Economics at your fingertips  

Can Sub-Saharan Africa Be a Manufacturing Destination? Labor Costs, Price Levels, and the Role of Industrial Policy

Alan Gelb, Vijaya Ramachandran (), Christian Meyer (), Divyanshi Wadhwa and Kyle Navis
Additional contact information
Alan Gelb: Center for Global Development
Vijaya Ramachandran: Center for Global Development
Divyanshi Wadhwa: Center for Global Development
Kyle Navis: Center for Global Development

Journal of Industry, Competition and Trade, 2020, vol. 20, issue 2, No 8, 335-357

Abstract: Abstract Our central question is whether, and how, African countries can break into global manufacturing in a substantial way. For many poor countries, labor-intensive sectors based on low-cost production platforms have been the first step on the industrial ladder. Using a newly constructed panel of firm-level data from the World Bank’s Enterprise Surveys, we look at labor costs in a range of low- and middle-income countries in Africa and elsewhere. Using fixed and random effects models, we find that relative to comparator countries at comparable income levels, industrial labor is more costly for firms that are located in Sub-Saharan Africa. This suggests that, if they are to industrialize, most countries will need to seek other paths, whether based on natural resources or on regional integration, or measures to improve their business climates and upgrade their skills to the point that competitiveness improves enough to sustain industry without resorting to low wages. Such a “balanced strategy”—perhaps along the lines of the “matrix” approach advocated for Europe—may be more politically appealing for some countries but in the interim it risks failing to create large numbers of industrial jobs and perhaps foregoing learning opportunities. However, we also find that Africa is not homogeneous: there are a few countries that, on a labor cost basis, and also on the basis of observed purchasing power parity price levels, may be potential candidates for low-wage manufacturing. Ethiopia stands out and appears to be making efforts to position itself as a low-cost manufacturing platform, although it is too early to pronounce on its success. We analyze its policies from a cost-competitiveness perspective, including those related to agriculture, to investor incentives, and to holding down the costs of essential inputs and improving their supply.

Keywords: Africa; Labor; Productivity; Competitiveness (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: J24 L60 R23 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2020
References: View references in EconPapers View complete reference list from CitEc
Citations: View citations in EconPapers (1) Track citations by RSS feed

Downloads: (external link) Abstract (text/html)
Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

Related works:
This item may be available elsewhere in EconPapers: Search for items with the same title.

Export reference: BibTeX RIS (EndNote, ProCite, RefMan) HTML/Text

Persistent link:

Ordering information: This journal article can be ordered from
http://www.springer. ... on/journal/10842/PS2

DOI: 10.1007/s10842-019-00331-2

Access Statistics for this article

Journal of Industry, Competition and Trade is currently edited by Karl Aiginger, Marcel Canoy and Michael Peneder

More articles in Journal of Industry, Competition and Trade from Springer
Bibliographic data for series maintained by Sonal Shukla () and Springer Nature Abstracting and Indexing ().

Page updated 2021-09-29
Handle: RePEc:kap:jincot:v:20:y:2020:i:2:d:10.1007_s10842-019-00331-2