A decade of elevated oil prices brought prosperity to many developing countries. Incomes rose, poverty shrank, macroeconomic buffers were rebuilt. The fiscal space for investing more in education and infrastructure increased, resulting in better sharing of prosperity. At the same time, higher commodity prices and surging global demand resulted in much more concentrated exports in all developing oil-rich countries. "Diversifying exports" became a priority for policy makers and development economists around the world. Historical experience and evidence to the contrary from successful resource rich countries notwithstanding, many widely believe that a more diversified export structure should be an important national goal and may well be a synonym for development, a goal that government can target and achieve. And a more diversified export structure typically meant a smaller share of commodity exports in total shipments abroad or a reduced concentration – as measured by the Herfindahl-Hirschmann index – of exports.
The recent, precipitous decline in oil prices (35 percent so far this year) has revived the question of how oil-exporting countries should manage their budgets. These countries’ governments rely on oil revenues for 60-90 percent of their spending. In light of the price drop, should governments cut expenditures, including growth-promoting investment expenditures? Or should they dip into the money they saved when oil prices were high, and keep expenditures on an even keel? Since oil prices fluctuate up and down, governments are looking for rules that guide expenditure decisions, rather than leaving it to the politicians in power at the time to decide whenever there is a price shock. The successful experience of Norway and Chile, which used strict fiscal rules to make sure that resource windfalls are saved and not subject to the irresistible temptation to spend, is often contrasted with countries such as Nigeria and Cameroon, which didn’t.
Some Myths about Informal Trade in Developing Countries
By definition, informal trade is difficult to measure because even if everyone has seen it, there is no evidence of it in official statistics. Thus, estimates are often difficult to arrive at and quite costly because they require the collection of data from several sources (customs data, data from border surveys, local economic and social statistics, interviews with actors and stakeholders in the sectors concerned).
However, such efforts appear to be bearing fruit: as information and data production improves, a number of assertions based on rumors or even beliefs are contradicted by actual figures. It is especially interesting to note that the phenomena and characteristics of informal trade are the same, whether in central Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, or North Africa.
Trafficking in West Africa
Trafficking is not new to West Africa, but its magnitude is. From Northern Mali to The Gambia, smugglers have traded fuel, cigarettes and staple food for decades. Longstanding trade routes and interregional tribal connections have allowed illegal cross-border trading to grow alongside traditional commercial practices.