Monday, December 10, 2007

Good investment, bad investment: exports in the age of globalization

Instead of rummaging through hotel mini-bars in Lisbon, at least a few Africans got together and debated the state of economies and exports in the age of globalization.

The verdict at the Helsinki Process on Globalization and Democracy, held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: Africans should not be concentrating on solely export products. Rather, they should build up local and regional markets.

From IPS

‘The assumption is if we export primary commodities, they will raise capital which will have a ‘trickle-down effect’ and address developmental needs. But, as you know, that is not happening, despite many of our goods and resources being exported,’’ said Michelle Pressend, senior researcher at the South African international relations think tank the Institute for Global Dialogue.

"We should only trade in things we don’t have. For example, if we can’t manufacture medical equipment, we can import it. But food and basic necessities are things that African countries can produce themselves.’’

‘‘Countries need to take into account their resource bases. There are countries that are water scarce, like South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. Perhaps they shouldn’t be focusing on agriculture. Maybe this should be left to countries like Zambia and Zimbabwe that have water. They should be growing maize and other agricultural products.’’

Most African economies are dependent on a single commodity for a majority of export GDP, placing African states at the mercy of often fickle international commodities markets. However, these export commodities provide the chance to African governments to earn foreign currency, which they can buy other exports.

Another problem with relying on commodities is that African states don’t recoup any benefit by producing or finishing the commodities. For example, the cocoa grown in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana is processed in Europe, where it becomes high-value chocolate (and other things). The same goes with Shea butter in Burkina Faso. What’s stopping countries from investing to be able to “finish” one of their commodities?

Investors are now flocking to Africa and its expanding economies. However, many of these projects seem to be of the resource-based industries: logging, mining, etc. These may produce good short-term results – and jobs – but what is the long-term game plan here? Without technology transfer, so Africans can do the work themselves, or well planned environmental policies, rich countries will continue to reap while the Africans sow.

A worthwhile choice is increasing regional integration, another proposal brought up at the symposium in Dar es Salaam.

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