Distribution Channels

The Mauritanian Market is open to international exporters. It was liberalized in October 1991.

The best strategy to enter the market is to establish a relationship with a well-connected local partner who knows the market and can help investors make the necessary contacts. This partner will help investors to better understand the culture and business environment.

Before deciding on doing any kind of business, the foreign investor should first visit Mauritania and discuss their business plan with a local partner. Investors should also meet with government officials responsible for the sector that he or she is interested in to discuss the administrative procedures required to become legally established.

Agents and distributors are commonly used and Mauritanians frequently express interest in representing foreign companies in all sectors. Western companies and trademarks are represented in the country.

Almost all of Mauritania’s imported goods enter Mauritania via Nouakchott's “Friendship Port." From there, they are trucked to wholesalers, distributors, and retailers. Large wholesalers, especially those involved in the leading family conglomerates that dominate much of Mauritania's economy, account for the majority of the country’s import trade. Agents operating on commission deal mainly in electronic components or heavy machinery and spare parts.

Most goods are retailed through small shops (boutiques), or by vendors in the sprawling open-air markets prominent in Nouakchott and other towns. The informal sector remains pervasive, involved in everything from the sale of livestock and vehicles to spare parts, used clothing, and vegetables. Medium-sized stores and "supermarkets" are increasingly popular, especially in Nouakchott and Nouadibou.

Using an Agent or Distributor
Local businessmen frequently express interest in representing foreign companies, and the number of those doing so is growing. Commercial agents are found in many sectors, including technology, new and used vehicles, heavy equipment, oil products distribution, oil and mining exploration, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, telecommunications, and electronic tools. In general, these agents have a written contract and they negotiate sales and purchases on behalf of producers, manufacturers, and dealers. The distributor operates independently and is only bound by the written provisions of the distribution agreement. In general, either party, without prior notification, may terminate a distribution agreement of specified duration, at the end of the contract period.

Visiting the country is necessary to find a good partner. It is recommended that businessmen come to Mauritania and meet with potential operators in the sector he or she is interested in. This will allow them to have a better idea of the business climate in the country and potential agents or distributors for their products. Maintaining good contact with the government and having influence within the local business community and civil society will help a business to succeed in Mauritania.

Establishing an Office
The Government encourages the importation of new technologies and the creation of new enterprises such as joint ventures in local fish processing or in agro-business. The Office of Private Sector Development (“Guichet Unique de l’Investissement”) at the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the Mauritanian Chamber of Commerce offer assistance and advice to those wishing to establish an office in Mauritania. The Employers’ Association, the Chamber of Commerce, and the "Centre d'Information Mauritanien pour le Développement Economique et Technique" maintain a list of business groups and/or individuals and other information useful to companies wishing to do business in Mauritania.

To establish a local office, foreign investors should first visit the Office of Private Sector Development to submit a proposal for their investment project and to inquire about the necessary documents to file and steps to be undertaken in order to be legally established. Investors should also contact the ministry relevant to their business as well as the Ministries of Economy and Finance, Interior, and Justice to submit and finalize all documents. They should also contact the Central Bank to submit documents related to tax registration.

Direct Marketing
Direct marketing has not yet been developed in Mauritania. Because few buyers read newspapers and journals, producers and wholesalers rarely use this means of communication. Instead, they use billboards to exhibit their products. Graphic billboards on major thoroughfares and roadside banners are an important advertising medium for the public. The number of billboards is increasing rapidly in Nouakchott and Nouadibou, as they are a relatively inexpensive means of advertising. Radio and TV are also used for advertising, but they are considered too expensive by many local companies. Events such as tradeshows and exhibitions are limited in Mauritania. The residents of Nouakchott, however, are acquainted with fairs, and they enjoy visiting and buying the products on display. A great deal of information also passes by word of mouth.

Joint Ventures/Licensing
The legal requirements for joint ventures/licensing are the following:

  • Foreign investors and their local partners must create a commercial company and register it in Mauritania. It is recommended that the local partner handle the registration. There are several notaries in Nouakchott who specialize in the creation of new companies.

  • Foreign investors and their local partners must prepare the following documents and have them notarized: the minutes of the joint venture, the rules and procedures of a constituent assembly, and the regulations and articles of the new company.

  • The existing joint ventures are primarily with companies from other Arab countries and are mainly in the mineral, fishing, telecommunications, and banking sectors. However, businesses in many sectors are seeking to expand such ventures with a wide array of foreign partners. The Government of Mauritania offers a wide range of incentives to foreign investors.

Selling to the Government
Government procurement is divided into three distinct categories:

(a) Procurement related to large development projects worth more than USD10 million. These projects are generally financed by multilateral institutions (World Bank, Arab Fund, Islamic Development Bank, African Development Bank, European Bank of Investment, etc.).

(b) Procurement related to medium and small-scale projects financed jointly by the Government of Mauritania and one or more development partners.

(c) Procurement related to small projects valued at less than $1 million and financed solely by the Government of Mauritania.

For categories (a) and (b), procurements are made through foreign government tenders (avis d’appel d’offres international). For category (c), procurements are made by mutual agreement, without a public tender. Such direct awards are also used for certain sensitive procurements and projects in categories (a) and (b), e.g. related to security issues.

The Government's Central Procurement Board (“Commission Centrale des Marchés”), which falls under the Prime Minister’s authority, is responsible for monitoring compliance with procurement regulations and conducting most government negotiations with foreign suppliers. For large projects, the Government often requires bidders to submit letters of interest, in order to be short-listed prior to the issuance of a restricted tender. This closed bidding system has been widely used in privatization schemes in Mauritania. Therefore, it is very important to be informed of the project and to respond with an "expression of interest" prior to the published tender. The World Bank is assisting the Central Procurement Board to improve its procedures, the transparency of its operations, and its implementation of existing regulations. The regulations governing the Procurement Board are available at the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

Selling Factors/Techniques
Product literature must be in French and/or Arabic. The packaging should describe the nature of the product, its quality and quantity, as well as the production and expiration dates.

The price of products varies significantly from one locale to another, as well as from one shop to another in the same locale. Prices depend on distribution channels as well as price mark-ups determined by individual retailers for products whose prices are not under government control.

Sales Service/Customer Support
All reliable suppliers provide sales service to their customers. For a certain period after the sale, this service is free of charge. After this period has expired, the supplier may charge repair fees to customers. Customer support is widely available for electronic components, household appliances, vehicles, heavy equipment and small fishing vessels.