Journal Issue

Senegal: Selected Issues

International Monetary Fund. African Dept.
Published Date:
January 2017
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Export Diversification and Competitiveness in Senegal

This work investigates export diversification, quality upgrading, and competitiveness in Senegal, comparing its performance with those of fast growing countries in the region and with other countries with similar (or slightly higher) levels of income per capita, but with a more diversified export structure (e.g. Tanzania, Cote d’Ivoire and Vietnam). The analysis shows that Senegal is a relatively diversified economy, both in terms of export products (manufacturing and services) and partners—even though a significant part of exports is concentrated in the region—but with room for quality upgrading, especially in agriculture. Moreover, much of the apparent diversification may be linked to serving captive markets in the region, particularly Mali and, thus overstate the degree of true competitiveness. Polices to strengthen the business environment—especially in tax administration, electricity supply and logistics—could improve external competitiveness and boost export performance.

A. Introduction: Export Diversification and Growth in Developing Countries

1. Diversification and structural transformation are key drivers of macroeconomic performance in developing countries. Export diversification has been conducive to faster economic growth and associated with lower output volatility and greater macroeconomic stability (Johnson et al. 2010; IMF 2014). Thus, the growth and stability payoffs to diversification underscore the case for designing policies aimed at promoting diversification and structural transformation. This is especially true in the current challenging and uncertain global environment, characterized by low commodity prices, future normalization of monetary policy in the U.S. and China’ growth rebalancing. Moreover, the cornerstone of the Plan Sénégal Emergent (PSE) strategy is to turn Senegal into an emerging market economy and a regional hub for export to world markets.

2. Raising income per capita at an early stage of development typically goes hand in hand with a transformation of a country’s production and export structure. Labor flows from low- to high-productivity sectors is a key driver of development and, since 2000, structural change contributed positively to Africa’s overall productivity growth (McMillan et al. 2014).1 These changes often include diversification into new products and trading partners, as well as increases in the quality of existing products. Such diversification also offers opportunities to move labor from the low productivity informal sector to higher productivity activities that are globally competitive. The path from low-income country (LIC) to middle and upper income have historically been associated with diversification and expansion from heavy dependency on a narrow range of traditional primary products and on a small number of export markets. It is encouraging for global development that over the past two decades an increasing number of LICs have begun to diversify their export products, albeit with significant variation in the extent of diversification both across LICs and within regions (IMF 2014, 2015b). In particular, the WAEMU region has experienced limited structural change, since the sectoral composition of output has broadly remained unchanged since the 1990s and export and output diversification has been low and stagnant (Hooley and Neviak 2016). There is still ample scope to upgrade the quality of LICs’ existing export basket and/or introduce new higher value-added products, not only in manufacturing, but also in agriculture – often the least productive sector in LICs (Henn and others 2013), as is the case in Senegal.

3. Within this context, given that the PSE has set ambitious goals for economic growth and development which prioritize diversification of production and exports it is useful to review the achievements and remaining challenges Senegal faces in diversifying its export base. Moreover, progress towards the PSE objectives would also serve to mitigate vulnerability to internal and external shocks. To meet the PSE targets, the government would need to implement a number of policies and institutional changes to boost the productivity of the public and private sectors and unlock the growth potential of private enterprises.2 Ambitious programs to support improvement in agricultural productivity and reforms to sustain private sector-led growth and to create space for SMEs and FDI will be key to the process of export diversification and quality upgrading. More generally, policies aimed at encouraging exports by helping domestic firms overcome barriers to enter foreign markets (i.e. investing in education and training, promoting access to patents, investing in trade infrastructures and providing low cost access to market intelligence) could foster firms’ productivity growth thanks to a learning-by-exporting mechanism (Fatou and Choi 2015).

B. Senegal’s Export Structure

4. Exports of goods and services in Senegal amount to more than 26 percent of GDP and have experienced stronger growth recently. The current account deficit is projected at 6.5 percent of GDP in 2016—down from 7.6 percent in 2015. This continues the downward trend started in 2013. Export volumes have grown by 10 percent, on average, over the period 2011-2015, a significant improvement compared to the first decade of the 2000s, during which exports volumes were flat and all the increase in the value of exports was due to prices, and a strong performance in the region, where export performance has been concentrated in non-oil commodity exporters and driven by robust external demand and high prices (IMF 2015b).

5. Senegal’s exports increased USD 2.8 billion in 2014, driven by food products, some manufactured goods (mostly cement), chemicals and gold (Figure 1, top panel). According to the World Bank’ WITS data, the top 5 product exports for Senegal in 2014 were petroleum oils (USD 446 million, excluding crude oil), gold (USD 345 million), frozen fish (USD 185 million), cement (USD 167 million), and soups and broths and preparations (USD 118 million). Overall, Senegal exports 1,727 products (out of the approximately 5,300 products listed in the Harmonized System – HS), a significant increase from the 1,284 products exported in 2000. This is more than some fast growing countries like Mali (902 products in 2012) and Ethiopia (1,654 products), but still less than Cote d’Ivoire (2,079 products), and the more diversified Tanzania (2,362 products), Mauritius (2,478 products) Vietnam (3,501 products) and Malaysia (4,119 products). In terms of destination countries, 47 percent of exports in 2014 went to Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries (Mali is the main partner receiving 16 percent of total exports), 27 percent to Europe and Central Asia (Switzerland accounts for 10 percent of total exports), and 7.4 percent to the Middle East and North Africa. North America and Latin America together receive less than 2 percent of Senegal’s exports (Figure 1, bottom panel).

Figure 1.Senegal’s Exports in 2014

6. Exporters account for less than 15 percent of firms in Senegal and they are predominantly concentrated among large and foreign-owned firms. According to the data collected by the World Bank Enterprise Survey, 14.8 percent of Senegalese firms export directly or indirectly part of their production, a share which is 5 percentage point higher than the sample of fast growing SSA economies3, but lower than in some benchmark countries, like Tanzania (14.3 percent) Vietnam (17.3 percent) and Malaysia (18.5 percent), and the world average (19 percent). Moreover, if Senegal is to be a hub, as envisaged by the PSE, it would need to have a share significantly above the world average. In terms of the perception of the obstacles to export activities, Senegal firms seem to be better off than their SSA counterparts: 13 percent of firms in Senegal identify customs and trade regulations as a major constraint to their activity, while this share increases to an average of 23 percent in SSA; clearing exports through customs takes on average 7 days in Senegal and an average of 10 in SSA.

7. Recent years have seen a change in export products in Senegal, more oriented towards food and cement products, and less concentrated on animal products. Consumer and intermediate goods together accounted for almost ¾ of total exports in 2014, raw materials 21 percent of exports, while capital goods represented only 5 percent. This structure is not too different than in previous years, apart from the sharp decline of the share of raw materials since 2000. This represents a slight reversal in the trend since 2010, possibly because of the increase in commodity prices during that period. The share of capital goods increased slightly throughout the period, but it is still low (Figure 2). At a more disaggregated level, recent years have seen some changes in the composition of export products, with an increase of cement, minerals (the production of zircon started in 2014) and food products, and a decrease of animal products. Also, there is a minor increase in the export share of products in textile and clothing, transportation, footwear and machinery and electricity, which would suggest a diversification away from agriculture toward manufacturing. In relative terms, the share of manufacturing exports is aligned with the world average and higher than in SSA (Senegal is second only to Mauritius) and some other comparator countries (i.e. Vietnam), even though it shows a slight decline over time, consistent with what observed in the whole region (Figure 3 and IMF 2015b for a broad discussion of manufactured exports).

Figure 2.Senegal: Structure of Exports in Senegal

Figure 3.Senegal: Manufacturing Share of Gross Exports Relative to the World, Average 2008-12

8. The export performance of Senegal has been relatively decoupled from the world and SSA; since 2014, export growth has been stronger than the world and the SSA averages. Comparing Senegal’s export growth with the world average shows that the performance of Senegal is much different from the growth of global trade: Senegal’s exports did not decline as much as elsewhere during the global trade collapse, with a boom in 2011, a relative slowdown in 2012-2013, and a recent growth rate above the world average. By contrast, SSA as a whole has behaved more in line with the world average, with SSA export growth since 2012 below the world average, underscoring Senegal’s strong recent performance relative to the region (Figure 4). Inter alia, this could reflect the positive impact on demand from relatively secure markets in the region that benefitted from falling oil prices.

Figure 4.Senegal: Export Growth in Senegal, Compared to the World, SSA and Vietnam

9. The decomposition of the export performance indicates that its main driver over the last decade has been Senegal’s competitiveness. In particular, the largest changes in export market share—which increased especially in 2009 and 2011, but then partially contracted in 2013—is not due to Senegal’s product mix or its trading partners, but to its performance, measured as a residual after controlling for changes associated with the mix of products exported, sectoral specialization, and the distribution of trading partners.4 In addition, most of the changes in push factors are in volumes, rather than prices. On the other hand, in SSA countries, composition effects (especially the product mix and sectoral specialization) emerge as the key factors explaining relative export performance and the most recent results show a sharp decline in export performance in SSA, which is instead absent in Senegal. Overall, these figures confirm that Senegal—not being a commodity exporter—is less dependent than the region on external demand by trade partners. The comparison with export-oriented countries like Vietnam, however, highlights the presence of existing gaps, since Vietnam’s exports growth has been almost constantly above the world average, led by a strong competitiveness, rather than by a favorable composition mix in terms of products and trade partners. These patterns might also reflect Senegal’s dependence on captive regional markets whilst Vietnam is globally competitive.

C. Export Diversification and Complexity

10. Export diversification has increased: Senegal is doing better than regional peers and on par with Vietnam. As suggested from the preliminary discussion of the export structure (Figure 2), export products diversification has steadily increased since the 1970s and the gap between Senegal and WAEMU and SSA—including the group of fast growing countries—widened over time (Figure 5, Box 1 for the definition of export diversification measures). The increasing product diversification has been mainly driven by changes at the intensive margin (higher volumes), rather than at the extensive margin (i.e. number of products). A recent analysis shows that Senegal has opportunities to further diversify its exports in fresh and processed food, and raw and processed agro-products (International Trade Centre 2016b).

Figure 5.Senegal: Export Diversification

11. Senegal has also been able to diversify across trade partners, a trend which has been common across SSA and the WAEMU, even though in recent years the process halted (or reversed) in the region, but continued its positive trend in Senegal. However, for Senegal, higher diversification is mostly the outcome of the increasing number of trading partners, rather than changes at the intensive margin. Finally, given the rising importance of trade in services, it is interesting to note that also along this dimension, Senegal is more diversified than other representative SSA countries—including some of the fast growing countries like Ethiopia—as well as Vietnam.

12. A similar picture emerges looking at the economic complexity index (ECI), since Senegal has a relatively complex product space, suggesting a potential for future growth. Another metric to assess the diversification and the level of development of a country’s export structure is the ECI, which measures how diversified and complex a country’s export basket is (Hausmann and others 2014). Product complexity depends on the amount of capabilities or know-how necessary in production.5 A country is considered complex if it exports not only highly complex products, but also a large number of different products. There is a strong relationship between economic complexity, the variation of income per capita across countries, and the likelihood that a country will experience fast economic growth in the near future, as gains in economic complexity have historically translated into higher incomes (Hausmann and others 2014). In 2014 Senegal ranked 76th (out of 124 countries) in the economic complexity ranking, a strong improvement compared to 2013 (+11), and it is the first among SSA countries (Cote d’Ivoire, the only other WAEMU country covered by the Atlas of Economic Complexity, is ranked 98th). Senegal exports 162 products with revealed comparative advantage, meaning that its share of global exports is larger than what would be expected from the size of its export economy and from the size of a product’s global market.

Box 1.Export Diversification and Quality

Export diversification is measured by the Theil index, as in Cadot et al. (2011), with a lower value of the index corresponding to more diversification. The diversification index is available for product and for partners and it can be decomposed into two components. The “between” component of the Theil index captures the extensive margin of diversification (i.e. the number of products/partners), while the “within” component measures the intensive margin (i.e. product shares).

The Theil index of export product diversification measures the extent of diversification across product categories. Consequently, it does not cover quality upgrading, which describes the average quality within any product category. More specifically, export quality is measured by the export’s unit value adjusted for differences in production costs, relative distance to the trade partner, and the development of a country. Quality ladders reflect the extent of heterogeneity in quality across different varieties of a given product. The length of a quality ladder indicates the potential for quality upgrading for each product.

See IMF (2014) and Henn and others (2013) for more details on the methodology.

Source: IMF 2014 and Henn and others (2013).

D. Export Quality

13. Export quality in Senegal has been stagnant (or decreasing) for most of the 1980s and 1990s and it only started to increase slowly since 2000. In addition to export diversification across products and partners, the quality of exports is a key factor in analyzing the external competitiveness of a country. Structural transformation can happen through diversification into new sectors, shifting resources to highly productive firms, but also improving the quality of goods produced. The evolution of the export quality index for all products (Box 1 for the definition of export quality and quality ladders) shows that Senegal still lags behind the average WAEMU and SSA country, let alone the group of fast growing economies. Moreover, the recent increase started in 2000 has only partially filled the gap with the fast growing SSA countries and it has been slower than the one experienced in Vietnam, which has been converging relatively fast to the Asian frontier and whose exports are of increasingly high quality (Figure 6 and Henn and others, 2013).

Figure 6.Senegal: Export Quality and Quality Ladders

14. The limited integration in the global value chain (GVC) is likely to adversely affect export performance. Rising integration has been associated with rising income and more inclusive growth. However, SSA shows a relatively low and stagnant level of integration—foreign value added accounts for only 15 percent of exports—and African exports tend to enter at the very beginning of the GVC, reflecting the predominant role of commodities in the export structure (African Development Bank 2014; IMF 2016). Within this regional framework, the performance of Senegal, notwithstanding some progress in recent years, is below the average (Figure 7) and reflects the fact that many products are exported without any transformation (for instance, peanuts) and that a significant share is to captive regional markets for products where Senegal may not be globally competitive.

Figure 7.Senegal: Integration in the Global Value Chain, Average, 2008-12

15. There is room for quality upgrading, especially in agriculture and food products. The disaggregation of the quality index across (1-digit) sectors shows a very differentiated picture: the quality of food and live animal products—which represent the largest share of Senegal’s exports—has the lowest quality and there has not been any significant quality upgrading over the past 30 years. The quality ladders show that there is broad scope for quality upgrading, as illustrated, for instance, by the comparison with Cote d’Ivoire, which has an export structure even more concentrated in agriculture, but also a higher quality index (Figure 6). In this context, Senegal has recently implemented policies aimed at supporting the development of the national horticulture export sector through the promotion of public-private partnerships which should strengthen international competitiveness (FAO 2015; English 2016). More generally, research has shown that larger farms can promote innovation and experimenting, pushing the technological frontier in agriculture, suggesting that policies should shift emphasis from small farmers to focus on larger scale commercial investment in agriculture (Collier and Dercon 2014). Moreover, there is evidence that policies directed at strengthening institutional quality and accumulating human capital are associated with an increase in product quality (Henn and others 2013). Finally, further diversification into sectors with a relatively higher export quality—but still with a large potential for quality upgrading—could also promote development in Senegal.

E. Non-price Competitiveness

16. Strengthening export performance requires improving structural competitiveness and the business environment and reducing regulatory costs for exporters (Johnson et al. 2010). Progress in these areas makes it easier for domestic firms to produce and increase their productivity and to make the country more attractive to foreign investors and more integrated in the GVC. Measuring structural competitiveness is challenging, but the most widely used indicators consistently show that Senegal should credibly implement a number of reforms to improve its business climate. For instance, the Global Competitiveness Index compiled by the World Economic Forum ranks Senegal at 110 out of 140 economies, with significant gaps in infrastructure, market size, and in the macroeconomic environment. By contrast, Vietnam ranks 56th and 4 out of the 10 fast growing SSA countries are ranked ahead of Senegal, notably Mauritius at 46th and Rwanda at 58th. A recent report on investment attractiveness in Africa (Ernst and Young 2016a) ranks 20 SSA countries according to their resilience to macroeconomic pressures, as well as progress being made in critical areas of longer-term development, namely governance, diversification, infrastructure, business enablement and human development. Senegal ranks 11th and it is not portrayed as a case study in a report on investor confidence and FDI in Africa (Ernst and Young 2016b), suggesting that currently Senegal is not even on the radar screen of most respected international investors. This is true even though Senegal performs well in terms of trade policy, such as tariffs and regulations (International Trade Centre 2016b). Some priority needs to be given to reforms that would increase the attractiveness of the country to international investors.

17. Senegal made some progress in the World Bank’s Doing Business Indicators (DBI) in 2016, but it still needs to massively improve the business climate, especially in the areas of tax administration and electricity supply. Senegal ranks 147th (out of 190 economies) in the 2017 ease on doing business compiled by the World Bank (Figure 8), with a score that is close to the SSA average and lower than most of WAEMU and of all fast growing SSA countries (Mauritius and Rwanda are ranked, respectively, 49th and 56th) and other benchmark countries like Tanzania (132nd) and Vietnam (82nd). In particular, Senegal scores poorly on the ease of paying taxes—which measures the administrative burden of complying with taxes in Senegal and how much firms pay in taxes (where it ranks 174th, because of the 58 payments due in the fiscal year and a total tax rate of 47.3%)—and on the ease of getting electricity (where it ranks 162nd), which records all procedures required for a local business to obtain a permanent electricity connection and supply for a standardized warehouse, as well as the time and cost to complete them.6 Compared to 2016, Senegal worsened its overall DBI ranking by one position, while in 2016 it registered some improvements compared to 2015, mainly because of the reforms that facilitated registering a property (lowering the property transfer tax), getting electricity (Senelec streamlined the process to get an electricity connection and made it less costly), and starting a business (reducing capital requirements). More generally, even though it is not possible to make comparisons over time due to changes in the methodology used in the Doing Business indicators, the Senegal relative performance has improved (Senegal was ranked 178 out of 185 countries in 2014, see IMF 2015a). Consistent with this picture, the cost of electricity in Senegal increased between 2005 and 2011 and it is one of the highest in SSA in 2011, more than twice the average of Bangladesh, Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnam (see Figure 9 and IMF 2015b).

Figure 8.Ease of Doing Business

(Doing Business Rank 2016 vs 2015)

Figure 9.Senegal: Cost of Electricity Relative to the Average of Comparators

Sources: World Bank, International Comparison Program; and IMF staff calculations.

Note: Comparators include Bangladesh, Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Vietnam.

18. To improve external competitiveness and boost exports, Senegal should invest to improve its logistics performance and strengthen its infrastructure. A key aspect to assess the competitiveness of a country in global trade is trade logistics. The World Bank compiles the Logistics Performance Index (LPI) for 160 countries worldwide to measure the country’s performance along the logistics supply chain, on the basis of six dimensions of trade—including customs performance, infrastructure quality, and timeliness of shipments (World Bank 2016). Senegal’s score on the LPI is relatively poor, both with respect to other countries and to its own evolution over time. In 2016 Senegal ranked 132 in the overall LPI, compared to 101 in 2014 and 58 (out of 155 countries) in 2010. Its score in 2016 is equal to the average for lower-middle income countries, and slightly lower than the SSA average, and well below key reference countries like Vietnam (64th) and fast growing SSA countries, like Uganda (58th), Rwanda (62nd), and Mozambique (84th). In particular, the two areas with the largest gap are the ability to track and trace consignments and the quality of trade and transport infrastructure (Figure 10).

Figure 10.Senegal: Logistics Performance in Senegal

Source: The World Bank (

F. Policy Recommendations

19. While Senegal’s export performance has been relatively positive in recent years, better export quality can further improve the external position. Senegal is a relatively diversified exporter, but the quality of its export products has been flat since 2000. Measures to improve the quality of the product mix should be prioritized: these would include investment in human capital and strengthening institutions, which have been shown to be drivers of quality upgrading across countries. The promotion of the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) with an emphasis on good governance and on attracting FDI goes in this direction, and it will also further stimulate economic diversification and integration in the GVC. At the same time, there is substantial scope for quality upgrading in the primary sector (Hooley and Neviak 2016), which represents a consistent share of the economy, and where the government has already started implementing innovative policies to raise agricultural productivity. Unlocking the full benefits of these policies will require some form of land reform (a politically difficult issue which is being debated in Senegal) and action to regroup small holders to benefit from economies of scale in upgrading land preparation, harvesting and post-harvest treatment. Actions on seeds, fertilizers, and irrigation, which have started, may also need to be reinforced and put on an economically and financially sustainable basis.

20. To strength competitiveness and attract investors, reforms should prioritize the promotion of a better business environment. Senegal lags behind several comparable fast-growing countries along different indicators of business environment and it still has significant infrastructure gaps. Bottlenecks in energy supply, regulation, logistics infrastructure, and tax administrations are the key elements constraining export activity, development of a strong private sector and the attractiveness of the country to foreign investors. The African Development Bank and World Bank are supporting efforts to reform Senelec and some emphasis could be given to making it easier and less costly to get an electricity connection. Regarding taxes, part of the solution may be to revise the incentive framework which currently rewards officers for collecting penalties rather than for ensuring good initial compliance. Much progress can be achieved by moving to online interactions with the tax authorities. Tax payers should be self-complying according to well specified rules that have no room for discretion over payment of taxes. Another aspect to be considered is the role of export promotion, given its large effect on export and GDP growth (International Trade Centre 2016a). In this respect, the development and the funding of trade promotion agencies is a key element to improve export performance.

21. To make Senegal a regional hub for investment, the authorities should address bottlenecks and pursue relevant measures already in place under the PSE, such infrastructure investing (e.g. completing the new airport and the related transportation system), creation of the SEZ, implementation of energy reforms and a simplification of the tax system. These measures should be complemented by actions to make improved access to inputs in agriculture financially sustainable, clarify land property rights and encourage pooling of small land holders for a package of services that would raise agricultural productivity. On regulations, a rapid move to online interactions would produce both governance gains and increased investment, not only by foreign investors, but by Senegalese SMEs. Greater reliance on online self-enforcement would be facilitated by utilizing ex-post verification based on transparent and clearly set out rules and moving away from ex-ante authorizations that allow significant discretion by policy makers. These measures not only will contribute to the economic success of the PSE, but will also level the playing field and open space for SMEs and FDI to invest in the globally competitive activity that a hub requires.


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1See McMillan and Headey (2014) and works cited therein for an overview of structural transformation, with a focus on Africa.
2Some of these elements were already discussed in the Rapport national sur la competitivite du Senegal (Ministère de l’Economie et des Finances du Senegal 2011).
3The list of fast growing SSA countries is defined based on per capita real GDP growth over 1990-2015, and it excludes from the rankings resource rich countries. The group includes Cabo Verde, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Mauritius, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda, Swaziland, Seychelles, and Uganda.
4The Export Competitiveness Database encompasses quarterly information on year-on-year export growth from 2006q1 to 2013q1 for 228 countries. It is based on monthly and quarterly bilateral trade data available for 5,300 products of the Harmonized System (HS at 6-digit level). The database contains a set of five indicators with information on export performance, measured as a relative change between period t-1 and periodt. In particular, it contains indices of export growth, export market share change, changes in geographical and sectoral specialization (composition effects) and the export performance, i.e. changes in export market share growth once sectoral and geographical composition effects have been removed. See Gaulier et al. (2013) for a broader discussion of the export performance decomposition ad for stylized facts across regions.
5Products such as chemicals and machinery are said to be highly complex, because they require a sophisticated level of productive knowledge and typically emerge from large organizations where a number of highly skilled individuals interact. Whereas products, such as raw materials or simple agricultural products, require only a basic level of know-how and can be produced by an individual or family-run business.
6Accessing electricity is identified as a key constraint also in the SME Competitiveness Grid produced by the International Trade Centre (2016b), which also identifies connectivity constraints as a strong impediment to small business activities.

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