Due to the country’s central position in French Equatorial Africa, the transport and service sectors and the administrative sector in the business sector came to be more developed than in other countries at the corresponding economic level. After independence, however, the importance of these sectors decreased. The initial economic policy after independence emphasized the role of the state in the economy, but allowed private companies to act in the forest, mining and transport sectors.
In the late 1970s, the socialist elements of the economy were reduced, and in 1989, as a result of increased economic problems, economic policy became even more liberal. In 1994, the country introduced a structural adjustment program aimed at further liberalization and privatization of the economy. According to countryaah, the Congolese economy is almost entirely dependent on oil; the country is one of Africa’s ten largest oil producers. However, revenue is unevenly distributed and corruption is extensive. The country has been drawn with huge external debt, which has, however, been partially written off several times. Many years of political unrest, especially the civil war 1997-99, have also had a negative impact on the economy.
Less than 1 percent of the land is cultivated land, and another 29 percent is used for extensive grazing. Congo’s food production does not meet the need. From the beginning of the 1970s, the agricultural sector was negatively affected by partly being overridden and partly subject to poor planning. The sector has also been adversely affected by a relatively large move from the countryside to the cities. However, during the 1990s, the state began to invest more in agriculture. With the exception of oil palms, sugar and tobacco, which are grown in plantation form, agricultural production is mainly carried out on small family farms. The most important food crops are cassava and corn. The most important barley crops, which, however, make a very small contribution to export revenue, are sugar and tobacco and to a lesser extent cocoa, coffee, peanuts and oil palm products.
The forest, which covers more than half of the country’s area, is one of Congo’s most important natural resources. Until 1973, timber was Congo’s main export commodity. Harvesting began in the coastal area and has continued along the inland railroad. Until 1987, the purchase and sale of timber was controlled by a state monopoly; however, private (usually foreign) companies accounted for 95 percent of the harvest. During the 1990s, timber exports declined as a result of criticism against harvesting in rainforests. During the 00s, production has again increased while the government has taken measures to reduce illegal harvesting and increase replanting as well as domestic timber processing.
Fishing is of little importance to Congo’s economy. It is conducted in the Atlantic and Congo rivers as well as in smaller rivers and rivers. Some commercial sea fishing has been developed (mainly by tuna), but most of the fishing is conducted for self-catering and for the local market.
Until the early 1970s, mineral extraction played little role for the Congo’s economy, but during the 1970s and 1980s the significance increased through several major oil discoveries. In the mid-1990s, the sector accounted for about 90 percent of the value of the country’s exports. In 1972, the Émerau field on the continental shelf was put into production, in 1977 mining began on the Loango field and in 1980 production started on the Likouala River in eastern Congo. The latter field is estimated to comprise about 40 million tonnes of oil. Additional deposits on the continental shelf and on land were then put into operation during the 1980s. Large deposits of natural gas are also located outside Pointe-Noire. In addition to oil, limited quantities of lead, zinc, gold and copper are extracted. Undiscovered deposits of high quality iron ore, phosphate and bauxite have not yet been found in the country.
Most of the country’s energy supply comes from the two hydroelectric power plants Bouenza, west of Brazzaville, and Djoué, northwest of Brazzaville. There are also far-reaching plans for a new power plant at Ingafallen, which at completion will be the world’s largest. The production and distribution of electricity is controlled by the state. As the majority of households lack electricity, firewood is still the most important source of energy.
The industrial sector in Congo is well developed, but apart from the oil industry it has little economic significance. The industry, which is mainly focused on the processing of agricultural and forestry products and on the production of simpler consumer goods, is mainly located in Brazzaville, Pointe-Noire and Nkayi. In addition, there are sawmills and production of building materials such as cement. In 1982, an oil refinery was opened in Pointe-Noire with an annual capacity of 1 million tonnes. The majority of the major industries were previously state-owned. However, through an agreement with the International Monetary Fund, ownership has largely been transferred into private hands.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Congo experienced a large trade deficit. Through the development of the oil sector since the late 1970s, this has turned into a surplus. In the mid-00s, oil revenues accounted for about 90 percent of total export revenues. The second largest export product was timber with 7 percent. Imports are dominated by machinery and food. China, Angola and Gabon are Congo’s most important export markets. Imports come mainly from France, China and Belgium.