Shifting Ties -Weah Ignores Washington, Turns to France for Aid


President George Weah appears to have cast doubt over Liberia’s relations with the United States of America with his strong preference for the French Republic and its former colonies in Africa.

After declaring that he inherited a broken economy that would impede efforts to pursue economic development programs, Weah travel away from Liberia on February 15 to the French world seeking “economic corporation and financial assistance.”

Although France recognized Liberia’s independence in 1848, 14 years before the United States did in 1862, the latter is more emotionally attached to the West African nation with impressive economic benefits.

In addition to Liberia being founded in 1847 by freed slaves from America, an estimated 500,000 Liberians and Liberian descendants reside in the U.

Liberia has been a major U.S. ally since World War II and into the Cold War, hosting U.S. communications facilities in the 1960s and 1970s, receiving enormous US development assistance including Ebola aid,
building of the country’s criminal justice system and funding over a quarter of the cost of United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) at a cost of about $106 million annually as of fiscal year 2016.
The country is also benefiting from a $256.7 million 5-year MCC compact signed in 2015 designed to increase access to reliable affordable electricity and enhance the country’s poor road infrastructure.

In 2016, bilateral State Department and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) assistance totaled $91 million.

Historically, every Liberian leader has been keen on keeping the USA on top of foreign policy agenda. But President Weah had a flourishing soccer career in France, Italy and England in the 1990s, with reports he holds a French citizenship, seems comfortable with the French who called his 2017 election victory as “an exemplary democratic change of power.”

Weah’s trip from February 20 to 23 will be dedicated to “the challenges facing Liberia, especially economic growth and youth employment” as well as the “role of sport as a factor of development”, the French presidency said as reported by the Citizen.

It will also be an opportunity for Macron “to start a partnership with a president who embodies the new generation of heads of state, who with France, wishes rebuild relations between France, Europe and Africa”.

Weah has tied his economic policy on foreign aid assistance. France’s global aid contribution is far less than the US.In 2013, while the US was giving US$32billion ina aid, France provided,10 billion euro. Besides France’s aid flow to English speaking country has been negligible.

It is only this month that France added Liberia and The Gambia to the 17 priority countries of French development aid. Until now, the priority countries have been Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, the Comoros, Djibouti, Ghana, Guinea, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Togo and Senegal.

According to the French foreign policy publication, trade between France and Liberia is limited, standing at €44.24 million in 2016. French exports grew by 10.3%, thanks in particular to sales of pharmaceuticals (43% of French exports), while imports, largely comprised of iron ore, fell by 35.1%. These shifts reduced France’s trade deficit to almost nothing, from €15 million in 2015 to €760,000 in 2016. France’s trade deficit harks back to the reactivation of Liberia’s mining operations in 2012, due to increasing French purchases of extractive industry products

France’s economic presence has grown in recent years. Orange is the second-largest telephone company (but has the most subscribers); Total has a 70% market share in fuel distribution; Bolloré is the leader in maritime and airport logistical services; CMA-CGM is the second-largest shipping company (behind Maersk) ; AGS practically has a monopoly in removals; SIFCA and Bolloré, through its control of almost 40% of shares in SOCFIN group companies, are involved in the three largest plantations of hevea rubber trees behind that of Firestone (Salala Rubber Corporation, Liberian Agricultural Company and Cavala Rubber Corporation); and Renault, CFAO, Bureau Veritas, Gras Savoye, etc. are active in their respective sectors. Air France-KLM made its return to Liberia in late March 2017, with a KLM flight between Amsterdam and Monrovia.

“Our bilateral cooperation with Liberia is relatively modest and based for the most part on a debt relief and development contract (C2D) worth €3.9 million, signed on 16 August 2012 for a period of five years. It expired in late 2016. Its resources were allocated to Liberia’s Health Sector Pool Fund to support the National Health and Social Welfare Policy and Plan 2011-2021,” the publication said.

Under a 2007 Trade & Investment Framework Agreement signed between Liberia and America2007, the US has been a major trading ally.

According to the Department of Commerce, U.S. exports of goods to Liberia supported an estimated 7 hundred jobs in 2015.

“Liberia is currently our 145th largest goods trading partner with $222 million in total (two way) goods trade during 2016. Goods exports totaled $158 million; goods imports totaled $64 million. The U.S. goods trade surplus with Liberia was $94 million in 2016,” The Depart of Commerce report reads.

Liberia was the United States’ 133rd largest goods export market in 2016.
U.S. goods exports to Liberia in 2016 were $158 million, up 16.4% ($22 million) from 2015 and up 132.9% from 2006.
The top export categories (2-digit HS) in 2016 were: machinery ($43 million), cereals (wheat, meslin) ($26 million), vehicles ($13 million), special other (low value estimates) ($12 million), and miscellaneous textile articles ($12 million).
U.S. total exports of agricultural products to Liberia totaled $34 million in 2016. Leading domestic export categories include: wheat ($26 million), prepared food ($2 million), poultry meat & prods. (ex. eggs) ($2 million), condiments & sauces ($772 thousand), and dairy products ($718 thousand).
Liberia was the United States’ 132nd largest supplier of goods imports in 2016.
U.S. goods imports from Liberia totaled $64 million in 2016, up 42.7% ($19 million) from 2015, but down 54.2% from 2006.
The top import categories (2-digit HS) in 2016 were: rubber ($41 million), special other (returns) ($21 million), precious metal and stone (diamonds) ($805 thousand), fats and oils (palm oil) ($604 thousand), and art and antiques ($137 thousand).
U.S. total imports of agricultural products from Liberia totaled $42 million in 2016. The leading domestic export category is: rubber & allied products ($41 million).
Trade Balance
The U.S. goods trade surplus with Liberia was $94 million in 2016, a 3.3% increase ($3 million) over 2015
U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI) in Liberia (stock) was $1.0 billion in 2016, a 2.3% decrease from 2015. There is no information on the distribution of U.S. FDI in Liberia.
Liberia’s FDI in the United States (stock) was $461 million in 2016, down 8.0% from 2015. The distribution of Liberia FDI in the United States is not available.

– Festus Poquie