• home

    Africa's Export Success Stories


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 1/2001 

    While Africa faces tremendous challenges on the road to integration into the world trading system, there is more to Africa's trade performance than meets the eye. Many African export sectors have outperformed world market growth. Champions in the African export portfolio include cut flowers, frozen fish, t-shirts, women's trousers, footwear and transistors. These cases illustrate that Africa can compete.

    These are among the findings of the International Trade Centre's new Trade Performance Index, launched in Bangkok at UNCTAD X. The Trade Performance Index ranks the export performance of 184 countries in 14 export sectors, placing export sectors in all countries on a global competitiveness ladder. The Trade Performance Index is based on 1998 export performance, as well as shifts in export performance between 1994 and 1998.

    The Trade Performance Index was simultaneously launched on ITC's web site (http://www.intracen.org), with graphs and tables for African countries, as well as all other countries.

    Africa diversifies 

    Africa's exports in 1998 totalled an estimated US$ 124 billion. Between 1994 and 1998, Africa's total non-oil exports expanded at a robust 5% each year. Behind these figures are success stories for a variety of products and countries.

    Traditionally a commodity exporter, Africa is diversifying into industrial goods and services. Tunisia is a good example of Africa's emerging growth areas. Exports of electronic components have passed the US$ 500 million mark, expanding at annual rates of 22% for several years. In clothing, despite fierce global competition, Tunisia has been able to increase its market share. It now ranks eighth among 184 countries in the Trade Performance Index for clothing, reflecting exports of US$ 2.5 billion to a diversified group of countries. Mauritius, Africa's other major clothing exporter, has also increased its world market share, supplying garments worth US$ 1 billion.

    In textiles, the continent's leading suppliers are South Africa, Morocco and Zimbabwe. More recently, a number of very successful small companies are driving rapid improvement in textile exports in Cameroon, Madagascar and Sudan.

    Leading positions in international trade 

    Southern Africa has joined the ranks of the world's leading trading areas. In five out of the 14 sectors covered by the Trade Performance Index, the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) figures among the world's top 15 exporters. Transport equipment is one example, where SACU ranks ninth, with exports of US$ 1.4 billion and a high degree of product and market diversification.

    South Africa, the largest member of SACU, has experienced growing interest of transnational corporations to invest in the country, as shown by UNCTAD's recent survey on foreign direct investment in Africa.

    Success stories of African exporters are not confined, as is often perceived, to the Maghreb countries and southern Africa. Exports in sub-Saharan Africa (excluding southern Africa) are far from marginal for some product groups. This region, for instance, is a major net exporter of fresh food and agro-based products. Moreover, several countries are improving their competitiveness in exports of processed food, as evidenced from the change in competitive position in the Trade Performance Index for Kenya, Malawi, Ghana and Mozambique.

    LDCs participate 

    Low-income countries are also focusing on international business development. Despite being landlocked and among the group of least developed countries (LDCs), Ethiopia has become a competitive international supplier of several products and services. Ethiopian producers are now a leading source for sesame seeds, with an 11% share of world imports. Ethiopia's coffee export values and quantities have expanded at double-digit rates between 1994 and 1998, earning well over US$ 300 million in 1998 (1999 earnings were lower, reflecting weaker market prices). Ethiopian transport companies, including Ethiopian Airlines, chalked up export earnings from transport services of US$ 180 million in 1998.

    About ITC's Trade Analysis Services 

    ITC has four tools to benchmark national and sectoral trade performance, and assess comparative and competitive advantage.

    • Trade Performance Index: The Trade Performance Index is a succinct annual assessment of trade performance of 184 countries. It evaluates 1998 export performance in 14 sectors for each of these countries. It also measures shifts in export performance over the five-year period from 1994 to 1998, in order to evaluate change in a country's competitive position for each sector.

    • TradeMaps: TradeMaps provide product-specific information on national exports and international demand. ITC has developed TradeMaps for all African countries as part of its research on African export success stories, underpinning the research for the Trade Performance Index.

    • PC-TAS: The analysis found in TradeMaps is based on official trade statistics from COMTRADE, the world's largest trade database, which is maintained by the United Nations Statistics Division. ITC and the UN jointly publish this database on CD-ROM, entitled PC-TAS.

    • TradeSim: TradeSim is an econometric gravity model that estimates bilateral trade potential.

    For more information, contact Friedrich von Kirchbach, Chief, Market Analysis Section, at mas@intracen.org or see ITC's web site at http://www.intracen.org