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South Africa's export predicament


  • Ricardo Hausmann
  • Bailey Klinger


Using South Africa as an example, this article explores how the structure of production affects export diversification and economic growth. We show that the lagging process of structural transformation is part of the explanation for stagnant exports per capita in South Africa over the past 40 years. This slow structural transformation is shown to be a consequence in part of the peripheral nature of South Africa's productive capabilities: the country is specialized in sectors intensive in highly specific factors of production that cannot be easily redeployed to other activities. Using this methodology, we examine the sectoral priorities of the South African Department of Trade and Industry and explore the policy implications of the country's orientation in the product space. Copyright (c) 2008 The Authors. Journal compilation (c) 2008 The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Suggested Citation

  • Ricardo Hausmann & Bailey Klinger, 2008. "South Africa's export predicament ," The Economics of Transition, The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, vol. 16(4), pages 609-637, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:etrans:v:16:y:2008:i:4:p:609-637

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Robert C. Feenstra & Robert E. Lipsey & Haiyan Deng & Alyson C. Ma & Hengyong Mo, 2005. "World Trade Flows: 1962-2000," NBER Working Papers 11040, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Hausmann, Ricardo & Rodrik, Dani, 2003. "Economic development as self-discovery," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(2), pages 603-633, December.
    3. Jaffe, Adam B, 1986. "Technological Opportunity and Spillovers of R&D: Evidence from Firms' Patents, Profits, and Market Value," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(5), pages 984-1001, December.
    4. Ricardo Hausmann & Dani Rodrik & Charles F. Sabel, 2008. "Reconfiguring Industrial Policy: A Framework with an Application to South Africa," CID Working Papers 168, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
    5. Ricardo Hausmann & Jason Hwang & Dani Rodrik, 2007. "What you export matters," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 12(1), pages 1-25, March.
    6. Ricardo Hausmann & Bailey Klinger, 2007. "The Structure of the Product Space and the Evolution of Comparative Advantage," CID Working Papers 146, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
    7. Adam B. Jaffe & Manuel Trajtenberg & Rebecca Henderson, 1993. "Geographic Localization of Knowledge Spillovers as Evidenced by Patent Citations," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 108(3), pages 577-598.
    8. Kenneth J. Arrow, 1962. "The Economic Implications of Learning by Doing," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 29(3), pages 155-173.
    9. C. A. Hidalgo & B. Klinger & A. -L. Barabasi & R. Hausmann, 2007. "The Product Space Conditions the Development of Nations," Papers 0708.2090,
    10. Ricardo Hausmann & Bailey Klinger, 2006. "Structural Transformation and Patterns of Comparative Advantage in the Product Space," CID Working Papers 128, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
    11. David de Ferranti & Guillermo E. Perry & Daniel Lederman & William E. Maloney, 2002. "From Natural Resources to the Knowledge Economy : Trade and Job Quality," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 14040.
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    Cited by:

    1. Rattsø, Jørn & Stokke, Hildegunn E., 2012. "Trade policy in a growth model with technology gap dynamics and simulations for South Africa," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 36(7), pages 1042-1056.
    2. Hausmann, Ricardo & Chauvin, Jasmina, 2015. "Moving to the Adjacent Possible: Discovering Paths for Export Diversification in Rwanda," Working Paper Series rwp15-022, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
    3. Ricardo Hausmann & Bailey Klinger, 2009. "Erratum," The Economics of Transition, The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, vol. 17(1), pages 211-212, January.
    4. Sandra Poncet & Felipe Starosta de Waldemar, 2015. "Product Relatedness and Firm Exports in China," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 29(3), pages 579-605.
    5. Berhanu Abegaz, 2008. "The Speed Of Structural Convergence In The Manufacturing Industries Of Newly Industrialising Economies," South African Journal of Economics, Economic Society of South Africa, vol. 76(s2), pages 89-109, August.
    6. Jørn Rattsø & Hildegunn e. Stokke, 2007. "A Growth Model For South Africa," South African Journal of Economics, Economic Society of South Africa, vol. 75(4), pages 616-630, December.
    7. Berhanu Abegaz, 2007. "The Speed of Structural Convergence in the Manufacturing Industries of Newly Industrializing Economies," Working Papers 67, Department of Economics, College of William and Mary.
    8. Matt Andrews, 2008. "Is Black Economic Empowerment a South African Growth Catalyst? (Or Could it Be...)," CID Working Papers 170, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
    9. Jørn Rattsø & Hildegunn E. Stokke, 2009. "Trade barriers to growth in South Africa: Endogenous investment-productivity-trade interaction," DEGIT Conference Papers c014_010, DEGIT, Dynamics, Economic Growth, and International Trade.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • O55 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Africa
    • F19 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Other
    • O14 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Industrialization; Manufacturing and Service Industries; Choice of Technology
    • O33 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes
    • O40 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - General


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