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Slow and Steady Wins the Race: How the Garment Industry Leads Industrialization in Low-income Countries

Discussion Papers


April 2013


This paper investigates how the garment industry escapes this vicious cycle and argues for the validity of labor-intensive industry as a starting point for full-fledged industrialization, even though it might at first seem to be a digression from the path to an innovation-led economy. By examining original firm-level data on garment-producing firms collected in 2002 and 2008 in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Kenya and Madagascar, the following conclusions are drawn: (1) low wages, though still sufficient for poverty reduction, are the main source of competitiveness in low-income countries; (2) after the successful initiation of industrialization causes wages to begin to rise, there is still a possibility for productivity enhancement; and (3) skill bias in technological progress is not yet a major factor, implying that the garment industry is still a labor-intensive industry. In sum, labor-intensive industry should not be discounted as a part of the development strategy of low-income countries.

Keywords: Competitiveness, Garment, Race to the bottom, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Kenya, Madagascar
JEL classification: D24, F63, L67, O14, O33, O53, O55

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