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Trade and Poverty Paper Series: Trade and Current Account Balances in Sub-Saharan Africa: Stylized Facts and Implications for Poverty

Report by Moussa, Nicole/ UNCTAD, 2016

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This paper examines the main components of Sub-Saharan Africa's balance of payments with a view to understanding the role that trade has played in the evolution of current account imbalances in the region. The paper finds that increasing trade openness in SSA has been accompanied by current account deficits in majority of the countries. The paper also finds that while at the aggregate level net income payments were the main source of the current account deficits in SSA, in the majority of countries the trade deficit was the main driver. Furthermore, the paper argues that the composition of the current account matters for employment and poverty and offers suggestions on how to make trade better work for SSA.

TR
AD


E AN
D


PO
VER


TY PAPER


SER
IES N


o.1 (2016)




Trade and Current Account Balances
in Sub-Saharan Africa:


Stylized Facts and Implications for Poverty


May 2016




i







Trade and Current Account Balances in Sub-Saharan Africa:
Stylized Facts and Implications for Poverty





Nicole Moussa*
Trade and Poverty Branch


ALDC/UNCTAD







Abstract


This paper examines the main components of Sub-Saharan Africa's balance of payments with a view
to understanding the role that trade has played in the evolution of current account imbalances in the
region. The paper finds that increasing trade openness in SSA has been accompanied by current
account deficits in majority of the countries. The paper also finds that while at the aggregate level net
income payments were the main source of the current account deficits in SSA, in the majority of
countries the trade deficit was the main driver. Furthermore, the paper argues that the composition of
the current account matters for employment and poverty and offers suggestions on how to make
trade better work for SSA.

















* I thank Patrick N. Osakwe, Head, Trade and Poverty Branch, for his useful comments and suggestions.


The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not represent the official views of the UNCTAD
Secretariat or its member States.




ii







Note


The aim of the Trade and Poverty Paper Series is to disseminate the findings of research
work on the inter-linkages between trade and poverty and to identify policy options at the
national and international levels on the use of trade as a more effective tool for poverty
eradication.


The opinions expressed in papers under the series are those of the authors and are not to
be taken as the official views of the UNCTAD Secretariat or its member States. The
designations and terminology employed are also those of the authors.


Papers under the trade and poverty paper series are available on the UNCTAD website at
http://www.unctad.org. Contribution of papers to the series should be sent to
trade.poverty@unctad.org


This is an unedited publication.












UNCTAD/WEB/ALDC/2016/2







iii




Contents



I. Introduction ................................................................................................................................... 1


II. What do we know about Trade and Current Account Balances in Sub-Saharan Africa? ............ 2


III. What are the Key Sources of External Finance in Sub-Saharan Africa? .................................... 15


IV. Policy Recommendations ........................................................................................................... 18


References ......................................................................................................................................... 22



Figures



1. Openness to trade by main world regions, 1981-2013 ................................................................ 3


2. Trade openness, current account balance and trade balance in SSA, 1981-2012 ...................... 4


3. Current account and trade balance by Sub-Saharan country, 2000-2008 .................................. 5


4. Trade openness, current account balance and trade balance in SSA deficit countries,


1981-2013 ..................................................................................................................................... 6


5. Current account balance and its components in SSA, 1981-2013 .............................................. 7


6. Inward FDI flows, income on inward FDI and its ratio to exports in SSA, 1996-2012 .................. 8


7. Current account balance and its components in selected Sub-Saharan African countries,


1981-2013 ..................................................................................................................................... 9


8. GDP expenditures by main components in SSA, 1970-2013 ..................................................... 11


9. Contribution to GDP growth in SSA, 1971-2013 ........................................................................ 12


10. SSA’s trade structure: composition of exports, imports and trade balance, 1995-2013 ........... 13


11. Sources of foreign finance in SSA, 1981-2013 ........................................................................... 16


12 Ratio of income payments to liabilities’ stock in SSA: FDI, portfolio and other investments,


2005-2013 ................................................................................................................................... 18


Tables


1. Trade openness and GDP growth rate in SSA, 1981-2013 ........................................................ 10


2. Top 15 exports and imports products in SSA, 2008-2014 ......................................................... 14





iv




Acronyms



BoP balance of payments


FDI foreign direct investment


GDP gross domestic product


IMF International Monetary Fund


SSA Sub-Saharan Africa


TNCs Transnational Corporations


UNCTAD United Nations Conference on Trade and Development




1




I. Introduction


African countries depend heavily on international trade and this dependence has increased
significantly over the past two decades. Trade is an important source of foreign exchange needed to
import the intermediate goods required by local industries. It also enlarges consumer choice,
provides access to new technology, and has the potential to enhance productivity and to contribute
to employment creation and growth. Some of the factors accounting for the increasing dependence
of African countries on trade include: reduction in tariff barriers to trade; developments in information
and communication technologies which reduced the transactions costs associated with trade; a
global paradigm shift from trade protectionism as a development strategy to trade as an engine of
economic growth; and the increasing roles of large developing countries in the global economy. The
commodity price boom - that started at the beginning of the last decade and began waning at its end
– is another driving factor for the increasing trade openness experienced by African countries over
the past few decades. It led to an improvement in Africa's terms of trade and enhanced its capacity
to export and import.


Interestingly, the increased role of international trade in African economies has been accompanied by
significant and growing trade and current account deficits in many countries on the continent. There
are concerns that the increasing current account deficits will increase Africa's future debt burden and
make the continent vulnerable to financial crises. Experience has shown that growing current account
deficits often presage disruptive economic trends such as sudden stops in capital flows, severe
decreases in credit and spending, and sharp economic slowdowns, which generate high
unemployment and poverty. Africa's growing current account deficits are also of concern because as
a rule of thumb, current account deficits that are above 5 percent of GDP are indicative of long-run
sustainability problems. Furthermore, growing current account deficits driven by high trade deficits
pose challenges for employment and poverty reduction efforts particularly when the deficits are
caused by rising imports of consumer goods that can be produced by domestic industries. Another
reason why the current account deficits are worrisome is that a deficit is sustainable as long as there
is sufficient international credit to finance it. Up until recently, African countries had relatively better
access to international finance than was the case in the past. However, with declining commodity
prices and slow growth, the continent is vulnerable to declining access to finance which will make
financing of the deficits increasingly challenging.


Against this backdrop, this paper examines the main components of Sub-Saharan Africa's (SSA)
balance of payments – current account and capital and financial accounts – with a view to answering
the following questions: (a) what role has trade played in observed current account deficits in SSA?;
(b) How has the current account been financed and what are the implications?; and (c) what can
African governments do to reverse recent trends in the current account and use trade, more
effectively than in the past, in support of poverty reduction efforts on the continent? Although a clear
understanding of the factors that affect the current account balance is essential, balance of
payments categories alone are not sufficient to diagnose the general conditions of an economy. The
current account balance reflects, broadly speaking, the difference between national income and
expenditure. Making the link to national income accounting, in particular to income, consumption and
investment, permits an understanding of the source of a deficit or a surplus. A deficit caused by an
increase in final consumption is not the same as one fueled by a surge in investment, as investment
contributes to future growth and enhances a country's ability to finance and eliminate the deficit.




2


Hence, the analysis of the evolution of national income variables allows a better understanding of the
evolution of the current account and the associated risks.1


Equally important are the analyses of the composition of international trade, because what is being
imported and exported is linked to the productive capacity and the structure of the domestic
economy. The analysis in this paper will also shed some light on the extent of the linkages that both
imports and exports have with the rest of the economy. The degree of such linkages has an impact
on the proportion of the value added created domestically, which in turn has an impact on
employment and revenue generation, which constitutes the basis of the nexus between international
trade, profit, investment, and development. International trade can disrupt domestic linkages.
Reliance on the market mechanisms for resource allocation can push a poorly diversified economy
towards more specialization, which is particularly harmful for employment creation and poverty
reduction. Examples abound of resource-rich countries able to achieve chronic current account
surpluses despite poorly diversified economy, limited domestic capabilities and high levels of
unemployment and poverty, thanks to a capital-intensive export sector based on specific natural
resource endowments with poor linkages with the rest of the economy.




II. What do we know about Trade and Current Account Balances in SSA?


Increasing openness to trade in SSA has been accompanied by current account deficits in
many countries


Openness to trade (as measured by the ratio of exports plus imports over GDP) has significantly
increased in all the world's regions at least during the last three decades, and SSA is no exception:
its average trade ratio increased from 37 percent in the period 1981-1990 to 51 percent in 1991-2000
and 63 percent in the period 2001-2013. As shown in figure 1, SSA has been more open to trade in
the past decade compared to the 1980s. It is also more open to trade than developed economies
and Latin America and the Caribbean, but less open to trade than Asia. Within SSA, there is a wide
variation in trade ratios across countries, ranging from 35 percent in the Central African Republic to
251 percent in Liberia.





1 See Cusolito and Nedeljkovic (2013); Osakwe and Verick (2009); and Suranovic (1999).




3


Figure 1: Openness to trade1 by main world regions, 1981-2013



Source: UNCTADstat. Data downloaded on January 2016.


1 Measured as the ratio of exports plus imports over GDP




The observed increase in trade openness in SSA over the past few decades has gone hand in hand
with a deterioration in the current account. Figure 2 shows that SSA had current account deficits
beginning in 1986 until 2000 when large shifts in the trade balance contributed to sizeable current
account surpluses. Since then the region also experienced current account deficits in the period
2001-2003 and from 2008 to 2013. Figure 2 also shows that SSA had trade surpluses in the periods
1985-1990 and 2000-2008. Nevertheless, the drivers of the trade surpluses of the 1980s and the
2000s are different. In the 1980s, it was the result of the strong fall in imports in the context of
structural adjustment policies that was geared towards increasing trade surpluses through
decreasing internal demand, in an attempt to manage the debt crisis. In the 2000s, it was the result of
a strong surge in exports thanks to the commodity price boom.




0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90


Developed economies


Developing economies


Sub-Saharan Africa


Latin America and the Caribbean


Developing Asia


Transition economies


2001-2013 1991-2000 1981-1990




4


Figure 2: Trade openness, current account balance and trade balance in SSA,
1981-2012 (Percentage of GDP at current prices)



Source: IMF BOP Statistics and UNCTADstat. Data downloaded on January 2016.


Note: Data for Eritrea are only for 1992-2010. For Liberia, data for 1988-2003 and 2009-2012 are missing. Data for
Somalia are only until 1989, data for Djibouti are only since 1990.


There are important differences among SSA countries. Between 2000 and 2008, when the region as a
whole had a trade surplus, only 8 out of 45 countries - for which data are available - had a trade
surplus and only 7 had a current account surplus. In addition, about 33 countries had both trade and
current account deficits. The ratio of current account deficit to GDP exceeded 5 percent in the case
of 25 countries, of which 7 had a ratio higher than 10 percent (see figure 3). As indicated earlier, the
rule of thumb is that current account deficit ratios above 5 percent is an indication that a country is
on an unsustainable path and needs to take corrective action to avoid financial and economic crisis.
An interesting point to note in figure 3 is that most of the countries that have either a trade or current
account surplus are resource-rich countries (Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Angola, Nigeria etc). Among
the deficit countries, it is also interesting to note that there has been a deterioration in the trade and
current account deficits over the last three decades (figure 4): the average trade deficit ratio
increased from 6 percent in the 1980s to 13 percent in 2001-2013, while the average current account
deficit ratio rose from 4 percent to 8 percent over the same period.


Chronic and increasing trade deficits can be interpreted in different ways. Chronic trade deficits can
be evidence that domestic firms suffer from low productivity and cannot compete with foreign firms.
In this case, and especially in a context of trade liberalization, this does not only limit the capacity of
exports but also constrains the development of import-competing industries, which increases import
dependence and thus unemployment and poverty. Trade deficit can also result from a country
investing in physical capital (through imports of intermediate goods) and building productive
capacity, which has the potential of boosting employment and reducing poverty, provided the
investments are effective and allocated to job-creating activities.


0%


10%


20%


30%


40%


50%


60%


70%


80%


-6%


-5%


-4%


-3%


-2%


-1%


0%


1%


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3%


4%


5%
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12
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13


Trade balance (left axis) Current account balance (left axis) Trade openness (right axis)




5


Figure 3: Current account and trade balance by Sub-Saharan country,
2000-2008 (Annual average, percentage of GDP at current prices)


Trade balance Current account balance




Source: IMF BOP Statistics and UNCTAD Globstat. Data downloaded on January 2016.
Note: Data for Liberia are since 2004 . Data for Eritrea and Somalia are missing


-96%


-73%


-39%


-29%


-23%


-22%


-21%


-20%


-17%


-17%


-17%


-15%


-15%


-15%


-14%


-13%


-12%


-12%


-12%


-10%


-10%


-10%


-10%


-9%


-9%


-8%


-8%


-7%


-7%


-7%


-7%


-5%


-5%


-4%


-3%


-1%


0%


1%


2%


8%


9%


11%


24%


26%


31%


59%


Liberia


Lesotho


São Tomé & Príncipe


Cabo Verde


Burundi


Mauritania


Comoros


Ethiopia


Djibouti


Senegal


Togo


Rwanda


Ghana


Burkina Faso


Madagascar


Malawi


Niger


Sierra Leone


Mozambique


Guinea-Bissau


Benin


Seychelles


Swaziland


Uganda


Mali


Gambia


Kenya


Central African Rep.


United Rep. of Tanzania


Zimbabwe


Chad


Mauritius


Guinea


Dem. Rep. of the Congo


Namibia


Cameroon


South Africa


Zambia


Sub-Saharan Africa


Côte d'Ivoire


Nigeria


Botswana


Congo


Angola


Gabon


Equatorial Guinea


-38%
-25%


-14%
-14%
-12%
-11%
-10%
-10%


-9%
-9%
-9%
-8%
-8%
-8%
-8%
-8%
-7%
-7%
-6%
-6%
-6%
-6%
-6%
-5%
-5%
-4%
-4%
-3%
-3%
-3%
-2%
-2%
-2%
-2%
-2%


0%
1%
1%
2%
2%


6%
6%


10%
11%
12%


16%


São Tomé & Príncipe
Liberia


Seychelles
Mauritania


Mozambique
Madagascar


Burkina Faso
Cabo Verde


Togo
Senegal


Niger
Malawi


Chad
Mali


Zimbabwe
Burundi


Sierra Leone
Benin


Ghana
Ethiopia
Guinea


Comoros
Zambia
Djibouti


United Rep. of Tanzania
Central African Rep.


Rwanda
Mauritius
Uganda


South Africa
Gambia


Kenya
Swaziland
Cameroon


Guinea-Bissau
Congo


Dem. Rep. of the Congo
Côte d'Ivoire


Sub-Saharan Africa
Equatorial Guinea


Namibia
Lesotho


Botswana
Nigeria
Angola
Gabon




6




Figure 4: Trade openness, current account balance and trade balance in SSA
deficit countries1, 1981-2013 (Percentage of GDP at current prices)




Source: IMF Balance of Payments Statistics for trade balance and current account, and UNCTADstat for GDP and trade
openness. IMF data until 2004 downloaded on November 2015, all the other data downloaded on January 2016.


Note: Data for Eritrea are only for 1992-2010. For Liberia, data for 1988-2003 and 2009-2012 are missing.
Data for Djibouti are only since 1990.


1The deficit countries are those that ran both trade and current account deficits in 2000-2008 and for which data are
available. These are: Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros,
Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius,
Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo,
Uganda, Zimbabwe (see figure 3).




Income payments have been an important driver of current account deficits in SSA over the
past few decades


The current account is a measure of a country's foreign transactions in a given year. It is expressed
as the sum of the balance of trade in goods and services, the balance of income (returns on
investment such as interest, dividends, and FDI profits), and the balance of current transfers (such as
workers' remittances, donations, aids and official assistance). A current account surplus/deficit
means that more money left/entered the country to pay/receive payment for international
transactions. It has its counterpart in foreign flows of capital in the form of loans, foreign direct
investment, portfolio investment, and capital transfers2 which make up the capital and financial



2 The separate identification of current and capital transfers was introduced for the first time in the fifth edition of the


IMF’s Balance of Payments Manual that started recording capital transfers –previously recorded in the current account -
in the capital account component of the balance of payments. Capital transfers include debt forgiveness, investment


0%


10%


20%


30%


40%


50%


60%


70%


80%


-18%


-16%


-14%


-12%


-10%


-8%


-6%


-4%


-2%


0%


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Trade balance (left axis) Current account balance (left axis) Trade openness (right axis)




7


account of the Balance of payments. Since 1984, investment income payments have been the main
source of the deficit in SSA´s current account (see figure 5). The ratio of net investment income
payments to GDP more than doubled over the three last decades: from an average of 1.7 percent in
the first half of the 1980s, to 3.5 percent in the second half of the 2000s and 3.7 percent in 2011-
2013. The trade balance, after a period of surplus that resulted from structural adjustment policies in
the 1980s, has oscillated between negative and positive territories according to the movement of
commodity prices whose recent decline - that started at the end of the 2000s - seems to be marking
the beginning of a new period of trade deficits in the region.


Figure 5: Current account balance and its components in SSA, 1981-2013
(Percentage of GDP at current prices)



Source: IMF Balance of Payments Statistics for BOP components, and UNCTADstat for GDP. IMF data until 2004


downloaded on November 2015, all the other data downloaded on January 2016.


Note: The following countries are excluded due to lack of data on current account components: Central African Republic,
Chad, Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Gabon, Liberia, Mauritania, Somalia, and Zimbabwe. Data for
Angola are since 1984.


The growing importance of investment income payments in SSA’s current account has been due to
net payments to FDI investors that became, during the 2000s and by a significant margin, the main
contributor to debit in SSA´s income accounts. They accounted, on average, for 89 percent of SSA´s
total investment income balance in 2001-2013. This was the consequence of both the multilateral
debt relief initiatives that drastically reduced the amount of external loans and the strong increase of
FDI flows since the early 2000s, related to the commodity price boom. The latter had both direct and
indirect effects on FDI flows, attracting significant investment from international oil and gas and



grants, and other transfers. They are different from current transfers (recorded in the current account as secondary
income account) in that they are intended to be for investment rather than for consumption need.


-8%


-6%


-4%


-2%


0%


2%


4%


6%


8%


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Trade balance Income balance Current transfers balance Current account balance




8


mining enterprises and – by improving terms of trade and domestic consumption – boosting market
seeking FDI into the service industry.


Net payments to FDI investors increased from $7 billion in 2000, to $48 billion in 2013, totaling $358
billion in 2000-2013, while trade generated a negative cumulative balance of $35 billion in this period.
Income payments to inward FDI as a percentage of exports increased from an average of 7 percent
in 1996-2001, to 9 percent in 2002-2007 and 12 percent in 2008-2013. These facts indicate that the
profits of transnational companies have become a major component of the current account in Sub-
Saharan Africa, replacing debt interest and portfolio income payments that were prevalent since
1984. Income on Inward FDI was higher than FDI flows, with the difference increasing considerably in
2010-2013 (figure 6), meaning that capital flows to finance TNCs´ activities were not sufficient to
compensate for the deficit in the current account that their profits generate.3


Figure 6: Inward FDI flows, Income on inward FDI and its ratio to exports in
SSA, 1996-2012 ($billion and percentage)




Source: IMF Balance of Payments Statistics. Data downloaded on January 2016


Although at the aggregate level, income payments represent the most important driver of current
account deficits in SSA, the trade balance also plays a role and, in many countries, is the dominant
driver of the current account deficits. In fact, when Angola, Nigeria and South Africa are excluded
from the sample - because of their important weight in SSA trade and GDP4 - the trade deficit



3 In fact, FDI flows are, in an important part, financed from retained earnings, which are profits generated in host countries.


In balance-of-payments, retained earnings are first recorded as investment income payments in the current account and
then as offsetting FDI inflows in the financial account (see Akyüz, 2015). Available data for 34 SSA countries show that in
2005-2013, retained earnings accounted for 51 percent of total FDI inflows and 28 percent of total income on inward FDI
(IMF BOP statistics).


4 Average current account surplus of Angola and Nigeria in 2001-2012 was respectively 128 and 467 times higher than that
of the whole of SSA, and their trade surplus was 58 and 75 times higher than the region’s trade deficit in absolute terms.
In addition, the GDP of Nigeria and South Africa represented in this period respectively 21% and 36% of SSA’s total GDP.


0%


2%


4%


6%


8%


10%


12%


14%


0


10


20


30


40


50


60


FDI inflows (left axis)


Income on inward FDI (left axis)


Ratio of Income on inward FDI to total exports (right axis)




9


emerges as the main driver of current account deficits in the region (see figure 7), with the trade
deficit ratio increasing significantly since 2007 and averaging 11.5 percent in 2008-2013. By contrast
the ratio of net income payments to GDP decreased from 2.1 percent in the 1980s, to 1.8 percent in
2008-2013 as the result of debt relief initiatives that considerably lowered the interest payments of a
number of countries.


Figure 7: Current account balance and its components in selected Sub-Saharan
African countries1, 1981-2013 (Percentage of GDP at current prices)



Source: IMF Balance of Payments Statistics for BOP components, and UNCTADstat for GDP. IMF data until 2004


downloaded on November 2015, all the other data downloaded on January 2016.


1 The countries considered are those, other than Angola, Nigeria and South Africa for which data on current account
components are available. These countries are: Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Cameroon,
Comoros, Congo (Dem. Rep.), Côte d'Ivoire, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho,
Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Rwanda, São Tomé & Príncipe, Senegal, Seychelles,
Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Zambia.




Higher trade openness in SSA during the last decade was accompanied by rapid economic
growth largely driven by consumption


After two decades of slow economic growth, SSA´s GDP grew at a relatively rapid rate beginning in
the early 2000s (table 1). In particular, between 2001 and 2010 the average annual growth rate of real
output was about 6 percent, which is 4 percentage points higher than the average growth rate in the
1990s. Interestingly, the strong growth performance experienced in SSA was largely consumption-
led (figures 8 and 9) and hence had consequences for the current account.


Actually, the current account balance can also be expressed as the difference between national
income and spending. A current account deficit means that a country spent more on goods and


-20%


-15%


-10%


-5%


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10%


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Trade balance Income balance Current transfers balance Current account balance




10


services than it produced during the year, thanks to foreign flows that finance the gap. Current
account deficits are not necessarily a sign of weakness. In particular, whether or not deficits are bad
depends on the source. For example, a deficit caused by an increase in investment in the trade
sector should not be regarded as a bad thing because it increases productive capacity to generate
resources required to repay any debt associated with the deficits. On the other hand, a deficit arising
from an increase in consumption (or a decline in savings) as observed in SSA should be of concern
because it is often an indication that a country is living above its means. Therefore, besides looking at
the components of the current account to understand the significance and the drivers of a surplus or
a deficit, it is also important to look at the national economic aggregates such as GDP, investment,
and consumption.


Table 1: Trade openness and GDP growth rate in SSA1, 1981-201
(Percentage)


1981-1990 1991-2000 2001-2010 2001-2007 2008-2013


GDP growth rate 2 2 6 6 4


Trade openness 37 51 62 61 64


Source: UNCTADstat. Data downloaded on January 2016


1 GDP growth rate is calculated for GDP values in US Dollars at constant prices (2005) and constant exchange rates (2005).
For trade openness, see figure 1.




As presented in figure 8, SSA’s economic growth has clearly been consumption-led since the 1980s,
with the ratio of final consumption expenditure to GDP increasing from an average of 73 percent in
the 1970s to 83 percent in 2008-2013. This high share of consumption in GDP coupled with a high
consumption growth rate meant that the contribution of consumption to growth was much higher
than that of other components of aggregate demand. Figure 9 shows that in the period 2001-2010
real output in SSA grew by 5.5 percent and the contribution of consumption to this growth was 4.7
percentage points while investment contributed 1.7 percentage points and the trade balance
contributed to a decline in real output by 0.8 percentage points. While during the 1970s, SSA's
economic growth was almost equally driven by consumption and investment, in the 1980s the
contribution of investment to growth was negative, which resulted in a decline in the investment to
GDP ratio from 28 percent in the 1970s to 20 percent in the 1980s. This ratio continued decreasing
until the mid-2000s when it started growing, mainly driven by investments in the extractive industries
and infrastructure (see UNCTAD 2014a and 2015a). It should be noted that despite the increase in
investment experienced over the past decade, the investment ratio in SSA is still low relative to the
25 percent rate deemed necessary for African countries to make significant progress in the fight
against poverty.




11


Figure 8: GDP expenditures by main components in SSA, 1970-2013
(Percentage of GDP)



Source: UNCTADstat, data downloaded on January 2016


Note: The percentage is calculated for values in US dollars at constant prices (2005) and constant exchange rates (2005).




Increasing openness to trade in SSA has also been associated with increased specialization in
commodity exports


A key feature of African countries participation in international trade is that they are exporters of
primary products and importers of services and manufactured goods. As SSA became more open to
trade over the past few decades, the region has also increased its dependence on commodity
exports. In fact, the increase in commodity prices since the early 2000s has led to an increase in the
share of primary goods in SSA's total exports (from 62% in 1995-1999 to 73% in 2010-2013) and a
decline in the share of manufactured goods (from 19% to 13%) and services (from 18% to 14%).
Among primary goods, the share of fuel products in total exports surged from 26 percent in 1995-
1999 to 47 percent in 2010-2013, that of foods and agriculture products dropped from 20 percent to
11 percent, while the share of ores and metals and precious pearls declined from 17 percent to 15
percent (see figure 10). It should be noted that the message from figure 10 is quite different if Angola,
Nigeria, and South Africa are excluded. The difference mainly stems from a more balanced
distribution of primary exports between foods and agriculture products, ores and metals and
precious stones, and fuels. The latter became since the mid-2000s the main exports item, a place
devoted until then to foods and agriculture products that reduced their share in total exports from 35
percent to 22 percent between 1995-1999 and 2010-2013.




73% 77%
81% 82% 83%


28% 20% 18%
17% 22%


-20%


0%


20%


40%


60%


80%


100%


120%


1971-1980 1981-1990 1991-2000 2001-2007 2008-2013


Final consumption Gross capital formation Trade balance




12


Figure 9: Contribution to real GDP growth in SSA, 1971-2013
(Percentage points)



Source: UNCTADstat, data downloaded on January 2016.




Regarding imports, the structure is characterized by the predominance of manufactured goods that
represented 45 percent of total imports in 2010-2013, followed by services, with 31 percent. Due to
the strong increases in oil prices in the past decade, fuel products (mainly composed of refined
products) have increased their share in total value of imports during the 2000s to reach 12 percent in
2010-2013. SSA imports are largely composed of final consumer goods, and imports of capital
equipment and many intermediaries are linked to commodity extraction (see Morris and Fessehaie,
2014). The trade balance suggests there are increasing deficits in manufactured goods and in
services equivalent to 20 percent of GDP since the second half of the 2000s. These deficits have
been hardly balanced by surpluses in primary products (see figure 10).


















1971-
1980


1981-
1990


1991-
2000


2001-
2010


2001-
2007


2008-
2013


Trade balance -0.2% 1.1% -0.1% -0.8% -0.9% -1.0%
Gross capital formation 1.7% -1.2% 0.4% 1.7% 1.7% 1.4%
Final consumption 2.3% 2.1% 1.8% 4.7% 5.6% 3.9%
GDP 3.3% 2.1% 2.0% 5.5% 5.9% 4.5%


-2%


-1%


0%


1%


2%


3%


4%


5%


6%


7%


8%




13


Figure 10: SSA’s trade structure: composition of exports, imports and trade
balance, 1995-2013 (Percentage)


Sub-Saharan Africa Sub-Saharan Africa
(excluding Angola, Nigeria and South Africa)



Source: UNCTADstat and IMF BOP, data downloaded on December 2015.




0


0.05


0.1


0.15


0.2


0.25


0.3


0.35


0.4


0.45


0.5


Food and
agriculture


raw materials


Manufacturing Fuels Ores, metals
and precious


pearls


Services


Composition of exports
(in percentage of total exports)


0


0.05


0.1


0.15


0.2


0.25


0.3


0.35


0.4


0.45


0.5


Food and
agriculture


raw materials


Manufacturing Fuels Ores, metals
and precious


pearls


Services


Composition of imports
(in percentage of total imports)


0


0.05


0.1


0.15


0.2


0.25


0.3


0.35


0.4


0.45


0.5


Food and
agriculture


raw materials


Manufacturing Fuels Ores, metals
and precious


pearls


Services


Composition of exports
(in percentage of total exports)


0


0.05


0.1


0.15


0.2


0.25


0.3


0.35


0.4


0.45


0.5


Food and
agriculture


raw materials


Manufacturing Fuels Ores, metals
and precious


pearls


Services


Composition of imports
(in percentage of total imports)


-0.2


-0.15


-0.1


-0.05


0


0.05


0.1


0.15


Food and
agriculture raw


materials


Manufacturing Fuels Ores, metals
and precious


pearls


Services


Composition of trade balance
(in percentage of GDP)


-0.2


-0.15


-0.1


-0.05


0


0.05


0.1


0.15


Food and
agriculture


raw materials


Manufacturing Fuels Ores, metals
and precious


pearls


Services


Composition of trade balance
(in percentage of GDP)


-0.2


1995-1999 2000-2004 2005-2009 2010-2013




14


Sub-Saharan Africa exports its natural resources in raw form, and re-imports them
transformed into intermediary and finished products


SSA's exports are highly concentrated in a few primary commodities. For instance, crude oil alone
accounted for about 45 percent of total exports in 2008-2014. Furthermore, the top 13 products
exported by SSA were commodity products and accounted for 71 percent of total exports. Motor
vehicles for the transport of persons – 95 percent of which are exported from South Africa - came at
the 14th place and accounted for 1.2 percent of total exports. Such export concentration on primary
commodities reflects the high dependence of SSA economies on natural resources and the
weakness of their industrial sectors. Among primary commodities, exports are concentrated in
products with relatively low levels of value-added or processing, which limits further the already low
potential for employment creation typical of commodity outputs. The most emblematic case is that of
petroleum products that is at the top of SSA’s import and export lists, with crude petroleum being the
first exported product and refined petroleum the first imported one (see table 2).


Table 2: Top 15 exports and imports products in SSA1, 2008-2014
(Annual average, in $billions and in percentage)


Top 15 export products
in


billions


Share in
total


exports


Accumulated
share in total


exports
Top 15 import products


in
billions


Share in
total


imports


Accumulated
share in total


imports


[333] Petroleum oils, oils from
bitumin. materials, crude


168 45% 45% [334] Petroleum oils or
bituminous minerals > 70 %
oil


31 9% 9%


[334] Petroleum oils or
bituminous minerals > 70 % oil


12 3% 48% [333] Petroleum oils, oils from
bitumin. materials, crude


21 6% 16%


[343] Natural gas, whether or
not liquefied


11 3% 51% [781] Motor vehicles for the
transport of persons


11 3% 19%


[971] Gold, non-monetary
(excluding gold ores and
concentrates)


10 3% 54% [764] Telecommunication
equipment, n.e.s.; & parts,
n.e.s.


9 3% 22%


[072] Cocoa 9 2% 56% [723] Civil engineering &
contractors' plant &
equipment


8 2% 24%


[667] Pearls, precious & semi-
precious stones


9 2% 59% [782] Motor vehic. for
transport of goods, special
purpo.


7 2% 26%


[681] Silver, platinum, other
metals of the platinum group


9 2% 61% [542] Medicaments (incl.
veterinary medicaments)


6 2% 28%


[682] Copper 8 2% 63% [793] Ships, boats & floating
structures


5 2% 30%


[281] Iron ore and concentrates 7 2% 65% [042] Rice 5 1% 31%


[287] Ores and concentrates of
base metals, n.e.s.


6 2% 67% [041] Wheat (including spelt)
and meslin, unmilled


4 1% 32%


[321] Coal, whether or not
pulverized, not agglomerated


6 2% 68% [728] Other machinery for
particular industries, n.e.s.


4 1% 34%


[671] Pig iron & spiegeleisen,
sponge iron, powder & granu


5 1% 70% [716] Rotating electric plant &
parts thereof, n.e.s.


4 1% 35%


[057] Fruits and nuts (excluding
oil nuts), fresh or dried


4 1% 71% [679] Tubes, pipes & hollow
profiles, fittings, iron, steel


4 1% 36%


[781] Motor vehicles for the
transport of persons


4 1% 72% [752] Automatic data
processing machines, n.e.s.


3 1% 37%


[684] Aluminium 3 1% 73% [562] Fertilizers (other than
those of group 272)


3 1% 38%


Source: UNCTADstat. Data downloaded on December 2015
1 This table presents merchandise trade by product based on three digit level SITC Revision 3




15


Similar examples illustrating SSA’s specialization in the segments of commodity products with lower
value-added can be found for a number of other products: SSA registers surpluses in the
international trade of live animal but deficits in that of processed meats, milk and cream. The same
happens with unmanufactured tobacco versus manufactured tobacco, cacao versus chocolate,
natural rubber in primary form versus synthetic rubber and materials of rubber, ores and concentrates
of base metals versus wire products and manufactures of base metals, and so on. In general, SSA
largely exports its natural resources in raw form, and re-imports them transformed into intermediary
and finished products. The domestic value added incorporated in the exported commodities is
generally only a small portion of the final sales prices of the finished goods made from them, with the
bulk of total value added accruing overseas. This mode of integration in international trade is a bad
recipe for employment creation because unlike final products, export of primary commodities has
limited potential for job creation in the exporting country.


III. What are the Key Sources of External Finance in SSA?


Unilateral transfers – both current and capital - have always been the main source of external finance
in SSA. Their importance strongly increased during the 2000s - from 2.6 percent of GDP in the 1990s
to 4.4 in 2001-2013 – driven by the strong rise of workers’ remittances and capital transfers (mainly in
the form of debt forgiveness) that more than compensated for the decline in current transfers in the
form of aid, donations and official assistance (see figure 11) .


Although the importance of unilateral current and capital transfers greatly varies among countries, a
large majority have a strong reliance on these transfers. Among 37 Sub-Saharan African countries for
which data on unilateral transfers are available for 2001-2013, three – Côte d’Ivoire, South Africa and
Angola in this order – sent current transfers abroad more than they received, while 32 received a net
amount equivalent to more than 5 percent of their GDP (the ratio being higher than 10 per cent for 18
of them).


Since 2000, FDI flows replaced “other investments” (mainly foreign loans) as the main source of
external finance other than unilateral transfers. Net FDI flows more than doubled their share to GDP
from 0.9 per cent in the 1990s, to 2 per cent 2001-2013, while net flows of foreign loans registered a
drastic fall, reaching high negative values in 2001-2013 as a consequence of the debt relief initiatives
(see figure 11).













16


Figure 11: Sources of foreign finance in SSA, 1981-2013, net values,
(Percentage of GDP at current prices)




Source: IMF Balance of Payments Statistics for BOP components, and UNCTADstat for GDP. IMF data until 2004
downloaded on November 2015, all the other data downloaded on January 2016.


The high reliance of most SSA countries on unilateral transfers reflects their increasing dependence
on external sources to finance their investment and development needs. Although these transfers
represent a substantial source of external finance that can be an important tool for poverty
alleviation, they also entail significant costs. The strong reliance on income generated from external
sources increases the economic vulnerability of recipient countries and exposes them to the
economic cycle of the source countries. In addition, aid usually comes with a number of conditions
imposed by donors not only regarding how the aid should be spent, but also what should be the
general orientation of economic policy. The latter often interferes with effective policy-making by
forcing the adoption of policies generally inappropriate for the context in which they are applied.5
Furthermore, aid may make recipient governments more accountable to donors than to their citizens,
undermining long-term institutional development.


With regard to remittances, flows appear to benefit households, communities and the macro-
economy. But migration also implies sacrifices for the migrants and their families. It also contributes
to brain drain and can jeopardize long-term development. The high and increasing reliance on
workers’ remittances to attenuate external imbalances is a sign of the inadequacy of the existing
productive capacity in creating sufficient productive jobs to keep the workforce producing value at
home, instead of “exporting” it and receiving back part of its income. More generally, the reliance on



5 See UNCTAD (2000).


-1.5%


-1.0%


-0.5%


0.0%


0.5%


1.0%


1.5%


2.0%


2.5%


Other investments Portfoliio investments
and financial
derivatives


Unilateral capital
transfers (debt
forgiveness,


investment grants,
etc.)


Unilateral current
transfers (donations,


aids, official
assistance, etc.)


Unilateral current
transfers (workers


remittances)


FDI


1981-1990 1991-2000 2001-2013




17


aid and remittances can create perverse incentives, making it easier for governments to delay policy
reforms needed to improve the performance of the economy. The persistent influx of easy foreign
money foster the emergence of a “rentier state” mentality, weakening the incentives to seek
alternative revenue sources through effective policies that encourage diversified and self-
maintained investments, which are crucial for the creation of productive employment and poverty
alleviation.6


Beside unilateral transfers, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is also one of the main sources of external
finance for Sub-Saharan Africa. FDI is often seen as the preferred and safer alternative source of
private foreign capital for developing countries, because of its relative stability and its “non-debt-
creating” character. As it generally involves a long-term commitment to a country, it is "less subject
to capital reversals and contagion that affect other flows, since the presence of large, fixed, illiquid
assets makes rapid disinvestment more difficult than the withdrawal of short-term bank lending or the
sale of stock holdings" (World Bank, 1999, p. 54). In addition, as FDI inflows do not involve the direct
payment of principal and interest charges, "they are a preferred method of financing external current
account deficits, especially in developing countries, where these deficits can be large and sustained"
(Demekas et. al., 2005, p. 209).


The non-debt-creating nature of FDI gives the impression that no payments need to be made to
foreign direct investors. Although it is true that FDI does not involve the direct repayment of capital
and interest, foreign direct investors do not invest without the expectation of profit and the eventual
repatriation or relocation of the investment. Actually, the return on FDI is the highest compared to
that of other external sources of financing as the rates of profit of foreign firms largely exceed the rate
of interest on foreign loans or the rate of profit related to portfolio investments (see figure 12).7
However, developing countries seek to attract FDI not only as a source of financing, but also
because of its potential positive externalities in terms of access to skills, technology, and horizontal
and vertical spill-over effects that increase domestic firms´ productivity.8 The benefits of FDI and the
strength of the linkages it can establish with the host economy depend on a number of factors,
including the sector where the investment takes place, and the development level of the host
economy, especially its level of human capital development, the quality of its infrastructure and
institutions. A large proportion of FDI to Africa has gone into the extractive industry whose increasing
exports has been a major driver of SSA’s growth recovery since the early 2000s. However this
industry has frequently exhibited, in developing countries, low incidence of linkages between foreign
affiliates and the local economy9 due, among others, to the low absorptive capacity of the host
economies. Attracting finance into “enclave” sectors such as extractive industries that are high-
capital and low-labour intensive does not create significant jobs and sustained poverty reduction.


In general, and most importantly, FDI has potential benefits but does not automatically generate
positive externalities for the host economy. A variety of experiences underscore the crucial role of
government policy. In a number of developing countries in Asia that have been able to take
advantage of positive FDI externalities, the policy to attract FDI was part of a broader industrial



6 See, Inter-Parliamentary Union (2015); Action Aid (2011); Abuzeid (2009); and Moss et. al (2006).


7 See UNCTAD (1999) and Kregel (1996). See also for South African Case: African Development Bank Group
(2015).


8 Horizontal or intra-industry spill-overs may occur through labor turnover, demonstration and competition effects. Vertical
or inter-industry spillovers are related to buyer–supplier linkages and therefore may be from upstream sectors (forward
spill-overs) or downstream industries (backward spill-overs). See Ngoc (2015).


9 See UNCTAD (2007).




18


development strategy that includes among others, strong education policy, support to local
companies (training, preferential loans), the use of local advantages (such as market size or abundant
and low cost labour) as assets to bargain effectively with TNCs for government's preferences such as
a certain level of local content and national control of the technology transfer. Influencing TNCs
performance has been a key ingredient of industrial policies. However, these tools have been
progressively limited by a large number of bilateral and multilateral trade and investment agreements
signed by SSA countries that impose growing restrictions on policy space and thus on the policy
tools available to increase FDI positive externalities.10


Figure 12: Ratio of income payments to liabilities´ stock in SSA: FDI, Portfolio
and other investments, 2005, 2013 (Percentage)



Source: IMF BOP, data downloaded on January 2016.


The following countries are included: Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Cote d'Ivoire, Djibouti, Ghana, Guinea,
Guinea Bissau, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda,
and Zambia.


Data for Burkina Faso are only until 2010, Data for Senegal are only until 2011.


IV. Policy Recommendations


This paper examined trends and composition of the trade and current account balances and the
external sources of financing in SSA and found that many SSA countries have had chronic trade and
current account deficits over the past few decades. The paper also argued that growing trade and
current account deficits in SSA should be of concern to African policy makers because it makes the
continent vulnerable to externals shocks and, more importantly, has negative consequences for
employment and poverty reduction efforts. Against this backdrop, the current section of the paper
discusses some policy actions that governments can take to reverse the trade and current account
deficits and make trade work for Africa. In principle, if employment creation, inclusive growth, and
poverty reduction are the ultimate objectives of trade policy, then the strategy of insertion into the



10 See UNCTAD (2014b), UNCTAD (2012) and UNCTAD (2003).


0%


5%


10%


15%


20%


25%


30%


35%


2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013


FDI Portfolio Other investments




19


international economy should focus on how to link international trade with employment creation and
the development of productive capacity. An insertion into the global economy based on commodity
exports is certainly not the answer, which is to be found rather in the upgrading into differentiated
products with a higher content of skilled labor, technology, and innovation.


SSA countries need to address the reasons why stronger growth rates in GDP, trade and financial
flows have not stimulated economic diversification and job creation. The market-led development
model adopted by most SSA countries has apparently not succeeded in engaging a process of
structural transformation, and may have rather contributed to perpetuate commodity dependency by
assigning most of the resources to the most profitable sector - i.e. the extractive industry.
Specialization in the production of primary commodities is hardly a good recipe for sustainable
development. Not only does it present limited opportunities for income growth, but it can potentially
prevent the development of other more dynamic economic activities, unless it serves as a basis for
economic upgrading through progressively incorporating value-adding processes.


The importance of manufacturing for development is widely recognized, as very few countries have
been able to grow, accumulate wealth, and increase their living standard without investing in their
manufacturing industries. Manufacturing has historically been the driver of economic growth,
structural change, and catch-up. It opens opportunities for economies of scale, technological
progress and learning. It acts as a catalyst to transform the economic structure of countries, from
primary, slow-growing and low-value activities to more productive activities driven by technology and
innovation and with higher growth prospects. Manufacturing sector has “pull effect” on the other
sectors by stimulating the demand for more and better services in banking, insurance,
communications and transport and encouraging the development of human capital and the use of
technological advances in the agricultural sector. It provides – directly and indirectly - job
opportunities for the skilled labor force, which boosts revenues and sets the conditions for the
reduction of income inequality and poverty. Manufacturing also offers better growth prospects
because it generally does not suffer from a secular deterioration of terms of trade that have frustrated
the growth prospects of many commodity-dependent countries. 11


There are no examples of successful industrialization without a pro-active role for industrial policy.
But this does not mean that country experiences are identical. The now industrialized countries have
followed different paths depending on their initial conditions and endowments, and the timing of their
industrialization process. Not all experiences with industrial policies have been successful. Many
countries in Sub-Saharan Africa implemented industrial policies in the 1950s and 1960s that were
dismantled in the 1980s and 1990s under structural adjustments and trade liberalization policies,
which led to significant de-industrialization. Today, the absence of industrial policy in many SSA
countries is felt in the low levels of productive capacity – including human capital and infrastructure -,
the inability to compete in national and international markets, the high level of unemployment and the
large migratory movement of population to developed countries. Faced with that situation, some
governments in SSA are paying renewed attention to industrial policies, and reassessing its benefits
for structural transformation.


The development of productive capacities is a country-specific process and each country should
follow its own route and priorities that normally change over time. However, beyond their differences
SSA countries share common obstacles to the development of their manufacturing sector, the most
critical being inadequate infrastructure, in particular unreliable water and electricity supply, the lack of
access to an effective and efficient labor force, and competition by cheaper imports favored by trade



11 See UNCTAD (2015b), KPMG (2014), Naudé and Szirmai ( 2012); Uzochukwu (2012); Akyuz (2009); and Farfan (2005).




20


liberalization policy. They all need to put at the center of their development strategy the design of an
active industrial policy aimed at promoting growth with employment. It could start building on
existing productive resources - which include natural resources, human resources, and physical
capital - and setting conditions for the creation of a virtuous circle between investment, growth and
employment. Trade policy should be supportive of the overall development strategy that should use
international trade as an instrument for the attainment of the objectives of overall employment
promotion and poverty reduction rather than considering trade growth as an end in itself.


Building on natural resources could translate into focusing, in a first stage, on adding value to natural
resources, instead of producing and exporting raw materials, through progressively strengthening
their backward and forward linkages with the economy. This will favor employment creation and
import substitution. For example, agriculture activities could provide inputs to tourism, to large
retailers, and to manufacturing activities, especially food processing. Manufacturing activities that
provide inputs to agriculture (e.g. fertilizers, agriculture equipment) could also be progressively
developed. Some upstream and downstream linkages may also be developed with the extractive
industry, such as the provision of domestic inputs and the (at least partial) transformation of raw
materials.


This requires providing support to micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises which are essential
sources of job and important actors in the process of linkage building. Securing them access to
affordable loans should be a priority. Policy instruments can include requiring banks to devote a
share of their lending to productive capacity building by such excluded categories, public guarantees
for certain types of lending, direct provision of credit by public financial institutions, etc..


Building on natural resources could also translate for a number of mineral rich countries into
improving the capture of resources rent through tax on land, higher royalties, renegotiation of
concessions, participation in the ownership of extractive firms, etc., and using the accrued income in
investing in human capital and infrastructure. This is an example of how international trade, by
opening external markets to the sale of natural resources, can be an indirect vehicle for
industrialization and development.


The State can play a crucial role in capital formation through the structure and orientation of both
taxation and public expenditure. Increasing public spending (both investment and consumption) can
have an important impact on aggregate supply and demand and on the labour market. Public
investment in physical infrastructure (such as transport, communications, irrigation and energy) and
in human resources development (such as education, training, skills development, technological and
entrepreneurial capabilities) beside tackling serious bottlenecks to development, creates
employment, expands productive capacity, improves competitiveness and thus provides more
profitable investment opportunities for the private sector. Government procurement policy can be
used to induce employment creation and SMEs expansion. Jobs created by both the public and the
private sectors can have in turn a positive effect on aggregate demand, which can boost investment.


However, increasing demand for final consumption and investment goods will put a strain on the
trade balance due to high import leakages. Governments should invest time, energy and resources to
conceive a dynamic process that, taking into account the external constraints, engineers a gradual
building of productive capacity and economic linkages with the aim of progressively reducing the
mismatch between the structure of domestic production and the pattern of domestic demand. A
gradual diversification of production would generate new jobs and income, which increases
consumption that could be increasingly met by local production, which would further encourage local
producers to invest in more productive capacity, setting a virtuous cycle between investment, local
production, employment and income. In this context, macroeconomic policies should be supportive




21


to growth, job creation and sustainable development, going beyond the pure pursuit of price
stability.12


Finally governments interested in embarking in industrial policy that “defies” their current
comparative advantages may have to resolve the conundrum of being able to defend their own policy
space in an international environment upon which they increasingly rely and that pushes towards
governance under harmonized rules. SSA countries need to engineer their own solutions to the
developmental bottlenecks that they face. However, their obligations under WTO rules, investment
treaties, trade agreements, and aid conditions considerably restrict their policy options and the
instruments for industrial policy that they can use. In view of their structural development problems,
and as latecomers to industrialization, they need to be guaranteed sufficient policy space to find their
own solutions to their specific problems. It is therefore important that they press - individually and
collectively - for revisions and changes in the international governance architecture that give them
greater options to pursue appropriate development strategies.13





12 See UNCTAD (2013)


13 See UNCTAD (2014b); Naudé et. al. (2012); and Rodrik (2001)




22




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