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The Product Space: What Does It Say About the Opportunities for Growth and Structural Transformation of Sub-Saharan Africa?


  • Arnelyn Abdon
  • Jesus Felipe


In this paper we look at the economic development of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) in the context of structural transformation. We use Hidalgo et al.'s (2007) concept of product space to show the evolution of the region's productive structure, and discuss the opportunities for growth and diversification. The majority of SSA countries are trapped in the export of unsophisticated, highly standard products that are poorly connected in the product space; this makes the process of structural transformation of the region particularly difficult. The products that are nearby to those they already export have the same characteristics. Therefore, shifting to these products will do little to improve SSA's growth prospects. To jump-start and sustain growth, governments must implement policies and provide public inputs that will encourage the private sector to invest in new and more sophisticated activities.

Suggested Citation

  • Arnelyn Abdon & Jesus Felipe, 2011. "The Product Space: What Does It Say About the Opportunities for Growth and Structural Transformation of Sub-Saharan Africa?," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_670, Levy Economics Institute.
  • Handle: RePEc:lev:wrkpap:wp_670

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Elsa V. Artadi & Xavier Sala-i-Martin, 2003. "The Economic Tragedy of the XXth Century: Growth in Africa," NBER Working Papers 9865, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Felipe, Jesus & Kumar, Utsav & Abdon, Arnelyn, 2013. "Exports, capabilities, and industrial policy in India," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(3), pages 939-956.
    3. Jesus Felipe & Utsav Kumar & Norio Usui & Arnelyn Abdon, 2013. "Why has China succeeded? And why it will continue to do so," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 37(4), pages 791-818.
    4. Arbache, Jorge & Go, Delfin S. & Page, John, 2008. "Is Africa's economy at a turning point?," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4519, The World Bank.
    5. Jesus Felipe & Utsav Kumar & Arnelyn Abdon, 2014. "As You Sow So Shall You Reap: From Capabilities to Opportunities," Oxford Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 42(4), pages 488-515, December.
    6. Felipe, Jesus & Kumar, Utsav & Abdon, Arnelyn & Bacate, Marife, 2012. "Product complexity and economic development," Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, Elsevier, vol. 23(1), pages 36-68.
    7. Jesus Felipe & Utsav Kumar & Arnelyn Abdon, 2010. "Using Capabilities to Project Growth, 2010-30," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_609, Levy Economics Institute.
    8. 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.
    9. Jesus Felipe & Utsav Kumar & Arnelyn Abdon, 2010. "How Rich Countries Became Rich and Why Poor Countries Remain Poor: It's the Economic Structure . . . Duh!," Economics Working Paper Archive wp_644, Levy Economics Institute.
    10. Paul Collier & Jan Willem Gunning, 1999. "Why Has Africa Grown Slowly?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 13(3), pages 3-22, Summer.
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    Cited by:

    1. Hartmann, Dominik & Guevara, Miguel R. & Jara-Figueroa, Cristian & Aristarán, Manuel & Hidalgo, César A., 2017. "Linking Economic Complexity, Institutions, and Income Inequality," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 93(C), pages 75-93.
    2. 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.

    More about this item


    Industrial Policy; Product Space; Structural Transformation; Sub-Saharan Africa;

    JEL classification:

    • O14 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Industrialization; Manufacturing and Service Industries; Choice of Technology
    • O25 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Development Planning and Policy - - - Industrial Policy
    • O55 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Africa


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