While most economists accept that, in the long run, open economies fare better in aggregate than do closed ones, many observers fear that trade harms the poor. African countries, for example, have experienced significant improvements in trade liberalization in recent decades. But Africa remains the poorest continent in the world. It seems that the large gains expected from opening up to international economic forces have been limited in Africa, especially for poor people.
So does trade reduce poverty? In a recent World Bank Policy Research Working Paper, my colleague Maëlan Le Goff and I examine this question, looking at the connection between poverty and trade liberalization in 30 African countries between 1981 and 2000. Our results suggest that trade does tend to reduce poverty, but only in specific settings: in countries where financial sectors are deep, education levels high, and governance strong.