Why African Resource Exporting Nations Need Tariffs

by John Brian Shannon

Many nations in Africa are presently experiencing a boom in resource exports. And that is truly wonderful news as exports of any kind contribute handsomely to national GDP and balance-of-trade figures. Not only that, millions of dollars of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) often accompany resource exports.

For workers involved in the resource sector of a nation, it is unquestionably a positive development. Many other businesses and citizens at the periphery of the resource sector benefit too.

But does resource extraction benefit the rest of the society? It is heartening when one sector experiences strong growth – but when that rapid economic growth is limited to a small proportion of the population, tensions can become inflamed.

Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics and Professor at Columbia University has noted the problems inherent to resource-based economies in his recent and excellent article; “From Resource Curse to Blessing” which I urge you to read. Early into his piece, he says;

“On average, resource-rich countries have done even more poorly than countries without resources. They have grown more slowly, and with greater inequality – just the opposite of what one would expect.” — Stiglitz

Rather than develop the resource sector to the exclusion of all else and hope the rest of the society holds itself together — it would be prudent to tax all raw resources which are leaving the country.

In that case, comparatively few people will still make a good living directly from the oil (or other resource) company, while the rest of the country benefits in other ways from additional government spending on programs like improvements to national infrastructure, such as airports, highway systems, rail transportation and hospitals and schools on account of the tariff revenue.

When governments take in additional multi-millions of dollars from raw resource tariffs they will have additional money to improve services across the country.

The one thing governments shouldn’t do is add a tariff when resource prices are high! The major powers in the world will not let that happen as prices begin to skyrocket because that will add to uncertainty in the stock market and huge pressure will be brought to bear against any government attempting such a thing.

The time to add a small tariff is now, when prices are comparatively low and therefore, complaints will be few. Prices won’t drop much anytime soon. Due to the supply and demand equation they will be more often rising in the coming decades.

As we know, many African nations export significant amounts of unrefined oil, raw metals (ore and ingots), minerals or uncut and un-mounted gemstones. When African nations implement a 5% tariff on every exported tonne of resource — or barrel of oil — their economies will fire on all cylinders and with little complaint from rapidly growing and resource-hungry nations.

John Brian Shannon

ABOUT JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

I write about green energy, sustainable development and economics. My blogs appear in the Arabian Gazette, EcoPoint, EnergyBoom, Huffington Post, United Nations Development Programme, WACSI — and other quality publications.

“It is important to assist all levels of government and the business community to find sustainable ways forward for industry and consumers.”

Green Energy blog: http://johnbrianshannon.com
Economics blog: https://jbsnews.wordpress.com
Twitter: @JBSCanada

Why Resource-based Economies Need Tariffs

by John Brian Shannon

Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics and Professor at Columbia University has noted the problems inherent to resource-based economies in his recent and excellent article; “From Resource Curse to Blessing” which I urge you to read. Early into his piece, he says;

“On average, resource-rich countries have done even more poorly than countries without resources. They have grown more slowly, and with greater inequality – just the opposite of what one would expect.” — Stiglitz

The usual solution to the inevitable slowing of a resource-based economy is to facilitate ever more extraction — in the hopes that more resource dollars will stimulate growth and compensate for the lack of progress in other sectors.

Time and time again this fails to work and to make matters worse, other sectors of the economy grow weaker in almost direct correlation with mounting resource exports. Manufacturing often takes the greatest hit.

Moreover, resource-rich countries often do not pursue sustainable growth strategies. They fail to recognize that if they do not reinvest their resource wealth into productive investments above ground, they are actually becoming poorer. Political dysfunction exacerbates the problem, as conflict over access to resource rents gives rise to corrupt and undemocratic governments. — Stiglitz

The government line on this is usually; “We should concentrate on what we do best.” Which is fine except that in so doing, the rest of the economy slowly slips toward the day when the government must then announce; ‘The majority of the resources are gone, we now must rebuild our economy from scratch.” This is when economists are finally consulted and listened to — but are then expected to solve the entire problem by the weekend, with nothing more than a magic wand and an algebraic/transcendental incantation.

Resource-based economies should commit to robust and long-term economic development throughout the economy well before such cantrip is required.

Real development requires exploring all possible linkages: training local workers, developing small and medium-size enterprises to provide inputs for mining operations and oil and gas companies, domestic processing, and integrating the natural resources into the country’s economic structure. Of course, today, these countries may not have a comparative advantage in many of these activities, and some will argue that countries should stick to their strengths. From this perspective, these countries’ comparative advantage is having other countries exploit their resources.

That is wrong. What matters is dynamic comparative advantage, or comparative advantage in the long run, which can be shaped. Forty years ago, South Korea had a comparative advantage in growing rice. Had it stuck to that strength, it would not be the industrial giant that it is today. It might be the world’s most efficient rice grower, but it would still be poor. — Stiglitz

The problem of course, is how to fund the necessary investment in the non-resource economy. And what level of funding do non-resource sectors enjoy at the present? Less than you might imagine.

Of all solutions, the simplest usually work best. Which is why a nominal export tax is a necessary ingredient to any resource-based economy to assist the national economy maintain a quantitative balance.

After all, taxing natural resources at high rates will not cause them to disappear, which means that countries whose major source of revenue is natural resources can use them to finance education, health care, development, and redistribution. — Stiglitz

There is little need for domestic resource taxes in nations where the majority of resources are exported. Such ‘recycling’ of citizen’s money adds little ‘new money’ to the economy and irritates voters, while the most efficient economic performance enhancement available comes from export tariffs and FDI.

Both export tariffs and FDI revenue streams represent new money entering the system which means unlike domestic taxation, citizens are not paying for other citizens employment programs — foreign interests will be paying that bill.

When resource-based economies implement a 5% to 8% export tariff on every exported tonne of coal/metals/minerals, or barrel of oil, their economies will fire on all cylinders — and with little complaint from the rapidly growing and resource-hungry nations.

John Brian Shannon