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Economic diversification: A priority for action, now more than ever

Cecile Fruman's picture

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)
http://atlas.media.mit.edu/en/profile/country/chl/#Exports

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.

Is diversifying exports a path toward peace in Syria?

Saurabh Mishra's picture
"Syria". Drawing by Rajesh Sarkar.



Resource rich nations face unique challenges when attempting to move from low to high value added activities.

Resource sectors (such as mining and oil) tend to be highly capital intensive and offer limited employment opportunities to accommodate workers exiting from other sectors with lower average productivity, such as agriculture and informal services.

Do Rigidities in Employment Protection Stifle Entry into Export Markets?

Murat Seker's picture

Editor's Note: Murat Seker recently presented the findings of the paper discussed in the following blog post at a session of the FPD Academy. Please see the FPD Academy page on the All About Finance blog for more information on this monthly World Bank event series.

Many studies point to the importance of firms that export to economic growth and development. These firms tend to be larger, more productive, and grow faster than non-exporting firms. These findings have focused policymakers’ attention on the importance of international trade for economic growth. From the 1980s to the 2000s traditional trade policies have improved significantly—applied tariff rates across a wide range of countries with varying levels of income have decreased from around 25 percent to 10 percent. However, improvements in trade policies are often not enough to reap the full benefits of international trade. To be fully effective, they require complementary reforms that improve the business environment for firms. In a recent paper on Rigidities in Employment Protection and Exporting, I focus on a particular aspect of the business environment, namely employment protection legislation (EPL), and show how these regulations relate to the decisions of firms to enter export markets.1

Evidence shows that export market entry is associated with significant changes and adjustments in firm performance around the time at which exporting begins. In data collected via the Enterprise Surveys project, the employment levels of firms that subsequently enter export markets ("future-exporters") grow by 13%, four times higher than the growth rate of firms that don’t enter export markets.2 Bernard and Jensen (1999) find that the growth premium for these future-exporters as compared to non-exporters in the U.S. is 1.4% per year for employment and 2.4% for shipments.