The volume of bananas exported worldwide in the period 1985-2002 grew at an unprecedented average annual rate of 5.3 percent, twice that of the previous 24 years. This expansion was accompanied by minor technological changes but by major developments in the world trade situation. The latter included: the opening of socialist economies to world markets in the early 1990s; a significant liberalization of bilateral and multilateral trade; rising environmental awareness; the creation of the Single European Market in 1993; a period of strong economic growth fostered by information technologies and "the new economy"; the implementation of structural adjustment policies in banana producing countries; and a significant concentration of trade at retail level. This publication reviews the impacts of these events on the world banana economy. It is the first of a series of FAO Commodity Studies that focus primarily on themes relating to individual commodities or commodity groups.