Trade and Commerce

Trade and Commerce

Historically, Chad has been a country of traders. The ancient kingdoms of Kanem, Borno, and Wadai built their power on trade with Libya, Egypt, and Sudan. During the colonial period, trade increased with francophone countries and Nigeria. In the 1970s, the structure and direction of external trade remained similar to the pattern of colonial times, the most important trading partners being France and Nigeria. Exports to France were principally cotton fiber, and imports were finished manufactured goods and equipment. Much of the trade with Nigeria, consisting of cattle, fish, natron, and other traditional products, was unrecorded and did not pass through official channels. Since the civil upheavals of the late 1970s and early 1980s, which restricted all external trade, unofficial trade with Nigeria has resumed. Official trade with France declined after 1982, primarily because many French-affiliated firms closed during the conflicts. As of late 1987, many of those concerns had not reopened.

Controlling smuggling and black market activity was very difficult. Chad and its neighbors had few resources that could be devoted to border control. Collusion among smugglers and border patrols and customs agents was common. Moreover, Chad's unofficial trade with Nigeria, Cameroon, and Central African Republic has historical and social roots. Tribal and extended family connections across borders encouraged traders to maintain long-range commercial and financial networks beyond colonial and, later, national government control and taxes. Traders unofficially exported the bulk of Chad's exports of cattle, fish, and other traditional products. Unofficial imports consisted of petroleum products and consumer goods, such as sugar, cooking oil, soap, and cigarettes, that competed with production by national industries. The permeability of Chad's borders and the informality of traditional trading networks denied the government revenues ordinarily derived from export-import duties. Locally produced goods and legal imports fared badly in this market, burdened as they were with high production costs, lack of economies of scale, and price distortions imposed by government controls.


The bulk of Chad's official exports were agricultural products, which have accounted for 80 to 95 percent of all exports since independence. Of these exports, cotton fiber was most important, followed by cattle and beef exports. The value of Chad's cotton fiber exports rose steadily in the 1970s. During the early 1980s, as armed conflict took its toll on cotton production, the value of cotton fiber exports dropped. The return of political stability in 1983 and increased cotton production coincided with a rise in world cotton prices, resulting in dramatic increases in the value of Chad's cotton exports in 1983 and 1984. The value of these exports more than doubled from 1982 to 1983 and almost doubled again in 1984.

The downturn of world cotton prices in 1985 caused a collapse in cotton exports. The value of cotton fiber exports from Chad in 1985 was less than half that of the record 1984 level; the value fell even further in 1986. In 1984 cotton fiber had represented 73 percent of the value of all Chad's exports, but in 1986 it represented only 43 percent. The value of all exports also reflected the decline, falling. From a high in 1984 of almost CFA F48 billion to around CFA F34 billion in 1986.

The estimated value of Chad's cattle exports remained more stable from 1983 to 1986. As the value of cotton fiber exports declined, the relative importance of cattle exports to the Chadian economy grew.


Since the late 1960s, the economic significance of imported manufactured and capital goods has grown considerably. From 1967 to 1970, manufactured goods of all types accounted for 46 to 50 percent of Chad's imports. By 1975 manufactured goods accounted for 65 percent of imports. The total value of all imports also grew, doubling between 1965 and 1970 to almost CFA F13 billion. Total imports continued to grow through 1978 to nearly CFA F36 billion before showing a serious decline from 1979 to 1981 because of the heavy fighting. Imports increased after 1982, reaching around CFA F37 billion in 1983 and then doubling by 1985. The leap in imports between these years reflected not only the increase in imported manufactured and capital goods needed to rebuild the shattered economic infrastructure but also an increase in food assistance in these years of drought. The downturn of imports between 1985 and 1986 indicated in part a decline in food imports with the return of good rains.

Direction of Trade

Throughout the 1960s--Chad's first decade of independence-- France remained its most important official trading partner. In 1970 France absorbed 73 percent of Chad's exports and provided some 40 percent of Chad's imports. Between 1979 and 1985, Chad diversified its markets by trading more actively with Spain, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), and particularly Portugal, which absorbed the bulk of Chad's exports, mainly cotton fiber. By 1985 France ranked sixth behind Portugal, West Germany, Cameroon, Spain and the Benelux countries (Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg). Chad's exports of beef and other traditional products to its neighbors, and especially to Nigeria, did not appear in official trade figures.

Although losing significance as a customer, France remained Chad's most important supplier. In 1985 France supplied almost onefourth of Chad's total imports. The United States ranked second, followed by Cameroon, Italy, and the Benelux countries; unspecified West European countries accounted for about 21 percent of Chad's imports in 1985. Chad had little trade with Middle Eastern and North African countries. Both official and black market oil imports came from either Cameroon or Nigeria. Chad had no declared trade with the Soviet Union or East European countries.

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