Discusses key economic indicators and trade statistics, which countries are dominant in the market, and other issues that affect trade.
Following the coup d’etat in 2012, Mali has struggled with unprecedented security, political, and social crises, culminating in another coup d’etat in 2020 and a further consolidation of military power in 2021. In January 2022, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed broad economic sanctions on Mali in response to the transition government’s failure to plan for elections on a previously agreed upon timeline. Although the sanctions were lifted in July, Mali’s economy struggled to recover while still facing major disruptions in the supply of fuel, essential to the country’s power generation, due to Russia’s war against Ukraine. At the same time, insecurity continued to extend from the northern part of the country into the more populated central and southern regions. Besides insecurity, an unreliable power grid, and limited infrastructure, the main barriers to doing business were corruption, administrative inefficiency, lack of skilled labor, and a large informal economy. Mali remained among the world’s poorest countries, with a GDP of $17.47 billion and a GDP per capita of just $862.50 (2020).
Despite the many short- and medium-term challenges to growth, trade, and investment in Mali, the country’s long-term economic outlook may be more promising thanks to its sizeable natural resource deposits, agricultural potential, and energy opportunities, particularly in the renewables sector. In addition, there is significant enthusiasm for importing high-quality American products, with business owners seeing partnerships with U.S. firms as an attractive new frontier. Opportunities for well-targeted, price-competitive U.S. exports to Mali may be found in a wide range of sectors, including agriculture and agro-industry, telecommunications, mineral exploitation, defense, power generation and distribution, machinery, new and used clothing, computers, processed foods, vehicles, electronics, consumer goods, office equipment, and water resources. Mali has taken steps to make itself more business-friendly, but the success of recent much-needed reforms has been frustrated by the ongoing political instability and general security environment. Investors should proceed with caution and be aware that the potential for high profits comes with substantial risk.
Mali’s most important trading partner remained France for decades after it gained independence from the former colonial power. However, imports from other countries, particularly China, have gained significant market share in recent years. New opportunities for public procurement may arise in mining, defense, transport, energy, and other sectors. At the same time, Malian entrepreneurs are eager to diversify away from traditional networks to new business partnerships with Europe and the United States. Mali is not a major trading partner of the United States, but exports of U.S. goods to Mali have increased substantially in recent years. Exports to Mali were $96.7 million in 2021, down two percent from 2020, but still up over 75 percent from 2011. Exports from Mali to the United States are trending upward but remain a small share of Mali’s total exports, growing to $3.3 million in 2021 from $2.2 million in 2020. Russia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates have also made noticeable inroads into Mali’s economy.
As a member of West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), Mali uses the franc CFA common currency issued by the Central Bank of West African States (French acronym BCEAO). As a result, it enjoys internal and external monetary stability characterized by typically low inflation and an exchange rate pegged to the euro. However, Mali’s six-month isolation from the international banking system due to the ECOWAS sanctions led it to default on payments to a number of creditors, including multilateral financial institutions.
Mali’s export economy depends primarily on gold mining, which represented 82.9 percent of exports in 2020. Gold exports have surged in recent years, with industrial production reaching approximately 65 tons, in addition to about five tons of small-scale production. The transition government has prioritized diversifying the mining sector, promising future opportunities in uranium, bauxite, phosphates, iron, lithium, and manganese extraction. Mali’s other important export commodity, cotton, accounted for 6.7 percent of exports in 2020. Despite occupying a distant second place compared to gold, the cotton sector provides livelihoods to more than four million Malians, or over one fifth of the population. Mali consistently ranks among the top cotton producers in Africa, and the Malian Chamber of Agriculture aims to bolster annual production to reach one million tons in the near future, compared to 760,000 tons in the 2021-2022 harvest.
Agricultural activity writ large accounts for roughly one third of Mali’s GDP, with an estimated 80 percent of the population involved in farming, raising livestock, or fishing. The transition government devotes approximately 12 percent of its annual budget to the development of the agricultural sector and encourages both domestic and foreign investment in the sector. Manufacturing in Mali remains limited but includes textiles, agricultural tools, cosmetics, batteries, paint, plastics, processed foods, cement, cigarettes, and beverages. Imports include construction materials (including cement, which is also produced locally), chemicals including fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, vehicles and spare parts, machinery, electronics, telecommunications, mining equipment, and most other manufactured items.
Mali relies heavily on donor-supported development projects, which offer additional opportunities in a variety of sectors, including hydroelectric, solar power generation and distribution, irrigation, telecommunications, public health, and agriculture. Mali’s rainfall and sunny weather create advantageous conditions for hydroelectric and solar energy production. With a national electricity access rate of less than 40 percent and a rural access rate of less than 20 percent, the transition government has made energy infrastructure development a priority and is eager to attract foreign investment to develop the sector. Approximately 400 MW of solar projects are being developed in different areas of the country to increase generation capacity and reduce reliance on costly thermal power, which currently makes up about 37 percent of Mali’s energy production.
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, 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. In 2022, Mali was no longer eligible for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), but it continues to be eligible for U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) support, as well as some U.S. EXIM Bank financing programs. In response to the 2020 coup d’etat and 2021 consolidation of military power, the United States has suspended most of its assistance to Malian defense and security forces, but it remains Mali’s largest bilateral development donor.