The trade policy choices of ruling elites are significantly influenced by their political survival, particularly in countries heavily dependent on a few commodity exports. This phenomenon is especially evident in West Africa, where the behavior of ruling elites and their trade policy decisions have been closely examined since the 1960s. The study focused on countries with strong trade partnerships with the European Union (EU), such as Burkina Faso, Senegal, and Ivory Coast.
Economic crises pose a threat to the survival of ruling elites, leading to political crises. When a government relies on a single commodity for revenue and the price of that commodity significantly drops, they may feel threatened. In response, ruling elites can choose to diversify their economies to reduce their dependence on a limited range of commodity exports. Alternatively, they can enter into trade agreements that secure the prices of their key commodity exports, as some West African countries have done. However, the latter option often results in a trap.
The research suggests that trade partnerships with the EU tend to function as systems of extraversion for West African ruling elites. To ensure their political survival, these elites often structure their trade relations with the EU to maintain a sense of dependency, perpetuating a neo-colonial economic system that hinders economic diversification in the region.
The study examined the impact of the Yaoundé Conventions (1963-1975), comparing countries that signed these conventions (including Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Niger) with those that did not (including Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Gambia). Signatory countries experienced faster economic growth and fewer political crises during the conventions, while non-signatory countries were more successful in diversifying their economies.
The research underscores the connection between political survival and economic change in West African countries, with trade partnerships often serving to maintain existing economic systems. This approach hampers efforts to achieve diversification and sustainable development, highlighting the importance of understanding the impact of EU trade partnerships on the incentive structure of ruling elites in African countries. While intra-Africa trade, exemplified by the African Continental Free Trade Area, is a positive trend, EU trade partnerships continue to play a vital role for some African nations, often surpassing the significance of regional or continental trade agreements.