Discusses key economic indicators and trade statistics, which countries are dominant in the market, and other issues that affect trade.
As a nascent democracy prioritizing the private sector as the engine of economic growth, The Gambia offers expanding trade and investment prospects for U.S. firms aiming to serve the West African regional market. The transition from autocratic to a democratic rule is generating new wealth in the country and creating new customers for American products.
The Gambia’s primary ports of entry are Banjul International Airport and the Port of Banjul. While there are no direct flights to the United States, multiple flights weekly flights to African and European destinations provide reliable connections, particularly during the tourist season. Dakar, Senegal, is a one-hour flight from Banjul and offers direct eight-hour flights to New York City twice weekly.
Banjul Port is central to the country’s economy, accounting for about 90% of the country’s trade in both volume and weight. The Port plays a vital role in the trade and distribution of cargo to neighboring countries including Mali, Guinea Bissau, Senegal, and Guinea Conakry.
Gambian re-exports constitute over 80 percent of the country’s total exports. The government of The Gambia (GoTG), in partnership with the European Investment Bank and African Development Bank, is exploring new state-of-the-art port projects, including the expansion of the current jetty, digitalization of port operations, and the construction of new container terminals. The upgrades would lengthen the docks and enlarge the canal to accommodate even longer container ships, presenting opportunities for construction, port operation, and shipping firms. Large container lines such as CMA-CGM / Delmas, Maersk, MSC, and Grimaldi service Banjul’s port.
The Ministry of Justice, which provides a variety of administrative services to foreign investors, is the point of entry for business registration. The government has lowered the average number of days it takes to start a business in the country during the last few years. On average, obtaining the necessary legal documentation to form a business takes two to three days. The government is seeking to expand its “single window” system, which provides businesses with one-stop government services, opening a new service center at the Kanifing Municipal Council (KMC).
In 2018, the Gambia regained its African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) eligibility, which it had earlier lost due to concerns about the former government’s human rights violations. In 2021, MCC designed a Power Sector Program in The Gambia, which will provide tools over a multi-year period for the Gambian government to improve the country’s electricity sector. The AGOA Act provides duty-free access to the U.S. market for most Sub-Saharan countries, including The Gambia.
According to the Ministry of Trade, Gambia’s overall trade with the United States was $12 million in 2020, down 25% from 2019 ($47 million) due to the 2020 COVID-19 border closure. The Gambia was the 184th largest trading partner for the United States in 2019.
Fish, palm oil, and locally made textiles were the top three U.S. exports in 2020. Poultry meat, vehicles, and fertilizers were the top three U.S. imports from Gambia in 2020.
The Gambia is a member of ECOWAS and a signatory to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
COVID Economic Impact
The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed economic activity, with attendant socio-economic costs. After growing 6.3 percent in 2019, the country’s economy shrank by .2% in 2020; the tourism sector and trade sector both sustained significant losses while the agricultural and the construction sectors have shown resilience.
The global and domestic vaccine rollout, as well as the continued resilience of some economic sectors, are predicted to boost economic growth to 4.9% in 2021 and 5.1% in 2022. The fiscal deficit is projected to narrow to 3.2% of GDP in 2021 and 2.3% in 2022, while the current account deficit will widen to 10.4% of GDP in 2021 and 10.1% in 2022.
Prior to the COVID-19 slowdown, tourism provided a significant source of foreign exchange; the outlook for the tourism sector remains uncertain. The upsurge of new variants of COVID-19, with accompanying reintroduction of travel restrictions (especially in the UK and EU), is delaying the resumption of tourism activity. The Gambia receives roughly 18% of its GDP in remittances from its citizens residing overseas—a 78% increase in remittances in 2020 helped stabilize the economy during the pandemic-related slowdown.