Sierra Leone is rich in natural resources, among the top ten diamond producing nations and the largest producers of titanium and bauxite. It is a major producer of gold, and has one of the world's largest deposits of rutile. It is home to the third-largest natural harbour in the world.
Neverthess, Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world with per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of $774, and ranking 183th in the 2014 Human Development Index. The country, still transitioning from a decade long civil war (1991 to 2002) that destroyed its economic and social fabric, was hit in 2014 by the unprecedented outbreak of the Ebola disease. The inflation picked up, reaching almost 10% in summer 2015. The expected GDP growth of 11.3% for 2014 dropped to 4.0% and to around 2.5 % for 2015.
Even before Ebola, more than 70% of its 6 million population lived in severe poverty. The economy is mainly based on subsistence agriculture and artisanal fishery and mining. Mineral exports are the main currency earner.
Only 13% of the people has access to improved sanitation facilities. Life expectancy is 48 years. Infant mortality is 117 per 1000 live births. In the area of education, the primary completion rate is 72%, with a 77% transition rate to secondary school. The overall literacy rate is low, at 43% of the total population.
Although Sierra Leone has a functioning democracy and conditions of peace prevail, it is considered a fragile state with a heavy administrative structure and a constitution dating from before the civil war. It depends heavily on external aid (40% of capital expenditure in 2012). The presidential elections in 2017 will test the Sierra Leone's democratic maturity.
The partnership between the EU and Sierra Leone is guided by the Cotonou Agreement. The EU is a key partner of Sierra Leone and is, along with the UK, the country's main donor. The EU supports Sierra Leone in its transition from a post conflict situation towards a sustainable and inclusive development path.
In the "National Indicative Programme" of 2014, built on the "National Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper " (PRSP) and the "Agenda for Prosperity " of July 2013, the EU agreed with Sierra Leone to support the country with €376 million in programmable funds until 2020, focused on the areas Governance and Civil Society, Education, Agriculture and certain Infrastructure measures.
The EU provided important assistance to Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis in terms of laboratories, medical staff and support of treatment centers. The EU supports an accelerated recovery of the country from Ebola and in this respect, it promotes governance and public sector reform (including effective revenue generation), greater economic diversification and contributing to Sierra Leone’s transition to a green economy.
Sierra Leone is one of the 15 Member States of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Member of the Mano River Union (together with Liberia and Guinea Conakry) and partner with the EU, and coastal states from Senegal to Angola, to the Gulf of Guinea Strategy for regional cooperation.
The EU is one of Sierra Leone's most important trading partners. Trade relations are governed by the Generalised System of Preferences, and as a Least-Developed Country, Sierra Leone benefits from duty-free, quota-free access to the EU market under the "Everything but Arms" scheme. Sierra Leone is also part of the "Economic Partnership Agreement" (EPA) with the EU as a member of the ECOWAS.