The global economy is stagnating, and uncertainty about its future is rising. These trends weigh heavily on countries that depend on the production and export of a small range of products, or that sell products in only a few overseas markets. Prices of the minerals and other basic commodities that dominate the exports of many poor countries have also declined sharply. All of this points up the need for diversification strategies that can deliver sustained, job intensive and inclusive growth.
The World Bank Group’s Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice (T&C), a joint practice of the World Bank and International Finance Corporation (IFC), is working with a growing roster of client countries eager to achieve greater economic diversification. This is a worthy goal regardless of economic conditions, but especially so now, as developing countries with sector-dependent economies face mounting pressures.
Chile is an example of a diversified economy, exporting more than 2,800 distinct products to more than 120 different countries. Zambia, a country similarly endowed with copper resources, exports just over 700 products — one-fourth of Chile’s export basket — and these go to just 80 countries. Other low-income countries have similarly limited diversified economies. The Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Malawi, for example, export around 550 and 310 products, respectively. Larger countries that export oil, such as Nigeria (780 products) and Kazakhstan (540 products), have failed to substantially expand the range of products they produce and export.
AJG Simoes, CA Hidalgo. The Economic Complexity Observatory: An Analytical Tool for Understanding the Dynamics of Economic Development. Workshops at the Twenty-Fifth AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence. (2011)
While the sluggish global economy is creating economic problems for traditional exports, other economic trends offer new routes and opportunities for poor countries to diversify. The trend toward the spatial splitting up of production across wide geographic areas, and the emergence and growth of regional and global value chains, offer new ways for developing countries to export tasks, services and other activities. Value chains offer developing countries a path out of the trap of having to specialize in whole industries, with all of the cost and risk that such a strategy entails.