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Trade in Tasks


  • Rainer Lanz


  • Sébastien Miroudot


  • Hildegunn Kyvik Nordås



Specialisation or division of labour is an important source of economic growth, but the degree of division of labour is constrained by the extent of the market. Trade in tasks represents the latest turn in a virtuous cycle of deepening specialisation, expansion of the market and productivity growth. It has attracted a lot of attention in the policy debate not for its contribution to international division of labour and productivity growth, but for its possible detrimental impact on labour markets, particularly in high income countries. This paper analyses the task content of goods and services and sheds light on structural changes that take place following trade liberalisation. The task content of goods and services is estimated by combining information from the O*Net database on the importance of a set of 41 tasks for a large number of occupations and information on employment by occupation and industry. The study shows that tasks that can be digitised and offshored are often complementary to tasks that cannot. Therefore, the assessment of the offshorability of a job requires that one take into account all tasks being performed. The paper finds that import penetration in services has a small, but positive effect on the share of tasks related to getting and processing information being performed in the local economy. In other words, offshoring complements rather than replaces local information processing. As distortions in the market for intermediate inputs, including offshored tasks, have a larger negative impact the more diversified and complex the economy, possible adverse effects of offshoring on the labour market should be dealt with through social and labour market policy measures, not trade restrictions. In addition, if trade restrictions are imposed, they should be levied on imported value added, not on the total import value.

Suggested Citation

  • Rainer Lanz & Sébastien Miroudot & Hildegunn Kyvik Nordås, 2011. "Trade in Tasks," OECD Trade Policy Papers 117, OECD Publishing.
  • Handle: RePEc:oec:traaab:117-en

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Keiko Ito & Kyoji Fukao, 2005. "The Vertical Division of Labor and Japanese Outward FDI: Impacts on Human Capital Deepening in Japan (in Japanese)," Hi-Stat Discussion Paper Series d05-115, Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University.
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    Cited by:

    1. Predrag Bjelic & Ivan Markovic & Ivana Popovic Petrovic, 2012. "Transnational Companies And A Changing Structure Of International Trade," Montenegrin Journal of Economics, Economic Laboratory for Transition Research (ELIT), vol. 8(4), pages 61-77.
    2. De Backer, Koen & Miroudot, Sébastien, 2014. "Mapping global value chains," Libros de la CEPAL, Naciones Unidas Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe (CEPAL), number 37176, March.
    3. Lectard, Pauline & Rougier, Eric, 2018. "Can Developing Countries Gain from Defying Comparative Advantage? Distance to Comparative Advantage, Export Diversification and Sophistication, and the Dynamics of Specialization," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 102(C), pages 90-110.
    4. Tobias Brändle & Andreas Koch, 2013. "Outsourcing Potentials and International Tradability of Jobs - Evidence from German Micro-Level Data," IAW Discussion Papers 93, Institut für Angewandte Wirtschaftsforschung (IAW).
    5. Benno Ferrarini & David Hummels (ed.), 2014. "Asia and Global Production Networks," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 15649.
    6. Hubert Escaith, 2014. "Mapping global value chains and measuring trade in tasks," Chapters,in: Asia and Global Production Networks, chapter 9, pages 287-337 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    7. repec:eee:intman:v:23:y:2017:i:3:p:227-241 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Martin Borowiecki & Bernhard Dachs & Doris Hanzl-Weiss & Steffen Kinkel & Johannes Pöschl & Magdolna Sass & Thomas Christian Schmall & Robert Stehrer & Andrea Szalavetz, 2012. "Global Value Chains and the EU Industry," wiiw Research Reports 383, The Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies, wiiw.
    9. Thomas Farole, 2016. "Factory Southern Africa?," World Bank Other Operational Studies 23787, The World Bank.
    10. Daniel Schwanen, "undated". "Uneasy Birth: What Canadians Should Expect from a Canada-EU Trade Deal," e-briefs 163, C.D. Howe Institute.
    11. Magdolna Sass & Andrea Szalavetz, 2014. "R&D-based integration and upgrading in Hungary," Acta Oeconomica, Akadémiai Kiadó, Hungary, vol. 64(supplemen), pages 153-180, November.
    12. Richard Baldwin & Rikard Forslid, 2014. "The development and future of Factory Asia," Chapters,in: Asia and Global Production Networks, chapter 10, pages 338-368 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    13. bernhard Boockmann, 2014. "Offshoring Potential and Employment Dynamics," IAW Discussion Papers 111, Institut für Angewandte Wirtschaftsforschung (IAW).
    14. Åsa Johansson & Eduardo Olaberría, 2014. "Global Trade and Specialisation Patterns Over the Next 50 Years," OECD Economic Policy Papers 10, OECD Publishing.
    15. Åsa Johansson & Eduardo Olaberría, 2014. "Long-term Patterns of Trade and Specialisation," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 1136, OECD Publishing.
    16. Tobias Brändle & Andreas Koch, 2014. "Offshoring and Outsourcing Potentials - Evidence from German Micro-Level Data," IAW Discussion Papers 110, Institut für Angewandte Wirtschaftsforschung (IAW).

    More about this item


    cluster analysis; employment; trade in tasks;

    JEL classification:

    • F16 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Trade and Labor Market Interactions

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