Thomas Richter

When Do Autocracies Start to Liberalize Foreign Trade? Evidence from Four Cases in the Arab World

GIGA Working Paper, No. 131, April 2010

Abstract
This paper argues that trade and capital account reforms within autocracies underlie the primacy of foreign currency procurement. A longitudinal comparison of four countries (Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan) in the Middle East and North Africa region shows a historical sequencing of reforms. In the 1960s and 1970s, the foreign exchange scarcity was managed primarily by rising restrictions, accumulation of debt and a number of unilateral country‐specific strategies, including broader economic openings (infitah) and isolated capital account liberalizations. However, IMF‐friendly reforms (orthodox trade liberalization) only became a political option in the context of the extreme fiscal scarcity of the 1980s and 1990s, after the failure of these earlier policies and the drying up of alternative unconditional finance. Additionally, the time differences regarding when orthodox reforms are implemented within autocracies mainly relate to global and regional cycles of different external windfall gains. These findings complement recent debates about the rush to free trade in at least two regards. First, they point to distinct causal mechanisms depending on the type of political regime (for example, autocracy versus democracy), explaining the beginning of trade and capital account liberalizations among developing countries. Second, they reveal the conditional historical influence of neoliberal ideas among structurally similar autocracies.

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Dr. Thomas Richter

Senior Research Fellow
Editor GIGA Focus Middle East

Dr. Thomas Richter is a senior research fellow at the GIGA Institute for Middle East Studies, and a member of the GIGA’s “Accountability and Participation” and “Power and Ideas” research programmes. His current research topics include authoritarian regimes, rentier state theory, shrinking civic spaces, and policy diffusion.

Recent Publications by the Authors

Thomas Richter

New Petro-Aggression in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia in the Spotlight

Global Policy, 11, 2020, 1, 93-102

Martin Beck / Thomas Richter

Fluctuating Regional (Dis-)Order in the Post-Arab Uprising Middle East

Global Policy, 11, 2020, 1, 68-74

Martin Beck / Thomas Richter

From Abundance to Scarcity: Oil Revenues of the Arab Gulf States Under Pressure

GIGA Focus Middle East, 06/2019

Thomas Richter

Oil and the Rentier State in the Middle East

in: Raymond Hinnebusch / Jasmine Gani (eds.), The Routledge Handbook to the Middle East and North African State and States System, London: Routledge, 2019, 225-237

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Reduced Scope for Action Worldwide for Civil Society

GIGA Focus Global, 05/2018