Editor's Note: "Notes From the Field" is an occasional feature where we let World Bank Group professionals conducting interesting trade-related projects around the globe explain some of the challenges and triumphs of their day-to-day work. The views expressed here are personal and should not be attributed to the World Bank Group. All interviews have been edited for clarity.
The interview below was conducted with Mariam Diop, a Senior Economist with the World Bank Group. Mariam is based in the country office in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, where she carries out work in the WBG’s new Macro and Fiscal Management Global Practice. Mariam has been deeply involved with the country’s Diagnostic Trade Integration Studies (DTIS), which has helped to identify a number of key restraints on economic growth and shared prosperity in Burkina Faso. The Trade Post spoke with Mariam about what brought her to the country, where she sees opportunities, and how the DTIS has helped on the ground.
The Trade Post: How did you end up working on trade issues in Burkina Faso?
Mariam: I’m from here. I grew up here in Ouagadougou, from primary school through university, where I studied law and economics. I began my career in the Ministry of Economy and Finance working on development issues, and this was my first exposure to IMF and World Bank programs within the country.
Later I received my Master’s Degree in Economics in France, and my first job dealt with trade barriers, tariffs within West African countries—issues like these. So, my interest in the impact of growth and prosperity, both in Africa and around the World, really continued to deepen.
Since coming back to Burkina, I’ve always had an interest in working on trade. I’m convinced it can have a positive impact on economic growth and on the millions of poor households here. And I’m very happy working on these issues because I believe my work and that of my colleagues is truly relevant and valuable here.
The Trade Post: What makes working in Burkina unique compared to other countries where you have worked?
Mariam: Burkina is definitely a very unique place. It’s a very young population, one that has a reputation worldwide for being hard working. But this is a landlocked country. It has only two export commodities—cotton and gold, and being a relatively small producer, it’s a “price taker,” as we say, on the international market.
The second thing to understand is that, despite sound economic growth, the country is still lagging behind most Sub-Saharan African countries in terms of the trade agenda. If you look at the ratio of trade to GDP over the last ten years, Burkina stands at around 34 percent. Mali is at 42 percent, Chad at 99 percent. So, it’s clear that Burkina is less open to the rest of the world.
But there are huge opportunities here, especially in the country’s services trade and tourism. At the same time, there are a lot of constraints—such as transport and energy costs—that are impeding these opportunities, and impeding development in general.
The Trade Post: So, there is a lot of work to be done to maximize some of these opportunities. Where do you see the greatest challenges in your day-to-day work?
Mariam: For me, one of the most important challenges is trying to help build national stakeholders’ capacity—especially for those involved in trade issues. There is more than enough government goodwill and political will to move forward on the trade agenda, but the capacity isn’t always there.
There are constraints that need to be addressed in the short term. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet done enough to develop the necessary skills within the Ministry of Trade. The staff is highly fluid, and we need a concentrated, long-term effort from a resourceful team.
The Trade Post: How are you helping to overcome these challenges?
Mariam: Well, when you look back over the last thirteen years, the country has achieved robust economic growth. But this hasn’t translated to a significant reduction of poverty. This gap between growth in some areas and entrenched poverty in others is especially evident and important in rural areas. Part of what my team has done is to try and diagnose the reasons for these failures.
Currently, I am working on the analytical work related to the country’s Diagnostic Trade Integration Study, or what we call a “DTIS.” This has been prepared under the Enhanced Integrated Framework for Trade Related Technical Assistance to Least Developed Countries, in response to a request from the Government of Burkina Faso.
The second round of the DTIS is now completed. The main findings consist of ways to break through the constraints related to export diversification, regulations and institutional frameworks, and non-tariff measures. There are also plans to sit down with stakeholders and discuss what can be done to help with energy, telecommunications, and transport costs.
In addition, I’ve been assisting with many reforms related to trade and the business environment under the umbrella of DPOs [development policy operations] in Burkina for a while. I’m currently a co-TTL [team task leader] for the national DPO, and part of the team of the regional DPO related to trade facilitation between Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire.
Trade Post: How will this translate into the lives of Burkina citizens?
Mariam: All of these projects are in line with the Bank Group’s goals of economic growth and reducing extreme poverty. Supporting the country in further breaking down constraints—part of the DTIS action plan—will help increase and diversify exports, which have been one of the key drivers of economic growth here in Burkina.
Through the national DPO, reforms on mining regulations and female empowerment programs, for example, will help improve the country’s competitiveness, and make growth more sustainable. They’ll also improve women’s livelihoods in vulnerable households, helping them to sell their products and fabrics on the market.
It’s reforms like these—both nationally and regionally—that will help facilitate trade, give more room to increase exports, make economic growth more inclusive, and share its dividends.
The Trade Post: Having been involved in such a range of projects, what are some of the unexpected lessons you’ve come to learn?
Mariam: Sometimes it’s not that something is unexpected, but what you learn is the scale of the impact. The DTIS, for example, highlighted the fact that the lack of coordination among national institutions was detrimental to small and medium enterprises. This was having a big impact. Institutional frameworks and ownership by the client are very key for the success of reforms.
The national DPO, as another example, really taught us to look at trade and competitiveness reforms as an entry point for solving the most important bottlenecks of economic growth in the medium term.
The Trade Post: Do you feel progress being made?
Mariam: Yes, small and medium enterprises now have access to counseling on how to deal with foreign investors. An export promotion agency was established to help with this. The government set it up following the recommendations of the draft DTIS report. This, in combination with a number of other key sectoral reforms, has really helped attract more investors in these small and medium enterprises.
Empowering women has also been incredibly beneficial, thanks in part to the national DPO. This helped in smoothing access to credit, and in job creation in peri-urban and rural areas.
The Trade Post: So how can we build on this success?
Mariam: The DTIS team presented its final recommendations to national stakeholders in late September, and now we are working on forming these recommendations into concrete actions.
There really is a lot of opportunity in Burkina right now. There’s great opportunity in services, like banking and tourism. And the recent discovery of minerals in Burkina is another opportunity to make economic growth work in accordance with national strategic objectives. The challenge, again, will be making sure this economic growth is more inclusive.
The country needs to move forward, to a second generation of reforms on business climate and trade facilitation. As a “Knowledge Bank,” we can play a key role in supporting the country on the path to this next generation of reforms.