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UNCTAD statistics show steady growth rates in exports of African goods and services

In Africa, population is not the only factor that is growing fast. The UNCTAD Handbook of Statistics 2023, released yesterday, shows that in 2022, African developing economies experienced one of the highest rise in exports (16.9 per cent) at global level. Unfortunately, the structure of African states remains strongly concentrated in primary goods, which accounted for 79 per cent of merchandise exports, with fuels representing 42 per cent of such exports, followed by ores, metals, precious stones and non-monetary gold. Particularly low, instead, are food exports, representing a modest 11 per cent of outward trade flows of the continent, as shown in figure 1.

Figure 1: Export structure of developing economies by product group, 2022

UNCTAD has developed the product concentration index to measure the extent to which a large share of exports is accounted for by a small number of product groups. An high value in this index (close to 1) shows that an economy exports only a limited group of products, while a value close to 0 means a more diversified export basket. In this regard, sub-Saharan Africa performs better than Northern Africa, where exports are heavily dominated by hydrocarbons, but its ranking is quite low, on average (figure 2). Among the Sub-Saharan African economies that are more dependant on export of natural resources, Mali (0.85), Guinea-Bissau (0.85), South Sudan (0.84), and Botswana (0.79), are on the top.

Figure 2: Product concentration index of exports, 2022

With regard to the trade in services sector, Africa performs surprisingly well, having the highest differential between imports and exports, as shown in the figure below.

Figure 3: Services trade annual growth rates, 2022

This confirms that services are among the most dynamic sectors of the economy in Africa, where exports contribute for an important share to the continental GDP, driven by travel and transport services, which represented in 2022 close to 60 per cent of all services exported (fugure 4).

Figure 4: Structure of services exports, 2022

Significant is also the growth in exports of digitally deliverable services, which include insurance, pension, financial, intellectual property usage, telecommunications, computer, information, research-and-development, professional-and-management, architectural, engineering, scientific, trade-related, other business, audiovisual, health, education, heritage, and recreational services. This may be the beginning of a trend for Africa (as well as for all other developing economies), to lead digital transformation processes, considering that developed countries are losing ground, since their digitally deliverable services exports have not grown at all from 2021 to 2022, as shown in the graphic below, even if the gap is still huge.

Figure 5: Export trends of digitally deliverable services and other types of services, 2015–2022

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