Ethiopia has - almost uniquely in Africa - virtually no private sector business at all. There are no Patent Laws in Ethiopia. Many government owned properties during the previous regime have now been transferred to pro-government enterprises in the name of privatization. Telecommunications remain a state monopoly, stifling the development of mobile phones that have become ubiquituous elsewhere in Africa. In financial services, no foreign banks are allowed and it remains almost impossible to find start-up loans for small and medium businesses. Youth unemployment is estimated to be as high as 70%. Because of population growth, just to stand still the country must produce hundreds of thousands of jobs every year.
Furthermore, the Ethiopian constitution defines the right to own land as belonging only to "the state and the people", but citizens may only lease land (up to 99 years), and are unable to mortgage, sell, or own it. Various groups and political parties have sought for full privatization of land, while other opposition parties are against privatization and favor communal ownership.
The current government has embarked on a program of economic reform, including privatization of state enterprises and rationalization of government regulation. While the process is still ongoing, the reforms have begun to attract much-needed foreign investment. Despite recent improvements, with an exploding population Ethiopia remains one of the poorest nations in the world.
Ethiopia's agriculture is plagued by periodic drought, soil degradation caused by overgrazing, deforestation, high population density, high levels of taxation and poor infrastructure (making it difficult and expensive to get goods to market). Yet agriculture is the country's most promising resource. A potential exists for self-sufficiency in grains and for export development in livestock, grains, vegetables, and fruits. As many as 4.6 million people need food assistance annually.
Agriculture accounts for almost 41 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), 80 percent of exports, and 80 percent of the labour force. Many other economic activities depend on agriculture, including marketing, processing, and export of agricultural products. Production is overwhelmingly of a subsistence nature, and a large part of commodity exports are provided by the small agricultural cash-crop sector. Principal crops include coffee, pulses (e.g., beans), oilseeds, cereals, potatoes, sugarcane, and vegetables. Exports are almost entirely agricultural commodities, and coffee is the largest foreign exchange earner. Ethiopia is Africa's second biggest maize producer. Ethiopia's livestock population is believed to be the largest in Africa, and as of 1987 accounted for about 15 percent of the GDP.
Prior to the outbreak of the 1998–2000 Ethiopian–Eritrean war, landlocked Ethiopia mainly relied on the seaports of Asseb and Massawa in Eritrea for international trade. , Ethiopia uses the ports of Djibouti, connected to Addis Ababa by the Addis Ababa - Djibouti Railway, and to a lesser extent Port Sudan in Sudan. In May 2005, the Ethiopian government began negotiations to use the port of Berbera in Somaliland. Of the 23,812 kilometres of Ethiopia's all-weather roads, 15% are asphalt. Mountainous terrain and the lack of good roads and sufficient vehicles make land transportation difficult. However, the government-owned airline is excellent. Ethiopian Airlines serves 38 domestic airfields and has 42 international destinations.
The following table displays the trend of Ethiopia's gross domestic product at market prices, according to estimates by the International Monetary Fund with figures in millions of Ethiopian Birr.
|Year||Gross Domestic Product||US Dollar Exchange|
The current GDP per capita of Ethiopia shrank by 43% in the 1990s.
The major agricultural export crop is coffee, providing about 65% of Ethiopia's foreign exchange earnings. Coffee is critical to the Ethiopian economy. More than 15 million people (25% of the population) derive their livelihood from the coffee sector. According to current estimates, coffee contributes 10% of Ethiopia's GDP.
Dependent on a few vulnerable crops for its foreign exchange earnings and reliant on imported oil, Ethiopia lacks sufficient foreign exchange. The financially conservative government has taken measures to solve this problem, including stringent import controls and sharply reduced subsidies on retail gasoline prices. Nevertheless, the largely subsistence economy is incapable of supporting high military expenditures, drought relief, an ambitious development plan, and indispensable imports such as oil and, therefore, must depend on foreign assistance.
In December 1999, Ethiopia signed a $1.4 billion joint venture deal to develop a huge natural gas field in the Somali Region. The war with Eritrea has forced the government to spend scarce resources on the military and forced the government to scale back ambitious development plans. Foreign investment has declined significantly. Government taxes imposed in late 1999 to raise money for the war will depress an already weak economy. The war has forced the government to improve roads and other parts of the previously neglected infrastructure, but only certain regions of the nation have benefited.