Is the era of industrialization and manufacturing exports growth miracles – a period of rapid economic growth exceeding expectations, last seen in East Asian countries, most notably in China – over? If you listen to Harvard’s Dani Rodrik, the answer seems to be: pretty much! Does that mean, Africa, the only continent which hasn’t seen rapid export-led manufacturing growth, would not have many growth miracle stories?
Two years ago, 23-year-old Pedro Flores became a technician specializing in renewable energy—all thanks to a degree from a technical institute in Maule, located in one of Chile’s poorest regions. After completing his degree in just two years, Flores became the only person in his family to obtain an advanced degree. Today, he lives in Santiago and works for a private solar energy multinational corporation, where he earns a competitive salary that is only slightly below the average for entry-level professionals in his field, most of whom spent over five years in university.
When early December was upon us—heralding the start of the month of annual festivities—a group of women executives met to put forward strategies for equality in business. They met against a background of the harsh reality of women’s exclusion from leadership positions in Zimbabwe, brought to the fore in a recently released Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) Manufacturing Survey for 2017.
The survey, which derived some of its data from the 2016 World Bank Enterprise survey as well as from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, revealed that—in a country struggling with unemployment—the labor force in the manufacturing sector is composed of only 20 percent women on average, and 80 percent of men.
For decades, various governments around the world have used trade-distorting policies (tariff and non-tariff barriers) to support the development of local automotive industries that would not have otherwise been economically viable. However, to what extent are these policies, which once helped attract market-seeking automakers (or Original Equipment Manufacturers: OEMs), still serving the interests of these countries is uncertain.
In fact, for India and Pakistan, two of the biggest South Asian automotive producers, a recent World Bank Group report highlights that such polices might be reducing competitiveness and slowing down the spread of world-class good practices in the value chain. These effects need to considered carefully. A process of reform via gradual reduction of import tariffs and convergence with international environmental and safety standards is recommended to enhance competitiveness of this sector.
In the automotive sector, India is the world’s sixth-largest auto producer by volume, but it owns less than 1 percent of global export markets compared with more than 3 percent for China, 4.5 percent for Korea and 7 percent for Mexico. The average auto firm in India exported only 5 percent of its total sales, compared to 16 percent in China. Productivity levels in India are one-third the levels in China, and this gap persists for OEMs that are sub-scale, with below-average investment in innovation and skills, and with low participation in global value chains (GVCs). All these factors were discussed in a previous Private Sector Development blog post. The situation is worse in Pakistan, with lower levels of exports and productivity, and with similar factors driving it.
Trade policies, through tariff and non-tariff barriers, play an important role in shaping the external environment, which in turn influences a firm’s incentive to become more productive (or not). Firms facing greater competition in their product markets are inclined to raise the minimum productivity threshold to operate profitably and reduce inefficiencies. They do this both through investing in productivity-enhancing activities and through reducing costs, which in turn helps them capture greater market shares. Competition also helps reallocate resources from the less-productive to the more-productive firms, increasing the incentives for all firms to invest in the within-firm productivity levers such as innovation and skills.
For several decades, manufacturing in the automotive sector has made a strong contribution to spurring national growth, to promoting technology acquisition, and to raising incomes for workers across skill levels in developing economies as well as in developed nations. In India – the world’s sixth-largest producer of cars, where the automotive sector has been growing but at well below its tremendous potential – productivity levels would need to increase rapidly. A wave of autonomous functionality in vehicles and other technology-driven disruptions are not far away with the involvement of tech giants like Google, Tesla, and Uber. This makes the need to improve productivity in order to respond quickly to changing environments even more critical for traditional automakers.
Some long-awaited reforms in India to improve automotive manufacturing performance came through this year. In July, the Government of India implemented a unified Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime to replace the multiple taxes that had been levied, in the past, by the state and central governments. This makes for a more integrated market, with uniformity in tax rates where automakers will be helped by easier compliance, the removal of cascading effect of taxes and the reduction of the costs of doing business. Reinforcing this, the union budget allocation in February allows for more investments in roads and highways, farm-friendly policies and income-tax reform for the middle class. Those steps will increase demand for small passenger vehicles and for the farm-equipment segment. This is all good news for the automakers in India.
Still, much more needs to be done to increase overall productivity in this job-creating and technology-rich sector. According to a recently published report by the World Bank Group, entitled “Automotive in South Asia: From Fringe to Global,” productivity (measured by value added per worker) in India’s auto sector remains less than one-third the level of China. From 1993 to 2004, the growth rate of Total Factor Productivity in China’s automotive sector was 6.1 percent per year, compared to only 1.1 percent in India. The growth rate of labor productivity was 9.8 percent per year in China, compared to 3.1 percent in India. Even though India has been increasing production of units at 11 percent to 15 percent per year (from 2005 through 2015) , it could do much better on improving productivity levels.
Over the past decade and a half, Sub-Saharan Africa has experienced rapid economic growth at an average annual rate of 5.5%. But since 2008, the share of manufacturing in GDP across the continent has stagnated at around 10%. This calls into question as to whether African economies have undergone structural transformation – the reallocation of economic activity across broad sectors -- which is considered vital for sustained economic growth in the long-run.
The China sourcing conundrum
In conversations with U.S. and European retailers and brands, ELEVATE – a company formed in 2013 to support corporate social responsibility – finds that apparel buyers rate diversifying away from China as one of their top three sourcing goals.
This is not to suggest that there is a desire to exit China – which currently holds by far the largest share of global apparel trade, at 41 percent – but rather a need to significantly reduce dependence on product from China, owing to rising costs, factory closures, unenthusiastic second generation family ownership, new attitudes about working in factories, and a perception that China wants to move to higher-value manufacturing. Sourcing and procurement organizations feel uncertain, and uncertainty is not a friend of supply chains.
The problem is that for all its uncertainty, China still has a huge base of factories, a well-developed transport infrastructure, and a comprehensive eco-system that supplies cut-and-sew operations, and management that has matured with years of experience. Even if a buyer would like to give another country an opportunity, many corporate risk managers view certain countries or regions as quite challenging for doing business.
South Asia could seize this opportunity by better meeting requirements – besides competitive costs – that are vital to global buyers. These include: (i) quality, which is influenced by the raw materials used, skill level of the sewing machine operator, and thoroughness of the quality control team; (ii) lead time and reliability, which are greatly affected by the efficiency and availability of transportation networks and customs procedures; and (iii) social compliance and sustainability, which has become central to buyers’ sourcing decisions in response to pressure from corporate social responsibility campaigns by non-governmental organizations, compliance-conscious consumers, and, more recently, the increased number of safety incidents in apparel factories.
Surveys of global buyers show that East Asian apparel manufacturers rank well above South Asian firms along these key dimensions, as noted in a new World Bank report on apparel, jobs, trade, and economic development in South Asia, Stitches to Riches (see table). So, what can South Asia, which now accounts for only 12 percent of global apparel trade, do to become a bigger player? An encouraging recent development is that buyers have started collaborating to facilitate new sourcing possibilities – as the case of Bangladesh illustrates.
What goes up must come down.
The end of the commodities boom is a wake-up call for Indonesia, as the reversal in economic transformation has adversely impacted employment growth in recent years. How can Indonesia continue to create jobs for its growing labor force?
Jobs in manufacturing and services offer a solution, as historical patterns of job creation have shown.
In the past 20 years (excluding the economic crisis of 1997-1999), manufacturing and services have been important sources of job creation, while employment in agriculture continues to decline. From 1990 to 2015, jobs in agriculture fell to 34% from 56% of all employment, while service sector work has surged to 53% from 34%, and manufacturing jobs have increased from 10% to 13%.
China now dominates the global apparel market – accounting for 41% of the market, compared with 12% for South Asia. But as wages in China continue to rise, its apparel production is expected to shift toward other developing countries, especially in Asia. How much of China’s apparel production can South Asia capture and therefore how much employment could be created? This is important because apparel is a labor intensive industry that historically employs relatively large numbers of female workers.
In our new report, Stiches to Riches?, we estimate that South Asia could create at least 1.5 million jobs, of which half a million would be for women. Moreover, that is a conservative estimate, given that we are assuming no changes in policies to foster growth in apparel and address existing impediments.