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Equatorial Guinea - Economy (Notes)

Oil and gas exports have increased substantially and will drive the economy for years to come. Real GDP growth reached 18% in 2000, 66% in 2001, 20% in 2002, 10% in 2003 and 25.7% in 2004 (est.). Per capita income rose from about $590 in 1998 to $2,000 in 2000 and $5,300 in 2004. The energy export sector is responsible for this rapid growth. Oil production increased from 81,000 barrels per day (bbl/d) in 1998 to more than 300,000 bbl/d by 2004. In 2005 production was estimated to be 420,000 bbl/d. Exploration efforts continue in search of further potential offshore concessions.

Equatorial Guinea has other unexploited human and natural resources, including a tropical climate, fertile soils, rich expanses of water, deepwater ports, and an untapped, if unskilled, source of labor. Following independence in 1968, the country suffered under a repressive dictatorship for 11 years, which devastated the economy. The agricultural sector, historically known for cocoa of the highest quality, never fully recovered. In 1969, Equatorial Guinea produced 36,161 tons of highly bid cocoa, but production dropped to 4,800 tons in 2000 and 3,430 tons in 2002. It increased slightly from 2003 levels to 2,906 tons by 2004. Coffee production was 126,000 metric tons in 2002, up from 67000 tons 5 years earlier. Timber is the main source of foreign exchange after oil, though it now only accounts for 2% of total export earnings. Timber production increased steadily during the 1990s; wood exports reached a record 789,000 cubic meters in 1999 as demand in Asia (mainly China) gathered pace after the 1998 economic crisis. Since 1998, production of timber has fallen closer to a sustainable level. 530,500 cubic meters were sold in 2002. Most of the production (mainly Okoume) goes to exports, and only 3% is processed locally. Bioko Island has already suffered permanent damage due to earlier exploitation. Consumer price inflation has declined from the 38.8% experienced in 1994 following the CFA franc devaluation, to 7.8% in 1998, and 4.0% in 2000, according to BEAC data. Consumer prices inflation has remained steady at around 6% since 2002.

Equatorial Guinea's economic policies, as defined by law, comprise an open investment regime. Qualitative restrictions on imports, non-tariff protection, and many import licensing requirements were lifted in 1992 when the government adopted a public investment program endorsed by the World Bank. The Government of Equatorial Guinea has sold some state enterprises. It is attempting to create a more favorable investment climate, and its investment code contains numerous incentives for job creation, training, promotion of nontraditional exports, support of development projects and indigenous capital participation, freedom for repatriation of profits, exemption from certain taxes and capital, and other benefits. Trade regulations have been further liberalized since Central African Economic and Monetary Union (CEMAC) reform codes in 1994. This included elimination of quota restrictions and reductions in the range and amounts of tariffs. The CEMAC countries agreed to the introduction of a value added tax (VAT) in 1999.

While business laws promote a liberalized economy, the business climate remains difficult. Application of the laws remains selective. Corruption among officials is widespread, and many business deals are concluded under nontransparent circumstances. A wage law now regulates separate wage levels for the petroleum, private, and government sector.

There is little industry in the country, and the local market for industrial products is small. The government seeks to expand the role of free enterprise and to promote foreign investment but has had little success in creating an atmosphere conducive to investor interest.

The Equatoguinean budget has grown enormously in the past 5 years as royalties and taxes on foreign company oil and gas production have provided new resources to a once poor government. The 2005 government revenue was about $1.97 billion. Oil revenues account for more than 81% of government revenue. Value Added Tax and trade taxes are other large revenue sources for the government.

The Equatoguinean Government has undertaken a number of reforms since 1991 to reduce its predominant role in the economy and promote private sector development. Its role is a diminishing one, although many government interactions with the private sector are at times capricious. The government is anxious for greater U.S. investment. Beginning in early 1997, the government initiated efforts to attract significant private sector involvement through cooperative efforts with the Corporate Council on Africa visit and numerous ministerial efforts. In 1998, the government privatized distribution of petroleum products. There are now Total and Mobil stations in the country. The maritime border with Nigeria was settled in 2000, allowing Equatorial Guinea to continue exploitation of its oil fields. In October 2002, the government launched a national oil company, GEPetrol, under the Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons.

The government has expressed interest in privatizing the outmoded electricity utility. Several ports and a new terminal were built to accommodate the needs of the oil industry. A French company operates cellular telephone service in cooperation with a state enterprise. Most of the new infrastructure has not reached the average Equatoguinean living on the mainland. Agriculture, fishing, livestock, and tourism are among sectors the government would like targeted.

Equatorial Guinea's balance-of-payments situation has improved substantially since the mid-1990s because of new oil and gas production and favorable world energy prices. Exports totaled $6.72 billion in 2005. Crude oil exports now annually accounts for more than 97% of export earnings. Timber exports, by contrast, now represent only about 2% of export revenues. Imports into Equatorial Guinea also are growing very quickly. Imports totaled $1.86 billion in 2005.

Equatorial Guinea in the 1980s and 1990s received foreign assistance from numerous bilateral and multilateral donors, including European countries, the United States, and the World Bank. Many of these aid programs have ceased altogether or have diminished. Spain, France, and the European Union continue to provide some project assistance, as do China and Cuba. The government also has discussed working with World Bank assistance to develop government administrative capacity.

Equatorial Guinea operated under an International Monetary Fund-negotiated Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) until 1996. Since then, there have been no formal agreements or arrangements. However, since 1996, the IMF has held regular held Article IV consultations (periodic country evaluations). After the 2003 consultations, IMF directors stressed the need for further improvements in governance and transparency, the attainment of a sustainable fiscal position, the implementation of structural reforms to bolster the non-oil sector, the development of a transparent framework for saving and managing part of the country?s oil wealth and a comprehensive effort to reduce poverty.

Trade and Investment
With investments estimated at $11 billion, the United States is the largest cumulative bilateral foreign investor in Equatorial Guinea. In 2003, 74% of U.S. exports to Equatorial Guinea consisted of energy sector-related transportation and machinery equipment. The United States' main import from Equatorial Guinea is petroleum (99% of imports in 2003). In 1999, the European Union (EU) imported $281.7 million in goods from Equatorial Guinea, 89% of which was petroleum and 7% timber. The European Union exported $104 million to Equatorial Guinea. Approximately 20% of these exports were oil and gas-related, and the remaining 80% ranged from agricultural products to clothing to used cars.

Infrastructure is generally old and in poor condition. Surface transport options are increasing as the government has invested heavily in road pavement projects. In 2002, the African Development Bank and the European Union co-financed two projects to improve the paved roads from Malabo to Luba and Riaba; and to build an interstate road network to link Equatorial Guinea to Cameroon and Gabon. The Chinese are undertaking a project to link Mongomo to Bata, both cities on the mainland. In November 2003, the government announced an ambitious ten-project program to upgrade the country?s road network and improve the airport facilities at Bata, the country?s second city (on the mainland). A new road links Malabo with the airport and there have been improvements in the city. The program is estimated to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but there are doubts over the capacity of the government to manage such a huge scheme.

Estimates of Equatorial Guinea's electricity generating capacity vary, with 15.4 megawatts (MW) of certain installed capacity, and 5-30 MW of estimated additional capacity. About 5.0 MW are located on the mainland, including 4 MW of oil-fired thermal capacity and 1 MW of hydroelectric capacity. Bioko Island receives electricity from two thermal plants and one hydroelectric plant. The expansion of natural gas production at the Alba field in recent years has provided a convenient fuel source for new power generation in the country. The 10.4-MW, natural gas-fired Punta Europa plant began operation in 1999, supplying gas-fired electricity to Bioko Island. Another 4-6 MW of generation capacity is currently under construction at the AMPCO complex on the island. Equatorial Guinea is estimated to have 2,600 MW of hydropower potential.

Equatorial Guinea's electricity sector is owned and operated by the state-run monopoly, SEGESA. The power supply is unreliable, due to aging equipment and poor management, as demonstrated by regular blackouts in Malabo. As a result, small diesel generators are widely used as a back-up source of power supply. In Malabo, the American company, Marathon Oil, built a 30 mega-watt electric power plant financed by the government, which came on line in mid-2000.

Potable water is available in the major towns but is not always reliable because of poor maintenance and mismanagement; consequently, supply interruptions are often frequent and prolonged in some neighborhoods. Some villages and rural areas are equipped with generators and water pumps, usually owned by private individuals.

Telecommunications have improved dramatically in recent years. Parastatal Getesa, a joint venture with a 40% ownership stake held by France Telecom, provides telephone service in the major cities through an efficient, digital fixed network and good mobile coverage. Getesa?s fixed-line service has 9,000 subscribers and the mobile service has 28,000. Internet access is limited and has yet to make an impact on the dissemination of information.

Equatorial Guinea has two of the deepest Atlantic seaports of the region, including the main business and commercial port city of Bata. The ports of both Malabo and Bata are severely overextended and require extensive rehabilitation and reconditioning. In partnership with a U.S. petroleum company, Amerada Hess, a British company, Incat, has made significant progress in a project to renovate and expand Luba, the country's third-largest port, located on Bioko Island. The government hopes Luba will become a major transportation hub for offshore oil and gas companies operating in the Gulf of Guinea. Luba is located some 50 kilometers from Malabo and was previously virtually inactive except for minor fishing activities and occasional use to ease congestion in Malabo. Riaba, the only other port of any scale on Bioko, is less active. The continental ports of Mbini and Cogo have deteriorated as well and are now used primarily for timber.

Five small airlines now offer regular daily services between the two cities of Malabo and Bata and nearby neighboring countries. A few aging Soviet-built aircraft operated by several small carriers (one state-owned, the others private,) constitute this national aircraft fleet. In March of 2006 the European Union fully banned most airlines based in Equatorial Guinea from flying into the EU. The influx of oil workers has increased international air activity. Major international carriers now connect Malabo to the European cities of Amsterdam, Paris, Madrid, and Zurich. A weekly business-class charter flight was providing service to Houston, Texas. The runway at Malabo?s international airport (3,200 meters) is equipped with lights and can service equipment similar to DC-10s and C130s. The runway at Bata (2,400 meters) does not operate at night but can accommodate aircraft as large as B737s. Two minor airstrips (800 meters) are located at Mongomo and on the island of Annobon.

Energy Developments
Oil is Equatorial Guinea's most valuable asset. Since the discovery of the Zafiro field in 1995, production has increased more than tenfold, and oil has quickly become the country's most important export commodity, accounting for nearly 90% of the value of total exports in 2003. Equatorial Guinea is now the third largest producer of crude oil in sub-Saharan Africa, after Nigeria and Angola. Equatorial Guinea's oil reserves are located mainly in the hydrocarbon-rich Gulf of Guinea, containing estimated probable reserves as high as 10% of the world total. As a result, large amounts of foreign investment primarily by U.S. companies have poured into the country's oil sector in recent years. Equatorial Guinea's total proven oil reserves are estimated at 1.1 billion barrels.

Oil production from Equatorial Guinea is expanding rapidly, averaging 237,500 bbl/d in 2003, of which 206,000 was crude. This represents a tremendous increase from the 1996 oil output of 17,000 bbl/d. Production improvements and expansion projects undertaken in 2003 pushed petroleum output even higher, resulting in average production of 350,000 bbl/d for the first half of 2004. In October 2004, the government capped production levels at 350,000 bbl/d to extend the life of the country's petroleum reserves. Three fields--Zafiro, Ceiba, and Alba--currently account for the majority of the country's oil output.

Equatorial Guinea's oil profits have expanded since 1998, when the country introduced more liberal regulatory and profit sharing arrangements for hydrocarbon exploration and production activities, including revised and updated Production Sharing Contracts (PSCs). As a result, government oil revenues increased from 13% to 20% of total oil export earnings. Although significant, the government's share is still relatively small by international standards.

In 2001, GEPetrol became Equatorial Guinea's national oil company. It was established as the primary state-run institution responsible for the country's downstream oil sector activities. However, since 2001 its primary focus has become managing the government's interest stakes in various PSCs with foreign oil companies. GEPetrol also partners with foreign firms to undertake exploration projects and has a say in the country's environmental policy implementation. Plans to increase the government's stake in new and existing PSCs have been discussed, but not formally pursued.

The majority of the reserves are found in the Zafiro field, located northwest of Bioko Island and south of Nigeria's offshore oil fields. In recent years, Exxon Mobil has focused on increasing production from Zafiro, expanding drilling capacity to accommodate this plan. Zafiro is Equatorial Guinea's largest oil producer, with output rising from an initial level of 7,000 bbl/d in August 1996 to approximately 280,000 bbl/d by 2004. Ceiba, Equatorial Guinea's second major producing oil field, is located just offshore of Rio Muni and is estimated to contain 300 million barrels of oil. Production at Ceiba has risen dramatically during the past 2-3 years, following improvements and upgrades to the facility. Alba, Equatorial Guinea's third significant field was discovered in 1991. Original estimates of reserves at Alba were around 68 million barrels of oil equivalent (BOE), but recent exploration has increased new estimates significantly, to almost 1 billion BOE. Unlike the Zafiro or Ceiba fields, exploration and production at Alba has focused on natural gas, including condensates.

Ceiba's discovery has significantly increased interest in petroleum exploration of surrounding areas, with many new companies acquiring licenses in exploration blocks further offshore in the Rio Muni basin. International companies with interests in one or more exploration blocks include Chevron (U.S.), Vanco Energy (U.S.), Atlas Petroleum International (US), Devon Energy (US), Roc Oil (Australia), Petronas (Malaysia), Sasol Petroleum (South Africa), and Glencore (Switzerland). In October 2004, Noble Energy Equatorial Guinea, an Equatoguinean subsidiary of American Noble Energy, Inc. signed a contract to exploit a new oil field off the island of Bioko. Recently, Equatorial Guineau gave the Chinese National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) the rights to its newest oil field. While China?s capacity for deep-water drilling remains thus far unproven, CNOOC expects to complete two new oil rigs by 2009.

Equatorial Guinea's natural gas reserves are located offshore Bioko Island, primarily in the Alba and Zafiro oil and gas fields. Natural gas and condensate production in Equatorial Guinea has expanded rapidly in the last five years in response to new investments by major stakeholders in the Alba natural gas field. Alba, the country's largest natural gas field, contains 1.3 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of proven reserves, with probable reserves estimated at 4.4 Tcf or more.

Marathon Oil and GE Petrol have joined together in a $1.4 billion deal to construct a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility on Bioko Island. In May 2003, the government gave final approval for the plan to construct an LNG plant, once Marathon and GE Petrol had secured a 17-year purchase agreement with British Gas (BG) of the United Kingdom. Under the contract, the LNG facility will supply 3.4 million tons of LNG to BG, beginning in 2007. In June 2005, Marathon and GE Petrol restructured the deal to include two Japanese companies, Mitsui and Marubeni, as minority shareholders. Natural gas consumption in Equatorial Guinea has increased in recent years, along with higher production. Natural gas consumption jumped to 45 Bcf in 2002, from approximately 1 Bcf during each of the four previous years.

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Notes and Commentary: People - Economy - Government and Political Conditions - Historical Highlights - Foreign Relations - Relations with U.S.

Facts at a Glance
Current Time
Ranking Positions

Notes and Commentary
Government and Political Conditions
Historical Highlights
Foreign Relations
Relations with U.S.

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