September 1, 2016 / 8:17 PM / 2 years ago

Liberia's Firestone lays off 400 workers in new blow to economy

MONROVIA, Sept 1 (Reuters) - Firestone Natural Rubber Co., which operates the world’s largest single natural rubber plantation in Liberia, said on Thursday that it has laid off 432 employees because of falling rubber prices, a new blow to the country’s battered economy.

Low prices for key exports iron ore and rubber have compounded the devastation wrought by an Ebola outbreak that killed 4,800 Liberians and dragged GDP growth down from over 8 percent in 2013 to zero last year.

In all, Firestone plans to cut 500 jobs, or 7 percent of its workforce, it said in a statement, which also attributed the move to high overhead costs associated with the country’s civil wars in the 1990s and an uncertain business climate.

Firestone, an indirect subsidiary of tyre giant Bridgestone Americas, signed a 99-year contract with the Liberian government in 1926. Its plantation covers almost 200 square miles east of the capital Monrovia.

The International Monetary Fund expects Liberia’s economic growth to rise to 2.5 percent this year due to a rebound in services and gold production at Toronto and AIM-listed Aureus Mining’s New Liberty project.

Reporting By James Harding Giahyue; Writing by Aaron Ross

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