29 August 2023

Trade strengthening institutions and tourism after conflict in Liberia

by Farai Samhungu Peter Donelan / in Impact story


  • The Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) provided support to Liberia’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MoCI) to coordinate trade-related programmes and develop new projects. This support included facilitating the long-term secondment of trade policy experts to support the country’s World Trade Organization (WTO) accession process.
  • The EIF also supported the quality enhancement and systematization of processes around stakeholder dialogue on trade-related issues across the public sector, donor community, the private sector and civil society.
  • The EIF worked with Liberia on institutional capacity‑building, as the Government of Liberia gained self-sustainability to attract donors and design projects inspired by EIF-funded projects in tourism, palm oil and e-commerce.
  • In partnership with the International Trade Centre (ITC), EIF support tapped into the significant potential of Liberia's tourism sector, spurring the development of crucial tourism infrastructure, such as in Robertsport, Grand Cape Mount County.


Liberia, a small West African country, is home to 5.2 million people and shares borders with Sierra Leone, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire. It boasts abundant natural assets, including vast forests, coastlines, mineral resources and a rich cultural heritage. However, years of civil conflict between 1990 and 2003 eroded the country’s infrastructure and left more than 150,000 people dead. Hundreds of thousands of others were displaced to neighbouring countries. A peace deal brokered by the Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS) marked the end of the civil war in 2003. 

As the country was rebuilding and its economy recovering, it was hit by a devastating Ebola epidemic – resulting in 3,000 deaths. The epidemic also caused a drastic downturn in the country’s informal trader-driven commercial sector. Many businesses ceased operations as movements of both goods and people, as well as trading in services, were curtailed due to increases in transport and road maintenance costs. These costs were among the additional consequences of the Ebola epidemic, arising from measures such as curfews and road closures. Tourism, which is key to Liberia’s trade and economic growth, was not spared either, as the country became an overlooked destination and its competitiveness plummeted in the aftermath of Ebola.

Liberia's first Diagnostic Trade Integrated Study (DTIS) was validated in 2009. The study noted the key role of domestic trade "in goods and services, including demand generated by peace-making operations, foreign aid and remittances as key drivers of economic growth".

The DTIS also highlighted the need for Liberia to centre its efforts on diversifying exports beyond rubber, which accounted for 90% of the country’s exports. It needed to address the constraints faced by both small‑ and large-scale producers in cocoa, palm oil and other agricultural sectors. The DTIS recommended removing barriers to trade by reforming logistics "to meet an expanding economy for both imports and exports" and developing policies and strengthening institutions. 

The DTIS was updated in 2015 with technical assistance from the World Bank. It recommended a renewed focus on attracting foreign direct investment in the non-mining sector, preferably agribusiness, and completing concessions with major palm oil multinationals. Tourism was also highlighted as a key sector. Based on the updated DTIS and with support from ITC, the EIF helped Liberia prepare export strategies for both the tourism and rubberwood industries.

Strengthening institutions to promote trade and reduce poverty

To promote economic growth, EIF support to Liberia centred on tackling supply-side constraints to trade. The goal of enhancing trade was to reduce extreme poverty, estimated to exceed 80% in 2003. The EIF’s engagement also demonstrates its commitment to fostering partnerships that promote local ownership of Liberia’s development agenda. Initially, support focused on establishing strong institutional structures and strengthening capacity to develop policies and mainstream trade into national strategies. 

For example, the EIF funded the establishment of a National Implementation Unit (NIU) in 2009 to raise the profile and potential of trade within the MoCI. Wholly owned by the Government of Liberia, the NIU was mandated to spearhead export-led growth. The NIU was instrumental in formulating the country’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP-1), the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework and its Vision 2030, as well as mainstreaming trade into these development plans. 

The NIU has played a critical role in providing strategic oversight and technical support to stakeholders such as the Ministry of Finance and the Liberian Chamber of Commerce. It led the process of mainstreaming trade in the National Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD). NIU staff also supported the formulation of Liberia’s Trade Policy and spearheaded cross-sectoral harmonization of the country’s foreign trade statistics. Another pivotal contribution of the NIU is to keep the Government informed of trade developments through the production of studies and publications. 

Participation in key regional Aid for Trade processes, such as the ECOWAS Expert Working Group for Aid for Trade strategy formulation, has strengthened the NIU’s capacity. While acting as the secretariat of the National Steering Committee, the NIU then works with key ministries and agencies to build skills and facilitate donor coordination. It also coordinates trade-related events that bring together public and private sector actors, businesses and donors.

The EIF supported Liberia’s efforts towards WTO accession, ensuring that the country had a conducive business environment and competitive trade regimes, and that it reformed national policy and regulations. In 2010, the NIU, through the Swedish National Board for Trade (NBT), received support from the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) to assess Liberia’s readiness for technical expertise and to share experiences between the NBT and the Liberian Technical Committee. Sida and the Government of Liberia signed a USD 7.3 million package towards Liberia’s WTO accession process. This included the long-term secondment of trade policy experts from the NBT to the NIU.

The NIU leveraged EIF support to enhance the Government’s effort in implementing a number of trade capacity development programmes for both public and private sector actors. The institutional and human trade capacity development programme focused, in part, on deepening awareness of the importance of WTO Trade Facilitation Agreements (TFA) and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA) for the new administration. Understanding the implications of these instruments on the country’s economy and sustainable development expedited the process and enabled the ratification of the TFA on 23 July 2019. As concerns the AfCFTA, the domestication process is now complete as the National Legislature ratified the Agreement in July 2023, which was also endorsed by the President of Liberia. Notwithstanding, the instrument of ratification is yet to be formally deposited with the African Union Commission.

e-Trade Readiness Assessment 

In 2018, Liberia launched an e-Trade Readiness Assessment, the first review of its kind with EIF support. This assessment, conducted collaboratively with the UN Conference on Trade and Development, looked at the current e-commerce situation with a specific focus on opportunities and barriers. It was key to developing a common understanding of e-commerce among the country’s diverse stakeholders encompassing those in the public sector, commercial banks, telecommunication companies and private sector players.

The assessment marked Liberia’s shift from post-conflict reconstruction towards involvement in global value chains, where information and communications technologies play a central role. Using the action plan derived from the assessment, the NIU, in conjunction with the Liberia Chamber of Commerce and some development partners, devised strategies to pursue some of the project ideas that were identified. The assessment's insights also informed a wider UNCTAD eTrade Readiness Assessment for Members States of the ECOWAS, which was published in 2022. 

Unlocking Liberia’s tourism potential

Great progress has been made in realizing the potential of Liberia’s tourism sector. According to Hesta Baker, a Marketing and Branding Consultant engaged by ITC, tourism has the potential to generate an estimated USD 200 million in revenue between 2021 and 2025. Baker toured the country to produce a compendium of tourism resources. By engaging often-marginalized people such as youth groups and chiefs to understand the tourism resources in their areas, the project gathered huge amounts of content in different formats. This is now being used to market the country’s tourist destinations. 

Baker said that stakeholders had previously been working in silos, failing to share the challenges and opportunities facing the sector. But EIF support transformed that: 

For two years, the stakeholders were able to look at the tourism sector, share ideas and define the key issues that were crucial for the development of this sector. They were able to think about and carry out several key dialogues about this sector together.

This consultative process resulted in the production of a Tourism Marketing Strategy and a comprehensive tourism brand, which now underpins a wide range of marketing materials. The EIF also supported the development of essential tourism infrastructure in places such as Robertsport in the Grand Cape Mount County. According to Baker: 

Before the war, Robertsport catered for the high-end tourist market. The area had a museum that served the region and Sierra Leone, but the devastating war left it extremely rural and poor. But despite all this, it is still the most picturesque place in the country with the ocean, coastline, the serene Lake Piso and its many islands and the Wakolor Mountain.

Robertsport is home to the Grand Cape Mount Surf Association, an organization for Liberia’s young surfers. Although surfing is still in its infancy, it holds huge potential to drive the country’s economic growth. With this in mind, the EIF supported the construction of infrastructure and the training of nearly 200 stakeholders drawn from the Government and the private sector. A surf house and visitors’ centre – which includes a gift shop and information facility – is benefitting local residents, especially young people. The number of daily domestic and international visitors to Chimpanzee Island is expected to double during the peak period. Destination management organizations have also been set up to drive tourism in three of Liberia’s 15 counties: in northwestern Grand Cape Mount; in the northeastern Nimba; and in the west-central Grand Bassa. 

Former Liberian Minister of Commerce and Industry and Chief WTO Accession negotiator, Axel Addy, believes that tourism can be the catalyst to transform the lives of poor Liberians. According to him, EIF support for tourism has achieved significant impact:

When policies and strategies translate into direct localization and impact, we've got momentum. Thanks to EIF and the Liberian stakeholders for staying the course and impacting the lives of young Liberians.

A visitors’ centre was established at Roberts International Airport, with work completed in December 2022. The booth was handed over to the Government and the Liberia Tourism Association, which are mandated to collect data on tourism. Building upon EIF support, the Liberia Tourism Association also leveraged additional support from the United States Agency for International Development, which is funding the marketing agency Solimar to promote tourism to the country. The first cultural festival, which was successfully held in December 2022, provided a marketing opportunity for different aspects of arts and culture that are unique to Liberia. This will become an annual event. 

Major progress has been made in realizing the potential of tourism in Liberia, with new hotels and other facilities providing concrete proof of the journey travelled. But more engagement is needed, along with major financial support to drive the development of the sector. The NIU is an active member of the Tourism Working Group, which brings together public and private sector players, including the Ministry of Finance. The working group will continue to lobby for more investment and buy-in from the Government and others to both recognize the potential of the sector and facilitate its growth.


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As the second phase of the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) comes to an end in 2024, the objective is to produce a catalogue of impact stories showcasing the efforts of the EIF partnership in the least developed countries (LDCs) and recently graduated LDCs where it has been actively engaged. This impact story makes up one of the stories in the catalogue. Essential input and reviews were received from the country‑based EIF National Implementation Units (NIUs) and the wider EIF team. 

The primary objective of each impact story, as well as the entire catalogue, is to adopt a journalistic approach in recounting the EIF's engagement in the LDCs during both Phase One and Two. The aim is to offer valuable insights and to document outcomes and impacts, as well as some lessons learned from the work of the EIF partnership in the LDCs. These stories do not provide a comprehensive overview of every aspect of EIF partnership engagement such as precise timelines or the exact extent of involvement (i.e., financial contributions). Instead, they serve as one of several means of information about the work of the EIF partnership. Interested readers are encouraged to supplement these impact stories by consulting other sources, including EIF Annual Reports, Trade for Development News articles, EIF social media channels, and, where applicable, the NIUs in the LDCs as well as the EIF Executive Secretariat.

It is essential to acknowledge that the information provided is neither exhaustive (e.g., it is based on the latest available data at the time of writing in 2023) nor evaluative in nature. 

Lastly, while each impact story adheres to a similar structure, the diverse range of countries, contexts, and EIF engagements means that each story is unique.


Any views and opinions expressed on Trade for Development News are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect those of EIF.