Foreign investment in Mali is relatively small and is mainly in retail trade or light industry. With independence and Mali's announcement of an economic policy aimed at "planned socialism," private foreign investment came to a standstill in 1961. By 1968, after seven years of almost no private foreign investment, the trend was reversed and Mali specifically requested private foreign investment to aid its development. The parastatal sector was to be dismantled, although it has remained a significant part of the economy.
The 1991 investment code offers certain incentives, mostly in the form of tax holidays of five to ten years to companies prepared to invest in certain areas. In the three free zones, companies are granted permanent exemption from all fees and taxes, but must sell 20% of their production on the national market. Foreign and national investors are treated equally by law.
In 1998, annual foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows to Mali fell to $35.8 million, down from $74.3 million in 1997. FDI inflow increased to $51.3 million in 1999, and for 2000 and 2001, averaged $104.6 million. Mali's share of world FDI inflows during the period 1998 to 2000 was only 70% of its share of world GDP, although this was an improvement on its performance a decade earlier when its share of world inward FDI was only 30% of its share of world GDP.