Korea in Global Value Chains: Pathways for Industrial Transformation

A report on Korea’s manufacturing prospects using a Global Value Chain (GVC) framework

Lecture note by Pauline Debanes

This report is relevant for the academic community given the up-to-date statistics and scientific references. Moreover, the GVC framework has been widely used to give a more balanced approach of the developmental experience of Korea than the state-centric approach, by emphasizing the role of firms, strength of regional ties and the importance of transnational networks for unlocking such a fast industrial upgrading.

The main contribution of this report is to provide descriptive statistics on Korean firms’ participation to global and regional value chains contextualized with the local institutional features. Indeed, the authors synthetically describe the Korean’s industrial transformation from the post-war period up to now through the perspective of GVC with an emphasis on the concepts of governance and upgrading, applied in the specific cases of the electronics and shipbuilding value chains. These two sectors (respectively USD 120bn of exports and 39bn in 2015), typical success stories of the Korean ‘developmental state’ in the past, are now facing an increased competition when reaching the technological frontiers. The sectoral improvements suggested are to move to production equipment, develop service activities and hasten the integration of ICT technologies.

The well-oiled machine of GVC analyses proves itself easy to operationalize concepts without leaving aside the institutional features nor the stakeholders of the manufacturing system. Some pitfalls, typical in the grey literature format, are not avoided, such as the overuse of the policy ‘newspeak’ (Industry 4.0, Big data, growth drivers), or the few conceptual stretches from Mc Kinsey’s normative public policies recommendations to international political economy references.

A more important critic can be made regarding the policy recommendations. If the thorough GVC analysis in this report yields interesting results on the sectoral level, we can regret that the policy recommendations are essentially the same as those of the IMF and OECD: the increase of linkages in the national innovation system, better protection of intellectual property, flexibilization of the labor market, and development of the venture capital market. Indeed, the report falls short in drawing conclusions in terms of labor market improvement or sustainable upgrading in global value chains.

Authors of the report:

Stacey Frederick , Penny Bamber, Lukas Brun, Jaehan Cho, Gary Gereffi, Joonkoo Lee

Read the full report

More on Duke Global Value Chains Center (Duke GVCC)

More on the Korea Intitute fo Industrial Economics and Trade (KIET)


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