Since the early 1990s, the Malian business environment has been characterised by increasing market liberalisation, openness to foreign trade and investments, and GDP growth rates superior to the overall Sub-Saharan regional average. The Informal sector remains large and vibrant in Mali, and according to the World Bank & IFC Enterprise Surveys 2010, more than 75% of service companies surveyed report that they must compete against unregistered or informal companies. According to African Economic Outlook 2011, the Malian economy grew by a rate of 4.5% in 2010, and the inflation rate dropped considerably from 9.2% in 2008 to 1.4% in 2010. The Malian government has successfully tackled inflation by granting reductions in valued added tax and customs duties, increasing salaries and subsidies, and by reinforcing price monitoring. According to the US Department of State 2010, the government's desire to boost investments is reflected by the structural adjustment agreements signed between Mali and the World Bank and IMF, as well as its own poverty reduction strategy that followed, all of which emphasise the role of the private sector in developing the economy. This means that domestic and foreign investors are treated equally, and that foreign investors can own 100% of any company they create. However, the state continues to hold control over key economic sectors, most notably the two major exports, cotton and gold. Foreign investment is highest within extractive industries and a significant number of foreign oil exploration companies have committed themselves to investing USD millions searching for oil and gas in Malian desert. The structure in charge of promoting the petroleum sector is the Authority for Petroleum Exploration Promotion in Mali (AUREP) under the Ministry of Mines, Energy and Water.
The level of foreign investment outside extractive industries, such as the mining sector, remains low. One of the main reasons for the lack of significant foreign investment is the high level of corruption. Several sources report on the extent of corruption in Mali and how it influences the business climate. For instance, business executives surveyed in the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report 2010-2011 rank corruption as the second most problematic factor for doing business in Mali, exceeded only by access to financing. Surveyed business leaders give the level of diversion of public funds to companies, individuals or groups due to corruption a score of 2.6 on a 7-point scale (1 being 'common' and 7 'never occurs). Business executives also indicate that the ethical behaviour of companies in Mali constitutes a competitive disadvantage. According to the World Bank & IFC Enterprise Surveys 2010, there are strong indications that petty corruption is very widespread in Mali, given that approximately 19% of companies pay facilitation payments to 'get things done', while 25% identify corruption as a major constraint.
According to the US Department of State 2010, government procurement is rife with corruption. This situation is illustrated in the World Bank & IFC Enterprise Surveys 2010, in which 23% of companies expect to give gifts to secure a government contract. Business leaders surveyed by the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report 2010-2011 indicate that it is quite common for government officials in Mali to favour well-connected companies and individuals when deciding upon policies and contracts. In order to fight this, the government requires all procurement contracts to be inspected by the General Department of Public Markets which determines whether procedures meet the requirements of fairness, price competitiveness, and quality standards. In order to best reduce the risk of extortion and demands for bribes in the procurement process, foreign investors considering bidding on public tenders in Mali are advised to use a specialised public procurement due diligence tool. Based on the above, foreign investors considering establishing themselves in Mali are generally advised to consult with experienced attorneys, to develop, implement and strengthen integrity systems, and to carry out extensive due diligence before committing funds or when already doing business in the country.