Chapter 5: GVCs, Industrial Transformation and Opportunities for Korea

Chapter 5: GVCs, Industrial Transformation and Opportunities for Korea
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Stacey Frederick | Penny Bamber | Gary Gereffi | Jaehan Cho

Having built its economy on a strong manufacturing base, Korea is now at a crossroads and must redefine its growth drivers for the future. Its strong commitment to process and product improvement have seen steady gains in productivity and output in the past. However, its manufacturing sector is coming under growing pressure on two fronts. In labor-intensive operations, Korea increasingly competes with lower cost countries which are building up their capabilities, particularly China and others from Asia, while, in capital- and knowledge-intensive stages of the chain, Korea is up against the world’s most advanced industrialized countries – the US, EU and Japan, which are all rapidly innovating, defining brand new industries, and ramping up new production technologies that will shape the future of manufacturing itself. Traditional development paradigms would suggest that, to survive these challenges, Korea aim to move out of manufacturing and into services. With an underperforming services sector, this provides a somewhat pessimistic outlook for Korea’s future. It also presents policymakers with an overwhelming task as the “services” sector is broadly defined and covers a very wide range of activities, including everything from construction to finance and insurance and tourism, drawing on a wide range of skills and other capabilities and requiring a considerable transformation of the economy. The global value chain (GVC) paradigm, however, suggests that the country leverage its existing strengths in manufacturing to lead its upgrading into services, while at the same time, consolidating its leadership as a production technologies specialist. Korea has established a formidable leadership in its manufacturing chains to date based on strengths in science and technology, manufacturing and an emphasis on applied research and development (R&D). By identifying future sources of value in these manufacturing GVCs, Korea can pursue a much more targeted approach to drive the development of a stronger services sector while focusing on the highest value manufacturing segments. This study analyzed Korea’s participation in two of its leading manufacturing sectors: electronics and shipbuilding.

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