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Trade Liberalization And Economic Reform In Developing Countries: Structural Change Or De-Industrialization?




The paper analyses economic performance of a sample of developing countries that have undertaken trade liberalization and structural reforms since the early 1980s with the objective of expansion of exports and diversification in favour of manufacturing sector. The results obtained are varied. Forty per cent of the sample countries experienced rapid expansion of exports of manufactured goods. In a minority of these countries, mostly East Asian, rapid export growth was also accompanied with fast expansion of industrial supply capacity and upgrading. By contrast, the experience of the majority of the sample countries, mostly in Africa and Latin America, has not been satisfactory. In fact, half of the sample, most of them low income countries, have faced de-industrialization. Even in some cases where manufactured exports grew extremely fast, e.g. Mexico, MVA did not accelerate and upgrading of the industrial base did not take place. Slow growth of exports and deindustrialization has also been accompanied by increased vulnerability of the economy, particularly the manufacturing sector, to external factors particularly as far as reliance on imports are concerned. Generally speaking, in the case of the majority group, trade liberalization has led to the development and re-orientation of the industrial sector in accordance with static comparative advantage, with the exception of industries that were near maturity. For example, in Latin America the expansion of exports has taken place mainly in resource based industries, the labour intensive stage of production, i.e. assembly operations, and in a few cases in the automobile industry. A number of industries which had been dynamic during the import substitution era continued, however, to be dynamic in terms of production, exports and investment. The industries which were near maturity when the reform started, such as aerospace in Brazil, benefited from liberalization as the competitive pressure that emerged made them more efficient. The reform programmes designed by IFIs also failed to encourage private investment, particularly in the manufacturing sector; the I/GDP ratio fell even where the inflow of FDI was considerable – e.g. in the case of Latin America. Trade liberalization changed the structure of incentives in favour of exports, but the balance between risks and return changed against the manufacturing sector. A major difference between the “minority” and the “majority” groups is that in the case of the former, i.e. East Asian NIEs, at least until recently economic reform, particularly trade liberalization, has taken place gradually and selectively as part of a long-term industrial policy, after they had reached a certain level of industrialization and development. By contrast, the “majority group” embarked, in the main, on a process of rapid structural reform including uniform and across-the-board liberalization. The author argues that no doubt trade liberalization is essential when an industry reaches a certain level of maturity, provided it is undertaken selectively and gradually. Nevertheless, the way it is recommended under the Washington Consensus, it is more likely to lead to the destruction of the existing industries, particularly of those that are at their early stages of infancy without necessarily leading to the emergence of new ones. Further, any new industry that emerges would be in line with static, rather than dynamic, comparative advantage. The low income countries, in particular, will be locked in production and exports of primary commodities, simple processing and at best assembly operation or other labour intensive ones with little prospect for upgrading.

Suggested Citation

  • S.M. Shafaeddin, 2005. "Trade Liberalization And Economic Reform In Developing Countries: Structural Change Or De-Industrialization?," UNCTAD Discussion Papers 179, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
  • Handle: RePEc:unc:dispap:179

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    References listed on IDEAS

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