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World Bank Database Shows Export Markets Are Dominated by Big Firms

May 24, 2012

Difficult for Newcomers to Survive

WASHINGTON, May 24, 2012 – A few large companies dominate export markets in developing and developed countries, with the top one percent often accounting for more than half – sometimes nearly 80 percent – of total exports, according to a new World Bank database with a wealth of details on exporting firms.
The new Exporter Dynamics Database offers the most comprehensive picture yet of exporter characteristics and dynamics – a firm’s entry, exit and survival in the export market – in 45 developed and developing countries. The database mainly covers 2003-2009, though data from the 1990s are also available for some countries.
A key finding is that the export market is difficult to tackle for newcomers, with 57 percent of companies on average – and two-thirds in Africa – quitting within a year of entering the export market.
“Governments traditionally have focused on helping exporters expand to new products and new markets, but they may need to do more to help firms survive,” says Ana Margarida Fernandes, the task leader of the database, which was developed by the Trade and International Integration team of the World Bank’s Development Research Group.
The global database allows for cross-country comparisons of exporters based on factors such as size, survival, growth, and concentration. More countries will be added as the database expands. Until now, most databases focus not on exporting firms, but on the aggregate flow of goods across borders based on countries or products.
Based on data sets covering the universe of export transactions obtained directly from customs agencies, the data are comparable across countries. Measures cover the size distribution of exporting firms, their diversification in terms of products and markets, the dynamics of exporting firms’ entry, exit and survival, and the average unit prices of the goods traded.
The Exporter Dynamics Database could help policy makers identify opportunities in particular sectors and address challenges faced by their exporters, especially in their entry and survival in export markets. For example, it can be used to analyze the performance of export sectors in a country, comparing them with their counterparts in the region or richer countries. The database can also make it easier to analyze the impact of tariffs and other trade barriers. For example, it can be used to assess the impact of stringent non-tariff measures on the numbers and average size of exporters.
The database reveals several interesting trends. For example, the rate of firms entering the export market is high, with more than half of the exporters in Laos, Malawi, Tanzania, and Yemen being newcomers in any given year. But their survival rate isn’t that good, generally with more than a third of companies on average leaving the export market every year.
“Our database shows how large the degree of churning in export markets is, particularly in less developed and smaller economies,”
says Martha Denisse Pierola, an economist at the Development Research Group who started the project with Caroline Freund, now the chief economist at the Middle East and North Africa Region of the World Bank. “We need further research to better assist governments in minimizing the costs associated with these high exit rates.”

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