institutional framework, the development of basic infrastructure, the diversification of production and the mitigation of the impact on the environment.

Fishing is one of the key sectors of the Mauritanian economy. Initially, in the 1970s, fisheries policy was more protectionist and aimed primarily at encouraging the creation of a national industrial fishing fleet; in 1994, it was revised and focused principally on the protection of resources, the rationalization of fishing, the improvement of the sector's performance and the continuing withdrawal of the State from production and marketing activities. The new Fisheries Code of 2000 is also based on these principles and stresses the controlled development of commercial fishing, the expansion of small-scale fishing and the reorganization and modernization of the Mauritanian fleet, together with development of exports of processed products. Mauritania has concluded bilateral fisheries agreements with Algeria, Japan, Morocco, Russia, Senegal, Tunisia and the European Union. With regard to exports, the Mauritanian Fish Marketing Company (SMCP) has a monopoly of marketing of fisheries products subject to the landing obligation (mainly cephalopods). Other species may be freely exported.

The mining sector is considered to offer great potential for Mauritania. It is also one of the key sectors in Mauritania's economy; iron ore exports account for around 60 per cent of Mauritania's total exports. In 1999, with the assistance of the World Bank, the Government drew up the Project for the Institutional Strengthening of the Mining Sector (PRISM) whose main objective is to build Mauritania's capacity and improve its competitiveness in order to attract private investment in the development of the mining sector. A new Mining Code was adopted in 1999 designed to stimulate and encourage investment in mineral exploration and production.

The Mauritanian manufacturing sector is comparatively undeveloped. The processing of fisheries products excluded, the sector contributes about 4.2 per cent to GDP (8.4 per cent including the processing of fisheries products). Almost all manufacturing output is consumed locally.

The liberalization and privatization of services such as financial or insurance services was initiated at the end of the 1980s. Almost all the banks have been privatized. To improve the financing of traditional sectors, in 1998, a new law on micro-financial intermediation was adopted. To finance the economic sectors with a strong potential for job creation, the authorities have encouraged the establishment of specialized institutions such as UNCACEM for agriculture or UNCOPAM for small-scale fishing. The liberalization of air transport and basic telecommunication services got under way in the early 1990s. New legislation on air transport is being prepared and the telecommunications legislation was drawn up in 1999. Air Mauritanie and Mauritel were privatized in 1999 and 2001 respectively. The tourism sector is largely open to foreign participation and, since the adoption of a new law in 1996, investment in this sector has increased.

  
  
Government report back to top

TRADE POLICY REVIEW BODY: MAURITANIA
Report by the Government — Parts I and II

Mauritania has an estimated population of 2.6 million and covers an area of 1,030,000 km2. It is bordered to the north by the former Western Sahara and Algeria, to the east by Mali, to the south by Mali and Senegal, and to the west by the Atlantic Ocean.

For a little over a decade, with the support of its development partners, the Mauritanian Government has carried out a series of ambitious reforms covering all aspects of the country's political, economic and social life.

The decentralization process initiated in 1986 led to the establishment of 208 communes. Multiparty democracy was introduced in 1991, with the adoption of a Constitution guaranteeing fundamental freedoms and the separation of the Executive, Legislative and Judicial powers.

The successive economic reform programmes begun in 1985 have stabilized the finances of the State and those of State-owned enterprises, reinforced the macroeconomic framework, liberalized markets and prices, improved the legal and judicial environment for business, fostered development of the private sector, improved infrastructure, and refocused the role of the State on its core functions of regulation, resource allocation and development of basic social services.

In December 2000, the Government finalized a poverty reduction strategy, approved in 2001 by all Mauritania's development partners, and the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in particular. This strategy is geared towards the following three objectives:

To accelerate growth (with a target rate of 7 per cent);

to anchor such growth in poverty-stricken areas by favouring a participatory approach;

to implement programmes aimed at the country's poorest and develop human resources, with a focus on education, health and access to other essential services.

To achieve these objectives, the Government is pursuing a policy essentially directed at stabilizing the macroeconomic environment, while seeking greater efficiency in public expenditure, giving impetus to the domestic private sector, implementing measures conducive to foreign private investment, and increasing the competitiveness of the economy, with an emphasis on export-oriented sectors.

The Government has also entered a new stage in rationalization of public administration with the implementation of a multi-year public expenditure programme.

This programme, aimed at enhancing the efficiency and overall coherence of resource allocation, was applied to the health and education sectors in 2001. The medium-term spending frameworks (CDMT) for rural and urban development and the transport infrastructure will be introduced under the 2003 Finance Law.

Full computerization of the public expenditure chain, the decentralization of credit and a higher level of devolvement are also planned in order to increase performance and effectiveness in the allocation of public resources.

Legal and institutional framework for business

In order to enhance the business environment and attract foreign direct investment, the Government has launched a reform of the legal and judicial system.

The legal and judicial framework for business has been restructured and harmonized through the revision or adoption of new regulatory instruments on business law, such as the Commercial Code, the Code of Obligations and Contracts, the Arbitration Code, the Code of Civil, Commercial and Administrative Procedure, the Investment Code, etc.

Adopted in 2000, the Arbitration Code defines the various forms of arbitration, lays down transparent procedures that establish the primacy of law and respect for the will of the parties, and specifies the modalities for the enforcement of arbitral awards and the channels for appeal.

The Government Procurement Code has just been amended in order to adjust its provisions to current economic trends and promote the development of business by simplifying procedures.

A new Investment Code was adopted in January 2002. The priorities set by the Code are to encourage, and provide a more secure environment for, domestic and foreign private investment and to facilitate administrative procedures for the approval of investment projects.

The tax burden has been substantially eased under the 2002 Finance Law in order to take account of the country's investment needs and of the special “Free Points” scheme defined in the Code.

Mauritania is bound by investment protection agreements with several countries; a number were signed in Brussels last year within the framework of the Third United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

Mauritania's accession to the United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards bears witness to the country's determination further to upgrade the legal and institutional framework for business and to promote investment in a secure environment.