Information about Asia and the Pacific Asia y el Pacífico
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Chapter 3. Diversification, Growth, and Volatility

Author(s):
Alfred Schipke
Published Date:
April 2015
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Author(s)
Chris Papageorgiou, Nikola Spatafora and Ke Wang 

Limited diversification in exports and broader economic structure have long been underlying characteristics of many developing and, in particular, frontier economies. Yet some have shown a remarkable economic transformation, especially over the past two decades. In particular, it has been argued that emerging Asia, and more recently frontier Asia, has benefited significantly from diversification. This chapter examines this claim with a comprehensive look at the facts, employing newly developed data sets covering diversification in both external trade and domestic production.

The chapter focuses on two key questions. First, is diversification crucial to sustaining growth and reducing volatility? Put differently, does concentration in sectors with limited scope for productivity growth and quality upgrading, such as primary commodities, result in less broad-based and sustainable growth? And does lack of diversification increase exposure to adverse external shocks and macroeconomic instability?

Second, what precisely does diversification, in both external trade and the broader domestic economy, involve? How is it linked to broader structural transformation, including the process of quality upgrading? And which countries and regions have been more successful in promoting diversification?

This chapter is based on ongoing IMF work that aims to inform the policy debate by examining diversification patterns and the role of diversification in the macroeconomic performance of developing economies, using both cross-country data and case studies.

How is Diversification Measured?

Measures of economic diversification need to look beyond trade to capture domestic sector diversification and the underlying dynamic process of structural transformation. Trade diversification and domestic diversification are in principle interlinked, the former reflecting diversification in the external sector, and the latter capturing diversification in the domestic production process across sectors. An underlying theme of this chapter is that focusing on the entire structure of production paints a more comprehensive and illuminating picture. Therefore, the two dimensions of diversification are evaluated simultaneously, filling a gap in the existing literature, which has treated them independently. In addition, the analysis focuses on “diversification spurts”—that is, rapid, sustained, and significant episodes of diversification.

Trade diversification can be achieved along several dimensions. First, diversification may occur across either products or trading partners. Second, product diversification may occur through the introduction of new product lines (extensive margin) or a more balanced mix of existing exports (intensive margin). Finally, product-quality upgrading represents a slightly different notion and is evidenced by higher prices for existing exports. Our main data source for trade is an updated version of the UN–NBER data set, which harmonizes COMTRADE bilateral trade flow data at the 4-digit Standard International Trade Classification (SITC, Rev. 1) level.1 However, while the existing literature typically focuses on the post-1988 period, this chapter uses data extending back to 1962. The extended time dimension turns out to be greatly helpful in examining relationships more comprehensively.

Analysis of domestic diversification in frontier economies required construction of a new IMF data set. This chapter examines diversification in sectoral output and the sectoral allocation of labor using data from existing and new sources. Existing data sets include measures of value added for 28 manufacturing sectors during 1985–2010 (from United Nations Industrial Development Organization 2011, 3-digit ISIC classification) and labor employment shares in nine economy-wide sectors during 1969–2008 (from International Labour Organization 2011, 1-digit classification). It is well known, however, that both data sets are quite limited in their coverage of frontier countries. For this reason, a new data set was constructed, covering 12 economy-wide sectors during 2000–10, using country data compiled from IMF desk inputs (see below for further discussion).

Appendix 3.1 provides greater detail on the diversification indices and quality measures employed in this chapter. Briefly, diversification is measured using the Theil index, which has the advantage of being decomposable into diversification along the extensive and intensive margins. Lower values of the index indicate greater diversification. Quality measures are based on individual products’ unit values (that is, trade prices), but with important adjustments for differences in production costs, as well as for selection bias in the composition of international trade. Appendix 3.2 sets out a full list of the countries and regions analyzed.

Diversification, Growth, and Volatility

We start by examining the evidence on the links between diversification and growth. One result stands out: diversification patterns and growth are clearly related, although the relationship displays much heterogeneity. In particular, greater diversification is on average associated with faster subsequent output growth (Figure 3.1). The relationship holds both for the sample as a whole and for Asian countries alone. Adopting a multivariate regression approach, output growth remains significantly associated with both initial diversification and initial product quality measures, even after controlling for a variety of standard growth determinants (Table 3.1). This conclusion is in line with the extensive literature, including Singer (1950); Sachs and Warner (1995) on the “natural-resource curse”; and Hausmann, Hwang, and Rodrik (2007) on the links between growth and product sophistication.

Figure 3.1Growth and Diversification, 1962–2010

Sources: Penn World Table 7.0; UN Comtrade; and IMF staff calculations.

Note: For a list of the country abbreviations used in this figure, please consult the UN three-letter country codes; see http://unstats.un.org/unsd/methods/m49/m49alpha.htm.

Table 3.1Growth Regressions with Diversification and Quality Indices
Growth Regression, Generalized Least Squares Fixed Effects
All CountriesEast AsiaSouth AsiaFrontier Asia
Variables(1)(2)(3)(4)(5)(6)(7)(8)(7)(8)
Lagged GDP−5.363***−6.027***−5.898***−5.897***−5.604***−4.886***−3.882−7.313***−5.858**−7.848***
(0.439)(0.464)(0.454)(0.471)(1.697)(1.551)(3.488)(2.173)(2.421)(2.326)
Education0.124***0.139***0.146***0.137***0.236**0.217**0.2030.208*0.1240.151
(0.023)(0.023)(0.023)(0.023)(0.101)(0.100)(0.125)(0.112)(0.123)(0.114)
Investment3.599***3.523***3.513***3.374***4.520***4.324***4.046**4.436***2.5133.867***
(0.433)(0.429)(0.429)(0.436)(1.428)(1.408)(1.626)(1.401)(1.682)(1.268)
Population growth−0.053−0.194−0.238−0.1180.8690.670−1.346−1.7591.1910.917
(0.229)(0.227)(0.228)(0.227)(0.738)(0.736)(2.749)(2.248)(0.726)(0.745)
Diversification index−0.608**
(0.279)
Quality index8.761***13.660*−8.57219.601*
(2.124)(6.878)(15.365)(10.970)
Quality index, agriculture9.687***21.036**19.555**
(2.348)(8.361)(9.405)
Quality index, manufacture7.646***48.638**
(2.485)(18.846)
Constant35.550***31.748***29.948***31.842***16.662*6.50822.7280.11019.44830.538**
(3.720)(3.534)(3.614)(3.570)(9.267)(9.840)(19.191)(18.537)(17.004)(14.384)
Observations790789789789757546465050
R-squared0.2340.2500.2500.2410.2910.3170.2950.4020.4410.456
Number of countries11311311311310106677
Source: IMF staff calculations.Notes: For Asian country groups, coefficients on diversification index are not significant.Standard errors in parentheses***p<0.01, **p<0.05, *p<0.1
Source: IMF staff calculations.Notes: For Asian country groups, coefficients on diversification index are not significant.Standard errors in parentheses***p<0.01, **p<0.05, *p<0.1

In a similar vein, diversification spurts (defined as in Papageorgiou and Spatafora 2012) are associated with sharp subsequent growth accelerations (defined analogously to diversification spurts). This is especially true for nonfragile frontier economies. Conversely, growth accelerations are associated with subsequent increases in diversification among nonfragile frontier economies.

Next, we examine the links between diversification and volatility. Does diversification serve as a buffer against external shocks? In a related question, are diversification spurts associated with increased macroeconomic stability? The existing literature provides some evidence that countries with more diversified production structures tend to have lower volatility of output, consumption, and investment (Mobarak 2005, Moore and Walkes 2010). Further, product diversification can increase the resilience of frontier economies to external shocks (Koren and Tenreyro 2007).

A key channel is that diversification involves frontier economies shifting resources from sectors where prices are highly volatile and correlated, such as mining and agriculture, to less volatile and correlated sectors, such as manufacturing, resulting in greater stability. And, indeed, the data show clearly that output volatility diminishes after diversification spurts (Figure 3.2).

Figure 3.2Volatility and Export Diversification

Sources: UN Comtrade; and IMF staff calculations.

Note: Episode indicates diversification spurts. The procedure for identifying spurts is based on Berg, Ostry, and Zettelmeyer (2012).

Patterns of Diversification

Having established that diversification is indeed linked with macroeconomic performance, we now examine patterns of diversification in greater detail, with a focus on identifying which regions and countries have made greater progress in achieving diversification. Overall, higher income per capita and development are broadly associated with greater trade diversification (Figure 3.3), at least until an economy reaches advanced-economy status (with GDP per capita of $25,000–$30,000; see also Cadot, Carrere, and Strauss-Kahn 2011). The relationship holds for the sample as a whole. It also holds between and within countries (that is, when the figure is restricted to show the pure cross-sectional or time-series variation); in the latter case, the data set’s extended time dimension is critical to confirming the relationship.

Figure 3.3Export Diversification and Real GDP Per Capita

Sources: Penn World Table 7.0; UN Comtrade; and IMF staff calculations.

Note: Each observation denotes one country-year combination.s

At a regional level, western Europe is the most diversified. However, emerging and frontier Asia have been rapidly catching up (Figure 3.4). Asia in general shows higher and more rapidly growing diversification than sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa, although progress slowed after 1995. Increases in diversification have largely occurred along the extensive margin—that is, through entry into completely new products, although there has also been progress along the intensive margin for emerging Asia (Figure 3.5). Also, changes in trade diversification over time have been paralleled by decreases in the relative importance of agricultural exports and increases in the relative importance of manufactured exports, especially for Asian countries (Figure 3.6).

Figure 3.4Export Diversification by Region, 1960–2010: Extensive Margin

Sources: UN Comtrade; and IMF staff calculations.

Figure 3.5Export Diversification by Region and Period: Intensive Margin

Sources: UN Comtrade; and IMF staff calculations.

Figure 3.6Manufacturing Exports Share, by Region and Period

Sources: UN Comtrade; and IMF staff calculations.

Higher income levels are also associated with increasing diversification across trade partners—at least until advanced-economy status is reached. After 1995, Asia greatly diversified its trade across partners (Figure 3.7). Frontier economies in general, including in sub-Saharan Africa, also have made progress in diversifying their exports across partners. The trend is especially clear when considering the extensive margin, with a significant increase in exports to completely new partners. This is related to ongoing globalization and a clear shift in trade away from the European Union and toward Asia—China in particular (see also Samake and Yang 2011).

Figure 3.7Trade Diversification across Partners over Time

Sources: UN Comtrade; and IMF staff calculations.

Next, the data also reveal that, within developing economies, greater income per capita is also associated with greater real-sector diversification—that is, diversification in the broader domestic economy. During the 2000s, across all developing economies and within frontier Asia, analysis of six key sectors shows that there was significant real diversification. In particular, the share of agriculture in output declined significantly. The gap was filled largely by nontradables such as construction, wholesale trade, and transportation, rather than by manufacturing (Figure 3.8). That said, there is significant cross-country variation, both in the magnitude of the resource shift out of agriculture and in the precise identity of the sectors that have expanded in its place.

Figure 3.8Real-Sector Share of Frontier Asia, 2000–10

Source: IMF staff calculations.

Patterns of Quality Upgrading

Economic development is underpinned not just by new products and markets, but also by quality improvements to existing products. Producing higher-quality varieties, through more physical- and human-capital-intensive production techniques, helps build on existing comparative advantages. It can boost countries’ productivity and export revenues.2 Ongoing work is helping to develop a toolkit to answer key questions, including calculating an economy’s export quality and how it has evolved over time, determining the current potential for quality upgrading, and analyzing whether diversification into new products is a prerequisite for further quality upgrading. One robust conclusion is that both emerging Asia and, more recently, frontier Asia have on average enjoyed remarkable success in quality upgrading. That said, significant cross-country variation remains.

Our quality measures are based on individual products’ unit values (that is, trade prices). However, these unit values are adjusted to reflect differences in production costs, as well as selection bias in the composition of international trade. Quality estimates at the country level are then constructed as a geometric value-weighted mean of the quality estimates for individual products. For full details, see Appendix 3.1, as well as Henn, Papageorgiou, and Spatafora (2013). Among other benefits, these quality measures smooth much of the artificial volatility often observed in unit values.

The data suggest some clear patterns. Higher incomes per capita are associated with greater export quality at the country level. The relationship holds both across all goods (Figure 3.9) and (even more clearly) within manufacturing, which has greater scope for differentiation. Quality upgrading is particularly marked as countries evolve from frontier status into middle-income economies.

Figure 3.9Quality Index and GDP per Capita in Frontier Asia, 1960–2010

Sources: Penn World Tables 7.0; UN Comtrade; and IMF staff calculations.

There is much heterogeneity in quality levels, even when controlling for income per capita. In particular, emerging Asia has enjoyed immense success in quality upgrading since 1970 (Figure 3.10), whereas frontier Asia only began the process in the early 2000s. Sub-Saharan Africa stands out as producing relatively low-quality goods.

Figure 3.10Manufacturing Quality Index by Region, 1960–2010

Sources: Penn World Tables 7.0; UN Comtrade; and IMF staff calculations.

Focusing on Asia, some countries have converged or are continuing to converge to the world frontier. In other cases, convergence seems to have slowed since the mid-1990s (Figure 3.11). Overall, improvements in export quality are associated with growth takeoffs. Hence, Japan converged to the world frontier in the 1970s; Korea’s convergence occurred between the 1970s and the early 1990s; China started its takeoff in the late 1980s and has since been converging very rapidly; and Vietnam’s convergence started in the 1990s. In Malaysia and Thailand, convergence was rapid but appears to have stalled before reaching the world frontier. India seems to be converging but only slowly. Likewise, Bangladesh’s convergence is very slow, particularly given its large catch-up potential.

Figure 3.11Quality Convergence of Asian Countries, 1960–2010

Sources: Penn World Tables 7.0; UN Comtrade; and IMF staff calculations.

Crucially, developing economies’ potential for quality upgrading does not appear to be limited by low demand for quality in their existing destination markets. Frontier economies do tend to serve markets that import lower-quality products (Figure 3.12). However, the differences are not substantial enough to act as a constraint on quality upgrading. Indeed, on average, the lower income the exporter, the greater the gap between its export quality and the average quality of its trade partners’ imports. Likewise, in slow-converging countries, export quality is substantially lower than the average quality of their trade partners’ imports. All this suggests that policy should focus on creating a domestic environment broadly conducive to quality upgrading; lowering barriers to entry into higher-quality export markets constitutes a less urgent priority.

Figure 3.12Export Quality by Region, 2009

Sources: Penn World Tables 7.0; UN Comtrade; and IMF staff calculations.

Country Case Studies

To obtain robust policy conclusions, it is critical to complement the above crosscountry analysis of product diversification and quality upgrading with individual country case studies. To this end, Appendix 3.3 discusses the experience of Bangladesh in more detail, a frontier economy with income per capita well below $1,000, and Vietnam, a country on the threshold of middle-income status. In addition, Pitt and others (forthcoming) analyze developments in Tanzania, another frontier economy; Angola, the second largest oil exporter in sub-Saharan Africa and a middle-income country still facing significant physical and human capital needs; and Malaysia, an emerging market whose income per capita has grown 20-fold over the past 40 years.

Overall, these case studies provide some tentative evidence in favor of four main themes. First, analyzing the entire structure of production paints a more comprehensive and illuminating picture than focusing purely on external trade. Structural transformation may well be associated with significant diversification of domestic production, including nontradables. Examining this may shed light on the underlying mechanisms and barriers to further transformation.

Second, diversification and structural transformation are often underpinned by reforms and policy measures that are general in scope. Macroeconomic stabilization is a clear example. But even microeconomic measures are often broad based, focusing on improving the quantity and quality of infrastructure or essential business services or on setting up a welcoming environment for foreign investors. It remains an open issue to what extent industry-focused and narrowly targeted measures have historically helped underpin diversification efforts.

Third, effective policy measures come in “waves” and aim at exploiting the evolving comparative advantages of the economy in changing external conditions. The types of reforms underpinning diversification and structural transformation in the early stages of development are different from those required later on and need to be adapted to the external environment the economy faces.

Finally, the frequency with which new products are introduced and the rate at which they grow can indicate potential policy-driven bottlenecks. Limited entry may indicate that barriers deter firms from exporting or experimenting. If survival rates are low, firms may face more obstacles than expected. If surviving firms cannot expand, they may have inadequate access to finance.

Conclusion

One key message from this chapter and related work is that economic development critically involves diversification and structural transformation—that is, the continued, dynamic reallocation of resources from less productive to more productive sectors and activities. This process involves not just external trade, but the broader economy. Success in this transformation will reduce volatility and accelerate growth.

However, there are major differences across regions and countries in the degree to which they have succeeded in diversifying and transforming their economies. Over an extended period, Asia has on average been particularly successful in diversifying its exports, particularly in comparison with sub-Saharan Africa. Much of the progress has occurred through diversification along the “extensive margin”—that is, through entry into completely new products.

Structural transformation crucially involves changes not only in the type but also in the quality of goods produced. Emerging Asia has on average benefited significantly from quality upgrading, helping it capitalize on already existing comparative advantages. Yet the potential for quality upgrading varies by product. Agricultural and natural resources tend to have lower potential for quality upgrading than manufactures. Therefore, for frontier countries, diversification into products with longer “quality ladders” may be a necessary first step before large gains from quality improvement can be reaped.

Overall, development strategies must promote sustained resource reallocation and encourage continued quality upgrading. Ongoing work is focused on identifying the specific bottlenecks to structural transformation. In particular, it will analyze measures of product quality in greater detail and examine what policies are needed to promote diversification and to sustain quality upgrading. That said, case studies of individual countries have already yielded some important lessons. For instance, diversification and structural transformation are often underpinned by reforms and policy measures that are general in scope, rather than industry focused and narrowly targeted. In addition, the types of reforms underpinning diversification and structural transformation in the early stages of development are different from those required later on.

Appendix 3.1: Definitions of Main Indices

Herfindahl Index

As a starting point, we measure diversification using the Herfindahl index. The value of the Herfindahl index, for any given country i and time period t, equals the sum of squares of export shares (in total exports), in which the summation is across all goods j in the set Jit of categories which the country exports:

in which Xijt equals the value of exports by country i of good j at time t. This is an inverse measure of diversification, which ranges from a maximum of 1 (no diversification: all exports lie in a single category) down to zero (full diversification: each category contains a negligible fraction of the country’s exports).

Theil Index

We calculate the overall, within, and between Theil indices following the definitions and methods used in Cadot, Carrere, and Strauss-Kahn (2011). We first create dummy variables to define each product as “traditional,” “new,” or “non-traded.” Traditional products are goods that were exported at the beginning of the sample, and nontraded goods have zero exports for the entire sample. Thus, for each country and product, the dummy values for traditional and nontraded remain constant across all years of our sample. For each country/year/product group, products classified as “new” must have been nontraded in at least the two previous years and then exported in the two following years. Thus, the dummy values for new products may change over time.

The overall Theil index is a sum of the within and between components. The between Theil index is calculated for each country/year pair as

in which k represents each group (traditional, new, and nontraded), Nk is the total number of products exported in each group, and μk/μ is the relative mean of exports in each group.

The within Theil index for each country/year pair is

Product Quality

Our methodology measures quality based on unit values, but with important adjustments for differences in production costs and for selection bias in the composition of international trade. Henn, Papageorgiou, and Spatafora (2013) provide full details of the methodology. Briefly, we employ a modified version of Hallak (2006), which sidesteps data limitations to achieve maximum country and time coverage.3 As a first step, for any given product, the trade price (equivalently, unit value) pmxt is assumed to be determined by the following relationship:

in which the subscripts m, x, and t denote, respectively, importer, exporter, and time period. Prices reflect three factors: first, quality θmxt; second, exporter income per capita yxt—this is meant to capture cross-country variations in production costs systematically related to income. With high-income countries typically being capital-abundant, we would expect ζ2 < 0 for capital-intensive sectors and ζ2 > 0 for labor-intensive sectors.4 Third is the (great circle) distance between importer and exporter, Distmx. This accounts for selection bias: typically, the composition of exports to more distant destinations is tilted toward higher-priced goods, because of higher shipping costs.5

Next, we specify a quality-augmented gravity equation. This equation is specified separately for each product, because preference for quality and trade costs may vary across products:

ImFE and ExFE denote, respectively, importer and exporter fixed effects. Distance is as defined above. The matrix Imxt is a set of standard trade determinants from the gravity literature.6 The exporter-specific quality parameter is θmxt, which enters interacted with the importer’s income per capita ymt. If δ > 0, then greater income increases the “demand for quality.”

The estimation equation is obtained by substituting observables for the unobservable quality parameter in the gravity equation. Rearranging equation (3.1) for ln θmxt, and substituting into (3.2), yields

in which ζ1=δζ1,ζ2=δζ2ζ1,ζ3=δζ3ζ1, and ξmxt=δζ0+δξmxtζ1lnymt+ɛmxt.

This equation is estimated separately for each of the 851 products in the data set, yielding 851 sets of coefficients. We obtain estimates by two-stage least squares. ξmxt is a component of pxmt, so that the regressor ln pxmtlnymt is correlated with the disturbance term ξmxt. We therefore use ln pxmt−1 lnymt as an instrument for ln pxmtlnymt. Where a unit value for the preceding year is not available (for instance, because the good was not traded), we use the unit value in the closest available preceding year, going back up to five years.7

The regression results are used to calculate a comprehensive set of quality estimates. Rearranging equation (3.1) and using the estimated coefficients, quality is calculated as the unit value adjusted for differences in production costs and for the selection bias stemming from relative distance:

As is standard, quality θmxt and importers’ taste for quality δ are not separately identified.8

The quality estimates are then aggregated into a multilevel database. The estimation yields quality estimates for more than 20 million product-exporter-importer-year combinations. To enable cross-product comparisons, all quality estimates are first normalized by their 90th percentile in the relevant product-year combination. The resulting quality values typically range between zero and 1.2. The quality estimates are then aggregated, using current trade values as weights, to higher-level sectors (Standard International Trade Classification, SITC, 4-, 3-, 2-, and 1-digit, as well as country-level totals).9 At each aggregation step, the normalization to the 90th percentile is repeated. Aggregations are also produced based on the Broad Economic Categories classification, as well as for three broad sectors (agriculture, nonagricultural commodities, and manufactures). To allow for easy comparisons with unit values, the latter are also normalized with the 90th percentile set equal to unity.

Appendix 3.2: Region Definition
Table A3.1Region Definition
Frontier AsiaEmerging AsiaSub-Saharan AfricaWestern Europe
BangladeshBrunei DarussalamAngolaAustria
BhutanChinaBeninBelgium
CambodiaFijiBotswanaCroatia
Lao P.D.R.IndiaBurkina FasoCyprus
MaldivesIndonesiaBurundiDenmark
MongoliaMalaysiaCameroonFinland
MyanmarMarshall IslandsCabo VerdeFrance
NepalMicronesiaCentral African RepublicGermany
Papua New GuineaPhilippinesChadGreece
VietnamSri LankaComorosIceland
ThailandCongo, Democratic Republic ofIreland
TuvaluCongo, Republic ofIsrael
Cote d’IvoireItaly
Equatorial GuineaLuxembourg
EritreaMalta
EthiopiaNetherlands
GabonNorway
Gambia, ThePortugal
GhanaSlovak Republic
GuineaSlovenia
Guinea-BissauSpain
KenyaSweden
LesothoSwitzerland
LiberiaUnited Kingdom
Madagascar
Malawi
Mali
Mauritania
Mauritius
Mozambique
Namibia
Niger
Nigeria
Rwanda
Senegal
Seychelles
Sierra Leone
Somalia
South Africa
Sudan
Swaziland
São Tomé and Príncipe
Tanzania
Togo
Uganda
Zambia
Zimbabwe
Appendix 3.3: Case Studies

Case studies illustrate lessons from structural transformation at different stages of development. The countries considered include Bangladesh with income per capita well below $1,000, and Vietnam, a country well on its way to emerging market status. The Vietnam case illustrates lessons from the experiences of countries that have successfully diversified or are successfully diversifying their economies.

Bangladesh illustrates that initial diversification success, to be sustained, requires a combination of further reforms. Diversification in Bangladesh was largely triggered by external factors such as the introductions of the multifiber agreement and the generalized system of preferences in the 1970s. These spurred development of the ready-made garment industry. As a result, Bangladesh shifted rapidly away from traditional agricultural and jute products toward manufacturing (Figure A3.1). Combined with the rise in output from wholesale and retail trade, this contributed to a steady increase in output diversification. Now, however, with ready-made garments accounting for 80 percent of total exports, Bangladesh’s output diversification has seemingly peaked, although as a low-cost producer scope remains for further gains through increases in global garment market shares. Attempts to move beyond garments or to increase their quality have been hindered by a lack of supportive reforms. Challenges include poor governance and the high cost of doing business as a result of scarce electricity supplies, severe infrastructure bottlenecks, weak contract enforcement, and expensive credit provision. While such factors did not hinder diversification and inward foreign direct investment (FDI) in the 1990s and early 2000s, they may now be preventing further progress.

Figure A3.1Bangladesh: Concentration of Output and Composition of Exports

Sources: Country authorities; and IMF staff calculations.

In contrast, Vietnam’s experience shows that “waves” of supportive reforms can sustain diversification and structural transformation. The first wave of reforms during the 1980s opened new areas of activity to the private sector by reducing barriers to entry and expansion. Domestic prices, external trade, and access to foreign exchange were liberalized; the rationing system largely abolished; subsidies significantly cut back; and inflation reduced. In agriculture, individual land-use rights were recognized, production freed from state-set quotas, and collective assets privatized. As a result, agriculture expanded, rising to almost half of total exports in 1995, and diversified into cash crops, such as coffee and marine and forestry products (Figure A3.2). In a second wave of reforms during the 1990s, liberalization of FDI helped develop other sectors. Initially, FDI was concentrated in the oil sector, but real estate (including hotels), food processing, and heavy and light industry gained importance. FDI helped Vietnam integrate into emerging global supply chains and gradually diversify its output and exports from textiles to footwear and electronics. A diversification of trade partners accompanied this product diversification, first from the Commonwealth of Independent States to Asia and then toward Europe and the United States.

Figure A3.2Vietnam: Diversification of Exports and Composition of GDP

Sources: Country authorities; and IMF staff calculations.

1 Sum of squares of individual product shares. A lower number indicates greater diversity.

2 In hundreds of dollars, right scale.

Diversification in frontier economies depends crucially on the frequency with which new products are introduced, the likelihood that they will survive, and their growth prospects. Initial trade diversification in frontier economies is mainly driven by entry into new products (the extensive margin). In Vietnam and Bangladesh, over 1990–2011, there were significant differences (over time and across countries) in three key measures of the extensive margin: (1) the number of new product varieties introduced in a given year,10 (2) the survival rates of new varieties, (3) and the growth rates of surviving varieties. Over time, such differences can cumulate into large differences in overall exports.

Differences in these measures underline the different experiences of the two countries in our case studies. Vietnam showed significant new entry and reductions over time in the relative importance of incumbent varieties (Figure A3.3). Vietnam in particular stood out as having a high probability of survival of new varieties. Bangladesh had less experimentation and also less growth in surviving varieties, accounting for its current, unusually high concentration.

Figure A3.3Export Experimentation

Sources: UN Comtrade; and IMF staff calculations.

Overall, these case studies provide some tentative evidence in favor of four main themes. First, analyzing the entire structure of production paints a more comprehensive and illuminating picture than focusing purely on external trade. Structural transformation may well be associated with significant diversification of domestic production, including of nontradables. Analyzing this may shed light on the underlying mechanisms and barriers to further transformation.

Second, diversification and structural transformation are often underpinned by reforms and policy measures that are general in scope. Macroeconomic stabilization is a clear example. But even microeconomic measures are often broad based, focusing on improving the quantity and quality of infrastructure or essential business services, or on setting up a welcoming environment for foreign investors. It remains an open issue to what extent industry-focused and narrowly targeted measures have historically helped underpin diversification efforts.

Third, effective policy measures come in waves and aim at exploiting the evolving comparative advantages of the economy in changing external conditions. The types of reforms underpinning diversification and structural transformation in the early stages of development are different from those required later on and need to be adapted to the external environment the economy faces.

Finally, the frequency with which new products are introduced, and the rate at which they grow, can indicate potential policy-driven bottlenecks. Little entry may indicate that barriers deter firms from exporting or experimenting. If survival rates are low, firms may face more obstacles than expected. If surviving firms cannot expand, they may have inadequate access to finance. This type of analysis suggests directions for further study.

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The data set combines importer- and exporter-reported data from COMTRADE to maximize comprehensiveness, while ensuring internal consistency, using the methodology of Asmundson (forthcoming).

See Schott (2004) for an early demonstration that product quality varies significantly and systematically across exporters.

The key difference is that we directly use unit values at the SITC 4-digit level, whereas Hallak (2006) gathers unit values at the 10-digit level and then normalizes them into a price index for each 2-digit “sector.”

This approach builds on Schott (2004), who showed that unit values for any given product vary systematically with exporter relative factor endowments, as proxied by GDP per capita.

Hallak (2006) uses distance to the United States instead of distance to the importer, because it only focuses on prices of exports to the United States. Harrigan, Ma, and Shlychkov (2011) find that the correlation between export prices and distance is due to a composition, or “Washington apples,” effect. They also find that U.S. firms charge higher prices to larger and richer markets.

It includes indicator variables for a common border, a common language, the existence of a preferential trade agreement, a colonial relationship, and a common colonizer.

If unit values are not available in any of the preceding five years, the observation is excluded from the estimation.

The preference for quality parameter δ will also vary by sector. Therefore, when we aggregate quality estimates across sectors, the aggregation will necessarily also aggregate across these heterogeneous preference for quality parameters.

Changes in the higher-level (including country-level) quality estimates will in general reflect both quality changes within disaggregated sectors and reallocation across sectors with different quality levels. If the composition of exports is shifting toward product lines characterized by low quality levels, it is quite possible for the quality of any given product to be rising sharply, but country-level quality to rise slowly (or indeed decline).

Here, a variety is defined as a specific product exported to a specific country, as in Asmundson (forthcoming).

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