Economy of Liberia

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Economy of Liberia
Trade organizations
AU, AfCFTA (signed), African Development Bank, ECOWAS, MRU, WAMZ, WTO, Group of 77
Country group
PopulationIncrease 5,073,296 (2020 est.)[3]
  • Decrease $3.222 billion (nominal, 2019 est.)[4]
  • Increase $6.471 billion (PPP, 2019 est.)[4]
GDP rank
GDP growth
  • 2.5% (2017) 1.2% (2018)
  • −1.4% (2019e) 1.4% (2020f)[5]
GDP per capita
  • Decrease $704 (nominal, 2019 est.)[4]
  • Decrease $1,414 (PPP, 2019 est.)[4]
GDP per capita rank
GDP by sector
20.5% (2020 est.)[4]
Population below poverty line
  • 54.1% (2014 est.)[3]
  • 40.9% on less than $1.90/day (2016)[6]
35.3 medium (2016)[7]
Labor force
  • Increase 1,639,258 (2019)[10]
  • Increase 74.6% employment rate (2016)[11]
Labor force by occupation
  • agriculture: 70%
  • industry: 8%
  • services: 22%
  • (2000 est.)[3]
Unemployment2.8% (2014 est.)[12]
Main industries
mining (iron ore and gold), rubber processing, palm oil processing, diamonds
Decrease 175th (below average, 2020)[13]
ExportsIncrease $260.6 million (2017 est.)[3]
Export goods
rubber, timber, iron, diamonds, cocoa, coffee[3]
Main export partners
ImportsDecrease $1.166 billion (2017 est.)[3]
Import goods
fuels, chemicals, machinery, transportation equipment, manufactured goods; foodstuffs[3]
Main import partners
Decrease −$627 million (2017 est.)[3]
Negative increase $1.036 billion (31 December 2017 est.)[3]
Public finances
Negative increase 34.4% of GDP (2017 est.)[3]
−4.3% (of GDP) (2017 est.)[3]
Revenues553.6 million (2017 est.)[3]
Expenses693.8 million (2017 est.)[3]
Economic aidrecipient: International multi-billion dollar debt relief and development aid
Foreign reserves
Decrease $459.8 million (31 December 2017 est.)[3]
Main data source: CIA World Fact Book
All values, unless otherwise stated, are in US dollars.

The economy of Liberia is extremely underdeveloped, with only $3.222 billion by gross domestic product as of 2019, largely due to the First Liberian Civil War (1989–1996). Liberia itself is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, according to the United Nations.

Until 1979, Liberia's economy was among the more developed and fastest-growing in Sub-Saharan Africa, but after the 1980 coup d'état, it declined, and the civil war destroyed much of Liberia's economy and infrastructure, especially the infrastructure in and around the nation's capital, Monrovia. The war also caused a brain drain and the loss of capital, as the civil war involved overthrowing the Americo-Liberian minority that ruled the country. Some have returned since 1997, but many have not.

Liberia is richly endowed with water, mineral resources, forests, and a climate favorable to agriculture, but poor in human capital, infrastructure, and stability. Liberia has a fairly typical profile for Sub-Saharan African economies. The majority of the population is reliant on subsistence agriculture, while exports are dominated by raw commodities such as rubber and iron ore. Local manufacturing, such as it exists, is mainly foreign-owned.

The democratically elected government, installed in August 1997, inherited massive international debts and currently relies on revenues from its maritime registry to provide the bulk of its foreign exchange earnings. The restoration of the infrastructure and the raising of incomes in this ravaged economy depend on the implementation of sound macro- and microeconomic policies of the new government, including the encouragement of foreign investment.

Economic history[edit]

In 1926, the Liberian government gave the Firestone Tire company the right to lease up to 1 million acres of land for 99 years at a cost of 6 cents per acre. Firestone then set about establishing rubber tree plantations of the non-native South American rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis in the country. By the 1950s, the company was Liberia's largest private employer and also its largest exporter.[14] Today, Firestone's rubber plantation in Liberia is the world's largest contiguous rubber plantation, operated by the Firestone (now Bridgestone) subsidiary, the Firestone Natural Rubber Company.

The Liberian economy had relied heavily on the mining of iron ore prior to the civil war. Liberia was a major exporter of iron ore on the world market. By the 1970s, iron mining accounted for more than half of Liberia's export earnings. Since the coup d'état of 1980, the country's economic growth rate has slowed down because of a decline in the demand for iron ore on the world market and political upheavals in Liberia.

Following a peak in growth in 1979, the Liberian economy began a steady decline due to economic mismanagement following the 1980 coup.[15] This decline was accelerated by the outbreak of civil war in 1989; GDP was reduced by an estimated 90% from 1989 to 1995, one of the fastest declines in history.[15] The United Nations imposed sanctions on Liberia in 2001 for its support to the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in neighboring Sierra Leone. These sanctions have been lifted following elections in 2005.

Upon the end of the war in 2003, GDP growth began to accelerate again, reaching a peak of 9.4% in 2007.[16] The global financial crisis slowed GDP growth to 4.6% in 2009,[16] though a strengthening agricultural sector led by rubber and timber exports increased growth to 5.1% in 2010 and an expected 7.3% in 2011, making the economy one of the 20 fastest growing in the world.[17][18]

In March 2010, Bob Johnson, founder of BET, funded the first hotel constructed in Liberia in 20 years. The 13-acre (53,000 m2) luxury resort was built in the Paynesville section of Monrovia.[19]

Liberia's external debt was estimated in 2006 at approximately $4.5 billion, 800% of GDP.[15] As a result of bilateral, multilateral and commercial debt relief from 2007 to 2010, the country's external debt fell to $222.9 million by 2011.[20]

Economic sectors[edit]

Boy grinding sugar cane 1968

Liberia's business sector is largely controlled by foreigners mainly of Levantine (primarily Lebanese) and Indian descent. There also are limited numbers of Chinese engaged in agriculture. The largest timber concession, Oriental Timber Corporation (OTC), is Indonesian owned. There also are significant numbers of West Africais engaged in cross-border trade. Legal monopolies are possible; for example, Cemenco holds a monopoly on cement production.

Unlike almost all other countries in the world, Liberia has not adopted the metric system as its primary system of measurement.


Timber and rubber are Liberia's main export items since the end of the war. Liberia earns more than $100 million and more than $70 million annually from timber and rubber exports, respectively.

Mining and resources[edit]

Alluvial diamond and gold mining activities also account for some economic activity. In recent years (2005 - 2012), foreign investment from ArcelorMittal Steel, BHP Biliton, and China Union is aiding the revitalization of the iron-ore mining sector.

Liberia has begun exploration for offshore oil; unproven oil reserves may be in excess of one billion barrels.[21] The government divided its offshore waters into 17 blocks and began auctioning off exploration licenses for the blocks in 2004, with further auctions in 2007 and 2009.[22][23][24] An additional 13 ultra-deep offshore blocks were demarcated in 2011 and planned for auction.[25] Among the companies to have won licenses are Repsol YPF, Chevron Corporation, and Woodside Petroleum.[26]

Shipping flag of convenience[edit]

Liberia maintains an open maritime registry, meaning that owners of ships can register their vessels as Liberian with relatively few restrictions. This has meant that Liberian ship registration is usually understood as the employment of a flag of convenience. Liberia has the second-largest maritime registry in the world behind Panama, with 4,300 vessels registered under its flag accounting for 12% of ships worldwide.[27][28] This includes 35% of the world's tanker fleet. Liberia earned more than $18 million from its maritime program in 2000.

Foreign aid[edit]

Liberia has relied heavily on vast amounts of foreign assistance, particularly from the United States, Sweden, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, the People's Republic of China, and Romania. But because of the Liberian Government's perceived disregard for human rights, foreign assistance to Liberia has declined drastically.

The Republic of China (Taiwan) and Libya are currently the largest donors of direct financial aid to the Liberian Government. Significant amounts of aid continue to come in from Western countries through international aid agencies and non-governmental organizations, avoiding direct aid to the government.


Communications in Liberia is the press, radio, television, fixed and mobile telephones, and the Internet. There are six major newspapers in Liberia, and 45% of the population has a mobile phone service. Also, the radio stations in Liberia are abundant to the extent that there are over 70 radio stations in the entire country (Liberia). As for Montserrado County, there exist about 30 radio stations.

Even as it struggles with economic and political constraints, Liberia's media environment is expanding. The number of registered newspapers and radio stations (many of them community stations) is on the rise despite limited market potential. And politically critical content and investigative pieces do get published or broadcast.[29]


Formal electricity services are solely provided by the state-owned Liberia Electricity Corporation, which operates a small grid almost exclusively in the Greater Monrovia District.[30] The vast majority of electric energy services is provided by small privately owned generators. At $0.54 per kWh, the electricity tariff in Liberia is among the highest in the world. Total installed capacity in 2013 was 20 MW, a sharp decline from a peak of 191 MW in 1989.[30]

International economic networks[edit]

A proportional representation of Liberian exports. The shipping related categories reflect Liberia's status as an international flag of convenience - there are 3,500 vessels registered under Liberia's flag accounting for 11% of ships worldwide.[27][28]

Liberia is a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). With Guinea and Sierra Leone, it formed the Mano River Union (MRU) for development and the promotion of regional economic integration. The MRU became all but defunct because of the Liberian civil war which spilled over into neighboring Sierra Leone and Guinea.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "World Economic Outlook Database, April 2019". International Monetary Fund. Retrieved 29 September 2019.
  2. ^ "World Bank Country and Lending Groups". World Bank. Retrieved 29 September 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "AFRICA :: LIBERIA". World Bank. Retrieved 6 March 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e "World Economic Outlook Database, October 2019". International Monetary Fund. Retrieved 22 January 2020.
  5. ^ "Global Economic Prospects, January 2020 : Slow Growth, Policy Challenges" (PDF). World Bank. p. 147. Retrieved 22 January 2020.
  6. ^ "Poverty headcount ratio at $1.90 a day (2011 PPP) (% of population) - Liberia". World Bank. Retrieved 6 March 2020.
  7. ^ "GINI index (World Bank estimate) - Liberia". World Bank. Retrieved 6 March 2020.
  8. ^ "Human Development Index (HDI)". HDRO (Human Development Report Office) United Nations Development Programme. Retrieved 11 December 2019.
  9. ^ "Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI)". HDRO (Human Development Report Office) United Nations Development Programme. Retrieved 11 December 2019.
  10. ^ "Labor force, total - Liberia". World Bank. Retrieved 6 March 2020.
  11. ^ "Employment to population ratio, 15+, total (%) (national estimate) - Liberia". World Bank. Retrieved 6 March 2020.
  12. ^ "Report on the Liberia Labour Force Survey 2010" (PDF). Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS). February 2011.
  13. ^ "Ease of Doing Business in Liberia". Retrieved 2017-01-24.
  14. ^ "Firestone and the Warlord, Chapter 2", T. Christian Miller and Jonathan Jones, November 18, 2014, ProPublica and PBS Frontline
  15. ^ a b c "The Challenges of Post-War Reconstruction—the Liberian Experience". Government of Liberia. June 13, 2011.
  16. ^ a b "Report for Selected Countries and Subjects: Liberia". International Monetary Fund. June 20, 2011.
  17. ^ "IMF Country Report No. 10/37" (PDF). International Monetary Fund. 2010.
  18. ^ "Liberian President: Government and People are Partners in Progress". Africa Governance Initiative. January 27, 2011. Archived from the original on December 20, 2016.
  19. ^ "Fact Sheet - RLJ Kendeja Resort & Villas". Archived from the original on 2010-01-28.
  20. ^ "Second Quarter 2010/2011 Public Debt Management Report" (PDF). Debt Management Unit. Ministry of Finance. March 25, 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 10, 2013.
  21. ^ "Liberia may have over 1 bln barrels in oil resources". Reuters Africa. November 3, 2009. Archived from the original on January 20, 2012.
  22. ^ "NOCAL 2004 Liberia Offshore Bid Round Announcement". Business Wire. February 2, 2004.
  23. ^ Pearson, Natalie Obiko (December 10, 2007). "Liberia Opens Bidding for 10 Offshore Oil Blocks". RigZone.
  24. ^ "Third Liberian Offshore Petroleum Licensing Round 2009". Deloitte Petroleum Services. Deloitte. August 27, 2009. Archived from the original on November 4, 2013.
  25. ^ Toweh, Alphonso (July 21, 2011). "Liberia marks out new oil blocks, auction seen soon". Reuters. Archived from the original on March 22, 2012.
  26. ^ "Chevron to Acquire Deepwater Interest Offshore Liberia" (Press release). Chevron Corporation. September 8, 2010.
  27. ^ a b Schoenurl, John W. (August 11, 2003). "Liberian shipping draws scrutiny". NBC News.
  28. ^ a b "About the Liberian Registry". Liberian Registry. Archived from the original on 2014-11-10.
  29. ^ "Media Environment and Regulation in Liberia" Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine, AudienceScapes. Retrieved 8 February 2014.
  30. ^ a b "Options for the Development of Liberia's Energy Sector" (PDF). International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. World Bank Group. 2011.

External links[edit]