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Service with a smile: A new growth engine for poor countries

Ejaz Ghani's picture

This post was originally published in Voxeu.org.

Services have long been the main source of growth in rich countries. We argue that services are now the main source of growth in poor countries as well. We present evidence that services may provide the easiest and fastest route out of poverty for many poor countries.

For more than 200 years, it was argued that economic development and growth was associated with growth of the labour-intensive manufacturing sector (Baumol 1967, Kaldor 1966, UNIDO 2009). Services were considered as menial, low-skilled, and low-innovation (McCredie and Bubner 2010). But today, services can be among the most dynamic sectors in an economy. The policy question is whether this is true even in poor countries.

There is evidence that services contribute more to GDP growth, job creation, and poverty reduction than industry in many developing countries (Ghani and Kharas 2010). Services now account for more than 75% of the global economy (45% in developing economies). Services are the fastest growing sector in global trade. The share of developing countries in world service exports increased from 14% in 1990 to 21% in 2008. The average growth of service exports from poor countries has exceeded that of rich countries during the last two decades. Their service exports are growing faster than goods exports. In brief, the globalization of services has enabled developing countries to tap into a new, dynamic source of growth.

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