Friday, September 20, 2013

Global Value Chains: Governance and Interventions

Opinion article by: Manuela Ramírez Cardenas (*
International Business and Political Sciences student at Universidad EAFIT, Colombia.

UNCTAD’s World Investment Report for 2013 highlights the importance of Global Value Chains as contributors for development, stating that they “have a direct economic impact on value added, jobs and income” (UNCTAD, 2013) as well as providing opportunities to build the productive capability of a country that would give it the chance for long term industrial upgrading. The WIR 2013 also highlights the risk in participating in GVC because countries, specially poorer developing countries, capture only a small share of the value created in the chain as they only participate on the low value added activities, like the supply of natural resources, and they risk remaining locked on those low value added activities without actually upgrading in the long term.
To avoid the risk of remaining on the lower part of the value chain it is important to implement policies that would enable GVC to actually work for development and the improvement of a country’s productive capability, however this is difficult due to the governance of the chain. According to John Humphrey & Hubert Schmitz governance “refers to the inter-firm relationships and institutional mechanisms through which nonmarket coordination of activities in the chain is achieved” (Humphrey & Schmitz, 2001), usually done by firms in developed countries, who are the ones that have the intangible competences– i.e. marketing, R&D, etc.- that are characterized by high barriers of entry and high economic returns that allow them to be located on a higher part of the value chain. Access to those intangible competences is tough due to those high barriers of entry that require investment, so developing countries usually remained locked in tangible activities which must follow the requirements set by the governors of the chain, that is, the developed countries’ firms.
The governors of the chain impose requirements that those on the lower part of the chain must meet in order to participate in it, and often developing countries are expected to comply with requirements that do not apply yet to their own domestic market, and this highlights the competitive challenges these countries face, with the possibility of an eventual exclusion in the participation of those markets, and makes it nearly impossible for those countries to implement actual policies that would eventually give them access to a higher value gain in the chain.
In my opinion, if GVC are to be successful tools for development, the governors of the GVC must implement value chain interventions focused on the support for development, not from an economic perspective but instead from a holistic viewpoint, by taking decisions that target the improvement of the quality of the lives of the different actors involved in the value chain and the reduction of poverty.
One of those value chain interventions that could have a positive impact in the reduction of poverty is related to the agricultural sector. There are studies that show that the growth generated by agriculture is more effective in reducing poverty that the growth generated in other sectors (Seville, Buxton, & Vorley, 2011), so it is paramount that developing countries that have a precarious agricultural sector, characterized by the poverty of the small-scale farmers, implement strategies to allow those small-scale farmers and producers to connect to value chains in formal markets to give them opportunities to actually overcome poverty, as it has been theorized that “linking smallholders with well-functioning local or global markets – ranging from local ‘street markets’ to formal global value chains – plays a critical part in long-term strategies to reduce rural poverty and hunger” (Seville, Buxton, & Vorley, 2011). However for countries like Colombia, the process of linking the small-scale farmers to global value chains is complicated, as the agricultural sector in the country has several structural challenges, ranging from lack of adequate infrastructure to lack of skills and training.


Humphrey, J., & Schmitz, H. (2001). Governance in Global Value Chains . Retrieved August 27, 2013, from Institute of development Studies: 
Seville, D., Buxton, A., & Vorley, B. (2011). Under what conditions are value chains effective tools for pro-poor development?. Sustainable Food Lab & The International Institute for Environment and Development . International Institute for Environment and Development/Sustainable Food Lab . 
UNCTAD. (2013). World Investment Report 2013. UNCTAD. United Nations.

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