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Does Freer Trade Really Lead to Productivity Growth? Evidence from Africa

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  • Bresnahan, Lauren R.

    (University of Maryland)

  • Coxhead, Ian

    (University of Wisconsin)

  • Foltz, Jeremy

    (University of Wisconsin)

  • Mogues, Tewodaj

    (International Food Policy Research Institute)

Abstract

Theory predicts that trade liberalization should raise average total factor productivity (TFP) among manufacturing firms. However, this is a generic prediction and depends on maintained assumptions about industries, factor markets, and trade patterns that may not fit well for developing countries. Using firm-level data from Ghana, Kenya, and Tanzania during the 1990s, a period of fairly rapid trade policy liberalization, we estimate productivity effects of trade. Our analysis confirms the well-known association between export intensity and higher productivity of the firm; however, the evidence for "learning by exporting," or an increase in productivity associated with greater exports, is mixed, with several instances of negative average TFP growth among exporters. Our analysis indicates that such declines are likely attributable to the effects of lower external tariffs, because the firm-level productivity margin below which exporting is unprofitable moves down as the external tariff rate is reduced. We also find that sales to the rest of the world and sales to other African economies have differential effects on productivity growth rates, and that for country-specific reasons, these effects are not uniform. Controlling for initial productivity and the destination of exports (within or outside Africa) helps us understand why in some cases, export participation is associated with negative rates of TFP growth.

Suggested Citation

  • Bresnahan, Lauren R. & Coxhead, Ian & Foltz, Jeremy & Mogues, Tewodaj, 2016. "Does Freer Trade Really Lead to Productivity Growth? Evidence from Africa," Staff Paper Series 583, University of Wisconsin, Agricultural and Applied Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecl:wisagr:583
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    9. Hoedoafia, Mabel Akosua, 2020. "On the Link between Trade Liberalization and Firm Productivity: Panel Data Evidence from Private Firms in Ghana," MPRA Paper 99568, University Library of Munich, Germany.
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