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Structural changes and productivity in Latin American industry, 1970-1996

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This article analyses the structural changes in Latin American industry, which speeded up in the 1990s with the consolidation in the region of the external openness programmes, the deregulation of many markets, and the privatization of major sectors of industrial activity which had previously been dominated by State enterprises. The branches of manufacturing which have turned in the best relative performances over the last twenty years are natural resource-based industries producing staple industrial commodities, industries assembling computers, video equipment, television sets or clothing, and the motor industry, which has been given preferential treatment in government economic policy. In contrast, industries producing labour-intensive final goods, those making intensive use of technological knowledge and new product design engineering, or those producing heavy capital goods have been losing relative weight. The pattern of production specialization and the places occupied in world markets for manufactures have clearly been changing, with greater emphasis on utilization of the natural comparative advantages of the region (i.e., its abundant natural resources); or on sectors which have been given special treatment in industrial policy. The article explores the behaviour of the Latin American industrial structure in terms of productivity, comparing it with that of the developed countries. Using the case of the United States as a reference universe, it estimates the labour productivity gap with respect to that country and evaluates the performance of countries and industrial branches in the region as a function of that parameter.
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