Gambia - Market OverviewGambia - Market Overview
The Gambia has a population of 1.9 million, which is growing at a rate of 3 percent per annum. The country has been largely stable since independence in 1965, with intermittent episodes of instability. The Gambia experienced a military coup d’état in 1994 that installed former President Yahya Jammeh. Jammeh ruled the country for 22 years until he lost the December 1, 2016 presidential election to current President Adama Barrow.
The Gambian economy has not performed at as high a rate as most of its neighbors over the past few years. The GDP per capita in 2016 was $1600 (purchasing power parity). Between 2010 and 2016, the GDP averaged a growth of negative 1 percent. Inflation in The Gambia has been low relative to other West African countries that do not belong to a monetary union. In the first quarter of 2017, the inflation rate stood at 7.9%, up approximately 2 percentage points since 2015. Part of the reason for this increase is the large budget deficit financed by high domestic borrowing. In February, 2017, the Finance Minister and Economic Affairs indicated that The Gambia would require a $12 billion injection into the economy to remove it from distress.
The drivers of economic growth in The Gambia are agriculture and tourism. Multiple shocks, including droughts and the 2014/2015 Ebola crisis in the sub-region, caused these sectors to contract in recent years. The Gambia’s agricultural fortunes rise and fall with the level or rainfall. Located in the Sahel, The Gambia experiences far less average rainfall than other West African coastal countries much farther south. As the tourism sector was recovering from the impact of the Ebola crisis, the political impasse following the December 2016 presidential election took its toll on the 2016/2017 tourism season. Nevertheless, tourism remains the economy’s largest foreign exchange earner. Remittances from Gambian migrants abroad are another major source of foreign exchange, amounting to approximately $183 million in 2016. The US-based diaspora is the second largest source of remittances to The Gambia.
The major trading partners of The Gambia are China, India, Brazil, Senegal, and The Netherlands. The country exports mainly primary agricultural commodities and imports largely manufactured goods. The Gambia runs a trade deficit with almost all its trading partners, a major factor in explaining the current account deficit (8.5 percent of GDP in 2016) or $104,444,444.45. The US is The Gambia's 7th largest trading partner, with a total trade value of about $46 million in 2014. The country runs a trade deficit with the US, importing about 170 times more in value than it exports.
The Gambia Investment and Export Promotion Agency (GIEPA) is the main government body tasked with encouraging foreign direct investment in the country. It has instituted a number of incentives to attract investors. Some of these incentives include a one-stop shop for business registration and extended tax exemptions for qualifying investments in priority sectors.
The business climate presents many challenges. The Gambia ranked 145 out of 190 countries in the 2016 World Bank's Doing Business Report. Obtaining construction permits, getting electricity connections, and property registration are easier in The Gambia than in the average sub-Saharan African country. However, the country’s poor infrastructure quality and high borrowing costs represent significant constraints for businesses. During the former regime, there were reports of instances of companies being compelled to agree to business partnerships with former President Jammeh or his associates in order to continue doing business in the country.
The major ports of entry are the Banjul International Airport and the Banjul Sea Port. While there are currently no direct flights to the US, the airport is connected to a number of European countries by several flights a week, particularly during the tourist season. The seaport in Banjul is served by major container lines such as CMA-CGM/Delmas, Maersk, MSC, and Grimaldi.
Due to concerns about human rights violations, The Gambia became ineligible for liberalized access to US markets under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) effective January 1, 2015. However, following the installation of a new, democratic government committed to the rule of law and respect for human rights, The Gambia is expected to regain its AGOA eligibility.
Gambia Trade Development and Promotion