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French Neo-Colonialism? Franco-African Trade
Emmanuelle Lavalle Julie Lochard
Very preliminary and incomplete. Please do not quote.
Author Keywords: Trade; Decolonization; French Empire, Sub-Saharan Africa.
JEL classification codes: F10; F54.
PSL, Universit Paris-Dauphine, LEDa, UMR DIAL. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.Erudite, University of Paris-Est Crteil Val de Marne. Email: email@example.com.
Over the long run, politics had obviously shaped the pattern of international trade (Findlay and
ORourke, 2007). Over the recent past, evidence are fragmented and sometimes contradictory,
especially as far as power plays in the international order is concerned.1 For instance, Berger et al.
(2013) show that increased political influence, due to CIA intervention during the Cold War, was
used to create a larger foreign market for American products. Following CIA intervention, imports
from the US increased dramatically while total exports to the US were unaffected. Mityakov,
Tang and Tsui (2013), on the other hand, show that deterioration of relations between the United
States and another country reduced U.S. imports from that country, but that the magnitude of the
effect is small and limited to petroleum and some chemical products. Beyond the United States,
the influence of other powers, like the USSR, Great Britain or France may have determined the
pattern and the evolution of foreign exchanges. France offers an interesting case in this regard. It
maintained strong connections with its former colonies in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Indeed, in this
region, independence did not radically change relations between France and its former colonies.
Contrary to what happened in former colonies located in other parts of the world, France and
its former colonies in SSA kept on having strong economic and political links at least until the
beginning of the 1990s. Do this special Franco-African Relation (hereafter FAR) promote French
The French influence operated both at the political and economic level. It included not only
secret cooperation agreements, but also personal and friendly ties between French and African top-
level officials or development assistance. Beyond anecdotal evidence, singular FAR are likely to
have influenced trade. They may explain why, more than 50 years after their independence, former
French SSA colonies still trade more with their former colonizer than other African former colonies
(de Sousa and Lochard, 2012). To the best of our knowledge, the impacts of FAR on French-African
trade have never been explored at least in a comprehensive empirical manner. Little explored in
economics, a large literature deals with this issue in political sciences. Yet, Franco-African relations
are an area where objective and scientific knowledge is still relatively scarce. The aim of this paper is
twofold. First, it intends to test whether FAR distorted French exports towards SSA former French
colonies and to isolate the products that were the most affected. Second, it aims at explaining the
drivers of this potential Franco-African trade gap.
To examine the consequences on trade of FAR, we use data for bilateral aggregated and sectoral
exports of France with 188 partner countries over the period 1960-20072. Aggregate trade data are
taken from the International Monetary Funds Direction of Trade Statistics (DOTS) and sectoral
1As opposed to intra-state or inter-state wars which impact on trade as been studied by Martinet al., 2008 for instance)
21962 for sectoral data
trade data, at the four-digit level, come from commodity trade statistics database of the United
Nations Statistics Division (UN Comtrade). In addition to disentangle the drivers of this FAR effect
on trade, we gathered a bunch of data on development assistance, migration, military interventions,
or on political proximity as well as original data on inter-personal ties between French and African
officials. The later is approximated by bilateral visits of top-level officials between France and
foreign countries collected from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
We find that FAR distorted French exports in favor of its former SSA colonies. Indeed, our
results indicate that France exported significantly more to its former SSA colonies, as compared
to other countries, whether they be in development or other former French colonies. This extra-
trade between France and its former SSA colonies closely reflects the twists and turns of the
FAR. For example, the gap started to narrow when FAR began to fall apart at end of the 1980s.
Furthermore, this FAR effect is robust to the introduction of additional explanatory variables or the
use of other methods of estimation. Analysis at the sectoral level show that FAR impacted a large
variety of products going from manufactured goods to machinery and transport equipments through
food. Using Rauchs classification (1999), we find that FAR affected indifferently reference-priced,
homogenous and differentiated goods. A finer analysis reveals a larger effect of FAR for French
exports of luxury goods and for goods in which France was least competitive. As regards, the
drivers of this FAR effect on trade we provide evidence that the political factors and, in particular
political proximity measured by similarity in United Nations General Assembly voting patterns,
explain most of the observed extra-trade between France and its former SSA colonies.
The paper is structured as follows. In section 2, we discuss the French influence in SSA.
Then, in section 3, we introduce the empirical model and describe our data. In section 4, we
present empirical evidence on the effect of the FAR on aggregate and sectoral trade. Finally, in
section 5, we investigate several potential economic and political drivers of the French influence.
We summarize our findings and add concluding remarks in section 6.
2 The French influence in SSA
The French influence in African former colonies after independence is the consequence of how
decolonization took place in SSA. Decolonisation in SSA was included in the scope of a of pr-
carr, i.e. the reinforcement of frontiers in order to better resist to external aggressions. In other
words, in the Cold War context, France wanted to keep its influence on its former SSA colonies
because they were an essential element of its international influence. Orchestrated by the the
emblematic Jacques Foccart3, decolonization in SSA aimed at setting up a network of African
3Jacques Foccart led the Franco-African policy together with the French Presidents De Gaulle,Pompidou and Chirac. He is also associated with the dark side of the Franafrique. Since 1960,
Republics allied with France (Bat, 2012). In 1960, almost all former French colonies become
independent mostly peacefully.4
Negotiations on the terms of independence led to the signature of secret cooperation agreements
of two kinds. The first one dealt with the privileged access of France to its former colonies raw
materials. The second one, claimed by African Presidents themselves, concerned the military
protection of new regimes. The contract between France and its former French colonies was the
following: France supported the African Presidents friends of France, i.e. Presidents defending
French positions in the international arena or granting a French preference in any sector (Bat,
2012). The Franco-African policy was organised in Paris in the Office of the Executive Power
through the Secrtariat Gnral des Affaires Africaines et Malgaches led by Jacques Foccart. Its
mission was to inform the French President of the political evolutions of the African Republics,
of their reciprocal relations, as well as their relations with France. The Secrtariat Gnral des
Affaires Africaines et Malgaches organized the relations between French and African executive
powers. It not only dealt with diplomatic relations between friendly States, but it was also in
charge of the personal and friendly ties between French and African top-level officials, especially
Presidents.5 Thus, interpersonal ties were the keystone of FARs and of the French African policy.
The strength of personal bonds was at the very foundation of FARs.
FARs had also economic demonstrations. After attaining independence, most of the new
African states decided to keep a common exchange rate mechanism. The Franc Zone, which
dates back to the colonial period, provides an unlimited convertibility guarantee from the French
Treasury and a fixed exchange rate between the CFA franc, the Comorian Franc and the French
Franc (now the euro). Independence went hand to hand with development assistance. One of its
mechanisms, tied aid, was deemed to have long guaranteed a virtual monopoly for French firms
conducting infrastructure projects in Africa (Gounin, 2009; Dozon, 2003). Concomitantly, there
had never been so many Africans in France and French people in Africa as after independence.
France posted a large number of public servants to newly SSA independent states. Where there
were fewer than 7,000 colonial administrators in 1956, there were 8,749 people on Voluntary Service
in the newly independent states in 1963, 9,364 in 1973 and 10,292 in 1980 (Gounin, 2009, p. 23).
This phenomenon was not confin