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Do Developed and Developing Countries Compete Head to Head in High-tech?

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  • Lawrence Edwards
  • Robert Z. Lawrence

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 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 16105.

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Date of creation: Jun 2010
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16105

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  1. Lawrence Edwards & Robert Z. Lawrence, 2010. "US Trade and Wages: The Misleading Implications of Conventional Trade Theory," NBER Working Papers 16106, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. David Weinstein & Christian Broda, 2004. "Globalization and the Gains from Variety," Econometric Society 2004 North American Summer Meetings 508, Econometric Society.
  3. Kozo Kiyota, 2010. "Are US Exports Different from China's Exports? Evidence from Japan's Imports," The World Economy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 33(10), pages 1302-1324, October.
  4. 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.
  5. Justin Pierce & Peter Schott, 2009. "Concording U.S. Harmonized System Categories Over Time," Working Papers 09-11, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
  6. Hausmann, Ricardo & Hwang, Jason & Rodrik, Dani, 2006. "What You Export Matters," CEPR Discussion Papers 5444, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. 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.
  8. Feenstra, Robert C, 1994. "New Product Varieties and the Measurement of International Prices," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(1), pages 157-77, March.
  9. James Harrigan & Geoffrey Barrows, 2009. "Testing the Theory of Trade Policy: Evidence from the Abrupt End of the Multifiber Arrangement," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 91(2), pages 282-294, May.
  10. Zhi Wang & Shang-Jin Wei, 2008. "What Accounts for the Rising Sophistication of China's Exports?," NBER Working Papers 13771, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Sanjaya Lall, 2000. "The Technological Structure and Performance of Developing Country Manufactured Exports, 1985-98," Oxford Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 28(3), pages 337-369.
  12. 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.
  13. Ricardo Hausmann & Dani Rodrik, 2002. "Economic Development as Self-Discovery," NBER Working Papers 8952, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  15. James Harrigan, 2000. "The impact of the Asia crisis on U.S. industry: an almost-free lunch?," Economic Policy Review, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, issue Sep, pages 71-81.
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Cited by:
  1. Xiaonan Liu & Hayley Chouinard, 2013. "The Effects of Product Quality on Net Trade," Working Papers 2013-11, School of Economic Sciences, Washington State University.
  2. 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.
  3. Robert Z. Lawrence, 2012. "How Can Trade Policy Help America Compete?," Policy Briefs PB12-21, Peterson Institute for International Economics.
  4. 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.

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