Mauritania is a largely-desert country with a sizeable Arab-Berber population to the north and black Africans to the south. The capital city and major port is Nouakchott which means “place of the winds”. Other major towns are Kiffa, Rosso, Atar, Kaedi, Zouerate and the port of Nouadhibou. Mauritania formed part of the Islamic religious Almoravid state in the 11th century which encompassed Muslim Spain, Morocco, parts of Algeria and Ghana and Islam is still the religion of state. The country was first explored by the Portuguese in the 15th century, with France gaining control of the coastal region in 1817 which ultimately led it becoming a French protectorate in 1904. Despite opposition from Morocco, which sought to annex it into its own territories, Mauritania became independent in 1960.
Mauritania has historically suffered from political instability. However, in 1984 Col. Maaouye Ould Sidi Ahmed Taya took control of the government which ushered in a period of economic and political reforms including the country’s first parliamentary elections in 1986. The early 2000’s saw several coup attempts against Taya and he was ultimately deposed by military coup when he was outside the country in 2006. Sidi Ould Sheik Abdellahi became the country’s first elected president in 2007 but was deposed shortly after coming to power by the military in 2008 following accusations of corruption and poor handling of food price inflation. The 2008 coup was led by Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz who, following presidential elections in 2009, remains the country’s president.
The British Ambassador in Rabat (Morocco) is accredited to Mauritania as there is currently no British consulate in Mauritania. Equally, Mauritania does not have an embassy in London, but the Mauritanian Ambassador in Brussels is accredited to the UK. The UK continues to support the work of the European Union and United Nations in their capacity building work in Mauritania. In 2000, the UK cancelled all outstanding Mauritanian debt to the UK.
Daniel Kawczynski MP was the first Member of Parliament to visit Mauritania since Sir Peter Tapsell in 1960. Following his visit in 2011, Daniel Kawczynski MP wrote that: “throughout the entire visit, there was a hunger for interaction with the UK, and the development of a stronger bilateral relationship which would compliment Mauritania's traditional partners”. In 2011 the Middle East Association led the UK’s commercial engagement with the country, taking a highly successful trade mission comprising a wide cross-section of UK businesses to Nouakchott. Further events and missions are planned.
Mauritania is undergoing an extraction-driven economic recovery; subsequently the government has prioritised the attraction of foreign private investment and the privatisation of the economy. Mauritania exports an estimated 12 million tons of iron ore per annum, it is also has vast reserves of copper, phosphates and gypsum, as well as significant oil & gold deposits. In addition to extraction, Mauritania also holds great potential in power generation, water desalination, fishing, urban planning and other infrastructure projects. The Investment Code, updated in June 2012, will help encourage direct investment, reduce bureaucratic procedures and provide greater security for investors.
The Middle East Association believes Mauritania is of particular interest to those businesses involved in the following sectors: mining & extraction, construction & infrastructure, water & waste management, energy & environment, oil & gas, logistics and fishing. Exports from the UK to Mauritania rose dramatically by 173% in 2012 to £44m (up from £16m in 2011), with imports amounting to a more modest £1m in the same period.
Mauritania has a wide range of mineral resources, although exploitation has been hampered by the lack of quality infrastructure. A significant portion of the population still relies on agriculture and livestock for a living and poverty is endemic. Mauritania has pinned much of its hope on its extractive sector in terms of mining as well as offshore oil and gas reserves. Mauritania has Least Developed Country status. This means it can export to the EU most goods (provided that they meet EU standards) on a tariff-free basis.The IMF predicts the Mauritanian economy will exceed 6% growth in 2013 after the mining sector recovers from technical difficulties.
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