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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 August, 2003, 11:37 GMT 12:37 UK
Liberia's economic struggle

By Mark Gregory
BBC World Service business correspondent

Liberian child carrying grain
Most Liberians survive by subsistence farming
After 14 years of internal strife, Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world, but it is hard to say exactly how poor because there are no reliable statistics.

The London-based Economist Intelligence Unit makes an informed guess that income per head is about $200 a year.

That's roughly on a par with neighbouring Sierra Leone, which comes bottom out of 175 countries in the latest annual human development index produced by the United Nations.

Liberia does not appear in the ranking, which is compiled from economic indices and social indicators such as life expectancy.

The country has no major sources of natural wealth - timber is the main resource, but many of the forests are said to be in bad shape after indiscriminate logging by companies awarded concessions in dubious circumstances by Charles Taylor's government.

There are limited reserves of iron ore close to the border with Guinea, which could have commercial potential.

Stability seems a long way off in Liberia
Liberia also has small deposits of gems but not on the scale of nearby Sierra Leone.

Before the civil war, the American tyre manufacturer Firestone had a massive rubber plantation in Liberia that supplied most of the raw material for its products.

But that business has gone to other countries, and is not thought likely to return.

Flags of convenience

Most of Liberia's two and half million-strong population survives by subsistence farming.

There is potential for export crops such as coffee and cocoa, but world markets are already oversupplied with agricultural commodities.

Liberia gets about $20m a year from shipping firms that register their vessels as Liberian to minimise maritime regulation.

It still ranks as the world's third most popular flag of convenience but has been losing ground to Panama.

Analysts say international investors are unlikely to look seriously at Liberia until the country has at least a couple of years of stability - and that seems a distant dream.

Another problem is that many educated people left the country during the years of fighting to build up new lives, mainly in the US and Canada.


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