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Achieving Export-Led Growth in Colombia


  • Hausmann, Ricardo

    (Harvard U)

  • Klinger, Bailey

    (Harvard U)


The purpose of this paper is to analyze Colombia's experiences with and opportunities for export led growth. We first review Colombia's growth and export performance over the past 30 years and find that the country is indeed facing an export challenge. We then go on to develop new metrics and apply them to Colombia's export challenge. First, we consider the opportunities for upgrading quality within existing exports, and find that Colombia has very little opportunity for growth in this dimension. Second, we consider the level of sophistication of the current export basket, and find that it is low and commensurate with the lack of export dynamism. Although not a significant drag on growth, the current export basket will not be sufficient to fuel future output growth. Finally, we develop the concept distances between products, open forest, and the option value of exports to examine the possibility that Colombia's current structure of production is itself a barrier to future structural transformation. While improvements in the export package have been slow in the past, this evidence suggests that Colombia does now enjoy more options for future structural transformation. As there are attractive options for structural transformation nearby, a parsimonious approach to industrial strategy, rather than a risky strategic bet to move to a new part of the product space, seems appropriate. In order to inform such a strategy, we use the metrics developed in the diagnostic to evaluate new export activities in terms of their proximity to current activities, their sophistication, and their strategic value. We identify the sectors representing the best tradeoffs between these aims for Colombia as a whole, as well as its regions. We also devote separate attention to the topic of Agricultural exports, and to exports of services. Finally, we use these metrics to analyze the list of 'high-potential' sectors in the United States, developed by another firm, as well as the sectors prioritized in Colombia's Agenda Interna. These external lists of high-potential sectors are found to be sensible, but could be further rationalized using these metrics. This identification of nearby, high-potential, and strategically valuable sectors is not meant to be a definitive list for targeted subsidies and 'picking winners'. Rather, it provides a robust data-driven approach to inform the next steps in achieving export-led growth in Colombia: which private sector actors should be consulted first? What sector-specific reforms should be stressed? How should public spending on infrastructure and training, which are also sector-specific, be prioritized? What foreign firms should be targeted by FDI promotion agencies? These decisions can be informed by our analysis and the accompanying data.

Suggested Citation

  • Hausmann, Ricardo & Klinger, Bailey, 2008. "Achieving Export-Led Growth in Colombia," Working Paper Series rwp08-063, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecl:harjfk:rwp08-063

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. 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.
    2. Hausmann, Ricardo & Klinger, Bailey, 2006. "Structural Transformation and Patterns of Comparative Advantage in the Product Space," Working Paper Series rwp06-041, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
    3. Hausmann, Ricardo & Rodrik, Dani, 2003. "Economic development as self-discovery," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(2), pages 603-633, December.
    4. Kenneth J. Arrow, 1962. "The Economic Implications of Learning by Doing," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 29(3), pages 155-173.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:eee:tefoso:v:123:y:2017:i:c:p:95-107 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Maria del Pilar Esguerra & Sergio Parra Ulloa, 2016. "Colombia, por fuera las cadenas globales de valor: ¿causa o síntoma del bajo desempeño exportador?," Borradores de Economia 966, Banco de la Republica de Colombia.
    3. Cyrielle Gaglio, 2015. "Measuring Country Competitiveness: A Survey of Exporting-based Indexes," GREDEG Working Papers 2015-42, Groupe de REcherche en Droit, Economie, Gestion (GREDEG CNRS), University of Nice Sophia Antipolis.
    4. Bayudan-Dacuycuy, Connie & Lim, Joseph Anthony, 2014. "Export Sophistication and Export-Led Growth: An Analysis of the Export Basket of Selected East Asian Economies," MPRA Paper 64650, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. Krammer, Sorin M.S., 2015. "Science, technology and innovation for economic competitiveness: the role of smart specialization in less-developed countries," MPRA Paper 80203, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    6. Freire Junior, Clovis, 2017. "Promoting structural transformation: Strategic diversification vs laissez-faire approach," MERIT Working Papers 037, United Nations University - Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT).
    7. Freire Junior, Clovis, 2017. "Economic diversification: Explaining the pattern of diversification in the global economy and its implications for fostering diversification in poorer countries," MERIT Working Papers 033, United Nations University - Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT).

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    JEL classification:

    • F19 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Other
    • O14 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Industrialization; Manufacturing and Service Industries; Choice of Technology
    • O54 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Latin America; Caribbean

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