Arab States Have a Lot to Lose from Boycotting France
A man holds a picture of Emmanuel Macron with a shoeprint on it as Turkish protesters shout slogans against the French president in Istanbul on October 25. (Yasin Akgul/AFP via Getty Images)

Arab States Have a Lot to Lose from Boycotting France

Al-Nahar, Lebanon, November 1

Every once in a while, it is useful to take a step back from the decisions we make and assess our actions using a traditional cost-benefit analysis: What do we have to gain and what do we have to lose from our actions? Actions should never be examined from a single, biased perspective. In recent days, social media accounts throughout the Arab world have been buzzing with calls to boycott French products after French President Emmanuel Macron described Islam as a “religion in crisis.” I have encountered posts on almost every major social media platform celebrating the huge political loss incurred by the French by this emerging boycott movement. But the truth is that this movement is rather ineffective. As previous boycott attempts, against countries like the United States and Israel, have taught us – boycott movements are ineffective and have no real economic impact. Refraining from buying French products at the supermarket barely swings the needle on the French economy: There is extensive trade at the state-to-state level, especially arms sales, car imports, and even goods and services related to the oil industry. These are long-term contracts negotiated at the highest levels of power, not simply decided upon on the streets. Therefore, declaring a boycott on French products can actually hurt many in the Arab world. It is a lose-lose situation. For example, the volume of trade between Algeria and France in 2019 reached some $10 billion, of which France’s imports from Algeria amounted to some $4.7 billion. In other words, cutting trade with France would mean that Algeria would lose about $5 billion of its exports. And, to make matters worse, it might not be able to replace the banned French goods with alternative imports from other countries due to its economic crisis and the ongoing pandemic. The same logic applies to Morocco, where trade with France last year amounted to nearly $12 billion, of which $5.3 billion were French exports to Morocco. In other words, Morocco will also lose about $6 billion annually by joining a boycott movement. Trade between France and Tunisia in 2019 amounted to about $9 billion and French exports to Tunisia accounted for about $3.8 billion of this amount. Here, too, Tunisia will have to pay a huge price in exchange for a boycott: about $5 billion, to be precise. As we review these figures, it becomes imminently clear to anyone with even a minimal understanding of politics and finance that no single Arab government can afford to truly boycott France. The blow to the Arab world would be at least as bad, if not more devastating, than any damage caused to France. – Ghassan Hajjar (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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