Discusses key economic indicators and trade statistics, which countries are dominant in the market, the U.S. market share, the political situation if relevant, the top reasons why U.S. companies should consider exporting to this country, and other issues that affect trade, e.g., terrorism, currency devaluations, trade agreements.
Last Published: 7/14/2019
 

Despite the effects of a multidimensional crisis that included a 2012 coup d’etat, a separatist insurrection, and ongoing terrorist threats, Mali’s economy has sustained strong annual economic growth (near or exceeding 5%) since 2014 and similar performance is expected in 2019. While Mali still faces significant security and development challenges, the country is open for business and sees importing high quality American products and partnerships with U.S. firms as an attractive new frontier. Investors should proceed with caution, however, knowing that the potential for high profits comes with great risk.

Opportunities for well-targeted, price-competitive U.S. exports to Mali’s private sector may be found in agriculture, agro-industry, telecommunications, mineral exploitation, defense, power generation and distribution equipment, machinery, new and used clothing, computers, processed foods, vehicles, electronics, consumer goods, office equipment, and water resources. Malian government contracts for donor-supported development projects offer additional opportunities. Such projects could require equipment and technical services for hydroelectric and solar power generation and distribution, irrigation, telecommunications, public health, and agricultural and agro-industrial development. France has traditionally supplied Mali with many imported goods, but imports from other countries, particularly China, have gained market share. Malian entrepreneurs are eagerly looking to diversify from traditional business networks to new business partnerships with Europe and the United States.

Mali’s economy depends on two major exports: gold and cotton.  These two goods represented 79% of Malian exports in 2018. After reaching a record production of 66 tons in 2002, Mali’s gold output declined during the following years due to exploitation difficulties. Since then, annual production has averaged around 50 tons. However, as old mines have closed and new ones have become operational, Mali has seen a surge in gold exports, with industrial gold production reaching approximately 61 tons in 2018.  The Government of Mali has made mining sector diversification a development priority. Opportunities also exist in uranium, bauxite, phosphates, iron, lithium, and manganese.
Cotton is Mali's second largest export. More than four million Malians (over a fifth of the population) are cotton farmers, and cotton accounted for 15% of exports in 2018. Expanding cotton production has increased Mali's foreign exchange receipts. After ranking first in 2003-2004 and second in 2004-2005 among African cotton producers with respectively 600,000 and 624,000 metric tons of production, cotton output dropped at the end of the last decade, reaching a low of 196,000 tons in 2008, due to poor rainy seasons and a drop in the global price of cotton. This drop prompted farmers to experiment with more lucrative crops. Cotton production increased from its low point to 445,143 and 456,000 tons respectively during the 2012 and 2013 seasons with many Malians returning to cotton farming due to higher world prices. Production in 2017-2018 reached 706,000 tons against 645,000 tons for 2016-2017 due to good rainfalls, subsidies, and inputs provided by government authorities. During the 2018-2019 cotton season, production has exceeded 700,000 tons, solidifying Mali’s ranking as Africa’s top cotton producer. The Malian Chamber of Agriculture aims to strengthen annual cotton production to reach one million tons in the near future. 

Eighty percent of Mali’s population is involved in farming, raising livestock, or fishing. Domestically manufactured goods include textiles, agricultural tools, cosmetics, batteries, paint, plastics, processed foods, cement, cigarettes, and beverages.  Construction materials (including cement despite being manufactured locally), chemicals (including fertilizers), pharmaceuticals, vehicles and spare parts, machinery, electronics, telecommunications, mining equipment, and most other manufactured items are imported. Although French products traditionally dominate imports in many areas, Chinese imports are rapidly increasing.

Exports of U.S. goods to Mali rose from $62 million in 2017 to $79 million in 2018. U.S. exports to Mali consisted mainly of civilian aircraft, engines, equipment, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications equipment, vehicles, industrial engines, excavating machinery, computers and electronic products, textiles, foods, and agricultural products. Exports from Mali to the United States increased from $2.9 million in 2017 to  $4.8 million in 2018. Under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), the principal U.S. imports from Mali are arts, antiques, stamps, and foods. 

Mali maintains good relations with the United States. Since 1992, the government has placed a strong emphasis on free trade and private enterprise, as evidenced by economic reform policies supported by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, the United States, and other donors. Mali welcomes foreign investment. The government promotes the privatization of public enterprises. Mali’s investment, mining, oil, and commercial codes offer duty-free importation of capital equipment and tax benefits for ventures in priority industries, and unhindered repatriation of capital and profits. Mali is eligible for AGOA; Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) loan guarantees, investment financing, and insurance programs; and some U.S. EXIM Bank financing programs. The United States suspended its assistance programs in Mali following the March 2012 coup d’etat but resumed assistance programs in September 2013 following the inauguration of a democratically elected government. Since 2013, the U.S. government has provided well over $1 billion in support to the Malian people, making the United States Mali’s largest bilateral donor.
 

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Mali Trade Development and Promotion