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Champions Wanted


  • Mélise Jaud
  • Caroline Freund


While other emerging regions were thriving, MENA's aggregate export performance over the past two decades has been consistently weak. Using detailed firm-level export data from Customs administrations, this report explains why. One central finding is that the size distribution of MENA's exporting firms is suggestive of a critical weakness at the top. With the exception of the top firm, MENA's elite exporters are smaller and weaker compared to their peers in other regions. The largest exporter is alone at the top-Zidane without a team. MENA countries have failed to nurture a group of export superstars which critically contribute to export success in other regions. Part of the reason behind weak export performance is the lack of a competitive real exchange rate. The deleterious effects of an uncompetitive currency can be traced all the way down to the firm, hurting expansion at the intensive and extensive margin and preventing the emergence of export take-offs. The lack of heavy weight exporters at the top of the distribution also reflects the region's failure to push for trade and business climate reforms energetically. Finally, MENA's prevalent cronyism and corruption under pre-Arab Spring regimes (at least) confirms that business-government ties led to distortionary allocation of favors and rent dissipation by beneficiary firms, with little evidence that those firms developed into national champions or helped lift the region's export performance. The possibility of state capture in itself should call for caution when advocating any form of government intervention. In contrast, some interventions, like export promotion programs show effects on small exporters. However, because these firms are marginal in trade, such programs cannot be game changers. More broadly, the success of MENA countries in promoting export growth and diversification as well as generating jobs depends heavily on their ability to create an environment where large firms can invest and expand exports and new, efficient firms can rise to the top.

Suggested Citation

  • Mélise Jaud & Caroline Freund, 2015. "Champions Wanted," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 21638, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbpubs:21638

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Fafchamps, Marcel & El Hamine, Said & Zeufack, Albert, 2002. "Learning to export - evidence from Moroccan manufacturing," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2827, The World Bank.
    2. Bernard, Andrew B. & Bradford Jensen, J., 1999. "Exceptional exporter performance: cause, effect, or both?," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 47(1), pages 1-25, February.
    3. World Bank, 2009. "From Privilege to Competition : Unlocking Private-Led Growth in the Middle East and North Africa," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 13524, March.
    4. Cadot, Olivier & Fernandes, Ana M. & Gourdon, Julien & Mattoo, Aaditya, 2015. "Are the benefits of export support durable? Evidence from Tunisia," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 97(2), pages 310-324.
    5. Hausmann, Ricardo & Rodrik, Dani, 2003. "Economic development as self-discovery," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(2), pages 603-633, December.
    6. Bob Rijkers & Leila Baghdadi & Gael Raballand, 2017. "Political Connections and Tariff Evasion Evidence from Tunisia," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 31(2), pages 459-482.
    7. Aw, Bee Yan & Chung, Sukkyun & Roberts, Mark J, 2000. "Productivity and Turnover in the Export Market: Micro-level Evidence from the Republic of Korea and Taiwan (China)," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 14(1), pages 65-90, January.
    8. Arne Bigsten & Paul Collier & Stefan Dercon & Marcel Fafchamps & Bernard Gauthier & Jan Willem Gunning & Jean Habarurema & Abena Oduro & Remco Oostendorp & Catherine Pattillo & Måns Söderbom & Francis, 2000. "Exports and firm-level efficiency in African manufacturing," CSAE Working Paper Series 2000-16, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.
    9. repec:wbk:wbpubs:13523 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Rijkers, Bob & Freund, Caroline & Nucifora, Antonio, 2017. "All in the family: State capture in Tunisia," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 124(C), pages 41-59.
    11. repec:fth:oxesaf:2000-16 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. World Bank, 2014. "Jobs or Privileges : Unleashing the Employment Potential of the Middle East and North Africa," World Bank Other Operational Studies 19292, The World Bank.
    13. Lederman, Daniel & Olarreaga, Marcelo & Payton, Lucy, 2010. "Export promotion agencies: Do they work?," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(2), pages 257-265, March.
    14. Raymond Fisman, 2001. "Estimating the Value of Political Connections," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(4), pages 1095-1102, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Uri Dadush, 2015. "Economic integration in the time of turmoil," Policy notes & Policy briefs 1515, OCP Policy Center.


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