In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Trade

  • Introduction
  • Reference Resources
  • Journals
  • Market Institutions
  • Trade Routes and Networks
  • Gender and Trade
  • Country-Specific Studies

African Studies Trade
John McPeak
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 August 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0079


The literature on trade in Africa is vast, and the topic is multifaceted. Trade occurs within African countries, between countries in Africa, and between Africa and the rest of the world. To put some structure on a search in this literature, it helps to organize around major themes: data sources, history, and policy. The first theme is somewhat different from the others in that it is not analytic but is more descriptive as it lists data sources on trade in Africa. Into this category we can put databases that can be accessed to understand trade patterns and composition of trade for a given country at a given point in time. We can go to these databases when seeking to understand patterns and trends in trade, and this information is often useful for the empirical work conducted for historical or trade policy analysis. The next theme on the history of trade in Africa views trade as an element of the overall African economic history. Trade is critical to the economic history of Africa; one approach to presenting trade in Africa is to have it integrated into a comprehensive overview of the history of the continent. Another approach is to focus on a particular commodity, say palm oil, and develop the history of trade for that commodity over time. Yet another approach is to select a trade route or network, for example the trans-Saharan trade route, as the center of the analysis. Finally, one can take a country’s experience in trade over time as the unit of analysis. The final larger theme is trade policies. One can describe those in place in Africa and also those in place for Africa’s trading partners, analyze the impact of these policies, and suggest improvements to these policies. One part of this literature looks at issues relating to membership in the World Trade Organization. Another section of this literature focuses on how trade policies in developed countries, notably the European Union (EU) and United States, impact trade in goods produced in Africa. A third area of focus is the growing role of trade with newly emerging economic powers. Finally, there are studies looking at what can be done in Africa to make trade more competitive and increase trade capacity. This bibliography addresses each of these themes in turn.

Reference Resources

These reference works are useful to get a quick overview and serve as a place to begin a search and get a sense of the general context. One source that is helpful in providing detailed information on a given country, including a list of major commodities imported and exported, is the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) World Factbook. At the country level, for detailed analysis of current patterns of trade and description of the rules and regulations governing commerce and trade in a given country, the Economist Intelligence Unit provides “Country Reports” for the general context as well as “Country Commerce” reports. A more data-intense source that gives a country-level overview of trade is provided by Market Analysis Tools of the International Trade Center.

  • Economist Intelligence Unit.

    The Economist Intelligence Unit provides a variety of reports, covering the overall context in “Country Reports,” a description of the rules and regulations governing business in a given country under “Country Commerce,” and other risk assessment and forecasting tools. A subscription or purchase of individual reports is required to gain access.

  • Market Analysis Tools. Geneva, Switzerland: International Trade Center.

    The International Trade Center is a joint agency of the United Nations and the World Trade Organization that provides a variety of detailed trade information. Country-specific resources and profiles are available from the page on Trade Support Institutions as well.

  • World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency.

    For a quick reference to see what a country imports and exports and major trading partners, The World Factbook is generally reliable, comprehensive, and updated. This is not where the search should end but is a good place to start.

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