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High-tech exports from developing countries: A symptom of technology spurts or statistical illusion?

By Martin Srholec


Specialization in high-tech products is frequently used to capture technology intensity of exports. The literature suggests that developing countries are increasingly becoming exporters of high-tech products, and some may even be among the most deeply specialized countries in the field of high-tech exports. The paper scrutinizes the relevance of the taxonomies that classify exports by technological intensity in this context. It is shown that specialization in high-tech exports typically does not appear in tandem with indigenous technological capabilities in developing countries. The analysis of intra-product imports suggests that the bulk of high-tech exports can actually be attributed to the effect of increasingly international fragmentation of production systems in electronics on trade statistics. It is confirmed in an econometric framework that while domestic technological capabilities have some influence on export performance in electronics, it is the propensity to import electronics components that accounts for by far the largest proportion of cross-country differences in specialization in electronics exports. The paper concludes with some implications for policy and future research.

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