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Thursday, 4 April, 2002, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Equatorial Guinea applies to join WTO
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo
President Mbasogo's wants to liberalise the economy
The West African nation of Equatorial Guinea has asked for observer status at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and plans to apply for full membership.

The government was acting because it could not "remain on the fringes of the globalisation and development of the world's economy", the WTO said in a statement.

"At the international level, Equatorial Guinea's political philosophy is a free market economy within the context of trade liberalization, which is also one of the principles underpinning the creation of the WTO," it added.

President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo - a former brigadier general who seized power in a military coup in 1973 - has begun to liberalise the economy and tried to encourage US investment.

Economic emphasis

Equatorial Guinea's economy was dependent upon agriculture but this situation was drastically changed with the discovery of large oil reserves.

The country now depends on oil for 90% of its exports with cocoa, coffee and timber accounting for the remainder.

Its biggest export partners are the US, China, Japan, France and former colonial power Spain.

Corruption concerns

Recent rises in the price of oil and increased production have boosted the country's revenues but, due to lack of transparency, there has not been a significant improvement in fiscal performance.

President Mbasogo was re-elected to office in 1996 with 98% of the vote in polls criticised for widespread fraud.

Most businesses are owned by government officials and their family members.

The International Monetary Fund and World Bank suspended their operations in the country in 1994 due to corruption concerns.

See also:

17 Aug 01 | Business
Oil triggers Equatorial Guinea boom
22 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Equatorial Guinea
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