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Do Developed and Developing Countries Compete Head to Head in High Tech?

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  • Robert Z. Lawrence

    ()
    (Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government)

  • Lawrence Edward

    (University of Cape Town)

Abstract

Concerns that (1) growth in developing countries could worsen the US terms of trade and (2) that increased US trade with developing countries will increase US wage inequality both implicitly reflect the assumption that goods produced in the United States and developing countries are close substitutes and that specialization is incomplete. In this paper we show on the contrary that there are distinctive patterns of international specialization and that developed and developing countries export fundamentally different products, especially those classified as high tech. Judged by export shares, the United States and developing countries specialize in quite different product categories that, for the most part, do not overlap. Moreover, even when exports are classified in the same category, there are large and systematic differences in unit values that suggest the products made by developed and developing countries are not very close substitutes-developed country products are far more sophisticated. This generalization is already recognized in the literature but it does not hold for all types of products. Export unit values of developed and developing countries of primary commodity-intensive products are typically quite similar. Unit values of standardized (low-tech) manufactured products exported by developed and developing countries are somewhat similar. By contrast, the medium- and high-tech manufactured exports of developed and developing countries differ greatly. This finding has important implications. While measures of across product specialization suggest China and other Asian economies have been moving into high-tech exports, the within-product unit value measures indicate they are doing so in the least sophisticated market segments and the gap in unit values between their exports and those of developed countries has not narrowed over time. These findings shed light on the paradoxical finding, exemplified by computers and electronics, that US-manufactured imports from developing countries are concentrated in US industries, which employ relatively high shares of skilled American workers. They help explain why America’s nonoil terms of trade have improved and suggest that recently declining relative import prices from developing countries may not produced significant wage inequality in the United States. Finally they suggest that inferring competitive trends based on trade balances in products classified as "high tech" or "advanced" can be highly misleading.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Peterson Institute for International Economics in its series Working Paper Series with number WP10-8.

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Date of creation: Jun 2010
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Handle: RePEc:iie:wpaper:wp10-8

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Keywords: Terms of Trade; Technology;

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References

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  1. Yew-Kwang Ng & Guang-Zhen Sun, 2000. "The measurement of structural differences between economies: An axiomatic characterization," Economic Theory, Springer, vol. 16(2), pages 313-321.
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  9. Lawrence Edwards & Robert Z. Lawrence, 2013. "Rising Tide: Is Growth in Emerging Economies Good for the United States?," Peterson Institute Press: All Books, Peterson Institute for International Economics, number 5003.
  10. Robert C. Feenstra & John Romalis & Peter K. Schott, 2002. "U.S. Imports, Exports, and Tariff Data, 1989-2001," NBER Working Papers 9387, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  12. Lawrence Edwards & Robert Lawrence, 2010. "US Trade and Wages: The Misleading Implications of Conventional Trade Theory," Working Papers 180, Economic Research Southern Africa.
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Cited by:
  1. Robert Z. Lawrence, 2012. "How Can Trade Policy Help America Compete?," Policy Briefs PB12-21, Peterson Institute for International Economics.
  2. Lawrence, Robert Z., 2013. "Association of Southeast Asian Nations, People's Republic of China, and India Growth and the Rest of the World: The Role of Trade," ADBI Working Papers 416, Asian Development Bank Institute.
  3. Xiaonan Liu & Hayley Chouinard, 2013. "The Effects of Product Quality on Net Trade," Working Papers 2013-11, School of Economic Sciences, Washington State University.
  4. Lawrence, Robert Z., 2013. "Associations of Southeast Asian Nations, People's Republic of China, and India Growth and the Rest of the World: The Role of Trade," Working Paper Series rwp13-013, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.

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