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African Export Successes: Surprises, Stylized Facts, and Explanations

  • William Easterly
  • Ariell Reshef

We establish the following stylized facts: (1) Exports are characterized by Big Hits, (2) the Big Hits change from one period to the next, and (3) these changes are not explained by global factors like global commodity prices. These conclusions are robust to excluding extractable products (oil and minerals) and other commodities. Moreover, African Big Hits exhibit similar patterns as Big Hits in non-African countries. We also discuss some concerns about data quality. These stylized facts are inconsistent with the traditional view that sees African exports as a passive commodity endowment, where changes are driven mostly by global commodity prices. In order to better understand the determinants of export success in Africa we interviewed several exporting entrepreneurs, government officials and NGOs. Some of the determinants that we document are conventional: moving up the quality ladder, utilizing strong comparative advantage, trade liberalization, investment in technological upgrades, foreign ownership, ethnic networks, and personal foreign experience of the entrepreneur. Other successes are triggered by idiosyncratic factors like entrepreneurial persistence, luck, and cost shocks, and some of the successes occur in areas that usually fail.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 16597.

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Date of creation: Dec 2010
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Publication status: Forthcoming: African Export Successes: Surprises, Stylized Facts, and Explanations , William Easterly, Ariell Reshef. in African Successes: Modernization and Development , Edwards, Johnson, and Weil. 2014
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16597
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  1. Andrew B. Bernard & J. Bradford Jensen, 1997. "Exceptional Exporter Performance: Cause, Effect, or Both?," NBER Working Papers 6272, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Jonathan Eaton, Marcela Eslava, Maurice Kugler,James Tybout, 1970. "Export Dynamics in Colombia: Firm-Level Evidence," Working Papers eg0036, Wilfrid Laurier University, Department of Economics, revised 1970.
  3. Freund, Caroline & Pierola, Martha Denisse, 2010. "Export entrepreneurs : evidence from Peru," Policy Research Working Paper Series 5407, The World Bank.
  4. Alejandro Artopoulos & Daniel Friel & Juan Carlos Hallak, 2010. "Challenges of Exporting Differentiated Products to Developed Countries: The Case of SME-Dominated Sectors in a Semi-Industrialized Country," Research Department Publications 4677, Inter-American Development Bank, Research Department.
  5. Costas Arkolakis, 2008. "Market Penetration Costs and the New Consumers Margin in International Trade," NBER Working Papers 14214, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Sofronis Clerides & Saul Lach & James Tybout, 1996. "Is "learning-by-exporting" important? Micro-dynamic evidence from Colombia, Mexico and Morocco," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 96-30, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  7. Tibor Besedes & Thomas J. Prusa, 2007. "The Role of Extensive and Intensive Margins and Export Growth," NBER Working Papers 13628, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. James E. Rauch & Joel Watson, 1999. "Starting Small in an Unfamiliar Environment," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1218, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  9. William Easterly, 2003. "Can Foreign Aid Buy Growth?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 17(3), pages 23-48, Summer.
  10. Juan Carlos Hallak & Daniel Friel & Alejandro Artopoulos, 2010. "Challenges of Exporting Differentiated Products to Developed Countries: The Case of SME-dominated Sectors in a Semi-," 2010 Meeting Papers 1063, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  11. Cadot, Olivier & Iacovone, Leonardo & Pierola, Denisse & Rauch, Ferdinand, 2011. "Success and failure of African exporters," Policy Research Working Paper Series 5657, The World Bank.
  12. Costas Arkolakis & Marc-Andreas Muendler, 2010. "The Extensive Margin of Exporting Products: A Firm-level Analysis," CESifo Working Paper Series 3309, CESifo Group Munich.
  13. Freund, Caroline & Rocha, Nadia, 2010. "What constrains Africa's exports ?," Policy Research Working Paper Series 5184, The World Bank.
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