Growth driven by the extractive sector
Economic growth will accelerate in 2024 thanks to increased mining production and the start-up of gas exports. The offshore Grand Tortue Ahmeyim field will start producing natural gas in cooperation with Senegal in the first quarter of 2024. Production was initially scheduled for the end of 2023. Gold production is set to increase (Tasiast mine) to take advantage of high prices, as is iron ore production, which is set to rise to 25 million tonnes (13.5m in 2022), thereby offsetting the fall in ore prices. As a result, GDP in the extractive sector is set to rise by 11%, while non-extractive GDP is expected to increase less, supported by fishing and agriculture. With its vast untapped reserves of natural gas and minerals, as well as its enormous solar and wind energy potential, the country will continue to attract foreign investment. In March 2023, the government signed an agreement with Infinity Power Holding (a joint venture between Egypt's Infinity and Masdar of the Emirates) and Germany's Conjuncta GmbH to develop a plant capable of producing up to 8 million tonnes of green hydrogen per year (first phase operational by 2028). This project is one of several similar ones signed since 2021 (AMAN project with CWP, Nour project with Total Eren). Despite an increase in public transfers to mitigate rising prices in the run-up to the elections (legislative in May 2023 and presidential in June 2024), private consumption will continue to be affected by high fuel and food prices. The Mauritanian Central Bank is likely to maintain a restrictive monetary policy, while inflation will remain high.
Twin deficits to be reduced by gas exports
The budget deficit was still high in 2023 due to an expansionary fiscal policy in response to high energy and food prices, and in the run-up to the elections. In 2024, the deficit will narrow. Public investment aimed at diversifying the economy and improving social inclusion will continue to grow. On the other hand, fuel subsidies will fall and, above all, gas and mining revenues will increase, thereby providing additional budgetary headroom. Added to this will be the effect of the structural reforms contained in the new programme signed with the IMF in January 2023 for an Extended Credit Facility of USD 86.9 million and for a duration of 42 months. Among other things, they aim to reduce the dependence of public finances on mineral prices. The deficit will be financed by borrowing mainly from Gulf countries, which will add to the public debt, which is largely external (over 40% of GDP).
The large current account deficit that emerged in 2022 should narrow by 2024. Added to the start of gas exports, the rise in the price of gold and the moderation in food prices could push the trade balance into surplus. In addition, imports linked to the development of the gas field should almost halve. The services balance will remain negative due to the need for foreign expertise in energy projects. The deficit will continue to be financed mainly by FDI and official medium- and long-term borrowing. Foreign exchange reserves will remain close to the equivalent of 5 months of imports.
President strengthened by legislative elections
Faced with a divided opposition, the presidential party El Insaf strengthened its majority in the National Assembly (107 seats out of 176) in the May 2023 elections. With only one year to go before the next presidential election, this election has strengthened President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, who has been in power since 2019. The country is regularly hit by social protests linked to discrimination (Harratin community) or the high cost of living (fuel price rise in 2022). These protests are taking place in a country marked by high unemployment (11%), a high level of informality (31% of GDP) and widespread poverty (60% of the population). The expiry of the agreement on Ukrainian cereal exports in July 2023 could exacerbate food insecurity, which affects 15% of the population, as 18% of imported wheat is traditionally Ukrainian. In addition, tensions in the Sahel and neighbouring coups d'état will maintain the security risk and continue to provoke refugee flows to Mauritania. Nevertheless, the country has not suffered any terrorist attacks since 2011and remains protected from violence (investment in defence).
The launch of the joint offshore gas project with Senegal has so far eased bilateral tensions over fishing rights along their maritime border. The strengthening of ties with Arab countries, in particular Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (construction of a science university, investment in hydrogen and other financing) will continue. Despite the slowdown in its demand, China will remain Mauritania's main customer for imports of copper, iron and fishery products. Their leaders met in July 2023 to consolidate their ties, notably by signing a cooperation plan as part of the "Belt and Road Initiative" (the new Silk Roads). Lastly, Mauritania will strengthen its ties with European countries such as France and Germany, notably through investments in the country's energy resources.