Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 09/2009

Criss-Crossing Globalization: Uphill Flows of Skill-Intensive Goods and Foreign Direct Investment

Aaditya Mattoo, Arvind Subramanian

August 2009

Center for Global Development


This paper documents an unusual and possibly significant phenomenon: the export of skills, embodied in goods, services or capital from poorer to richer countries. We first present a set of stylized facts. Using a measure which combines the sophistication of a country’s exports with the average income level of destination countries, we show that the performance of a number of developing countries,notably China, Mexico and South Africa, matches that of much more advanced countries, such as Japan, Spain and USA. Creating a new combined dataset on FDI (covering greenfield investment as well as mergers and acquisitions) we show that flows of FDI to OECD countries from developing countries like Brazil, India, Malaysia and South Africa as a share of their GDP, are as large as flows from countries like Japan, Korea and the US. Then, taking the work of Hausmann et al. (2007) as a point of departure, we suggest that it is not just the composition of exports but their destination that matters. In both cross-sectional and panel regressions, with a range of controls, we find that a measure of uphill flows of sophisticated goods is significantly associated with better growth performance. These results suggest the need for a deeper analysis of whether development benefits might derive not from deifying comparative advantage but from defying it.