Original Research

Identifying the determinants of South Africa’s extensive and intensive trade margins: A gravity model approach

Marianne Matthee, Maria Santana-Gallego
South African Journal of Economic and Management Sciences | Vol 20, No 1 | a1554 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajems.v20i1.1554 | © 2017 Marianne Matthee, Maria Santana-Gallego | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 04 March 2016 | Published: 24 March 2017

About the author(s)

Marianne Matthee, School of Economics, North-West University, South Africa
Maria Santana-Gallego, Department of Applied Economics, University of the Balearic Islands, Spain


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Abstract

Background: The significance of the paper is twofold. Firstly, it adds to the small but growing body of literature focusing on the decomposition of South Africa’s export growth. Secondly, it identifies the determinants of the intensive and extensive margins of South Africa’s exports – a topic that (as far as the authors are concerned) has not been explored before.

Aim: This paper aims to investigate a wide range of market access determinants that affect South Africa’s export growth along the intensive and extensive margins.

Setting: Export diversification has been identified as one of the critical pillars of South Africa’s much-hoped-for economic revival. Although recent years have seen the country’s export product mix evolving, there is still insufficient diversification into new markets with high value-added products. This is putting a damper on export performance as a whole and, in turn, hindering South Africa’s economic growth.

Methods: A Heckman selection gravity model is applied using highly disaggregated data. The first stage of the process revealed the factors affecting the probability of South Africa exporting to a particular destination (extensive margin). The second stage, which modelled trade flows, revealed the variables that affect export volumes (intensive margin).

Results: The results showed that South Africa’s export product mix is relatively varied, but the number of export markets is limited. In terms of the extensive margin (or the probability of exporting), economic variables such as the importing country’s GDP and population have a positive impact on firms’ decision to export. Other factors affecting the extensive margin are distance to the market (negative impact), cultural or language fit (positive impact), presence of a South African embassy abroad (positive impact), existing free trade agreement with Southern African Development Community (positive impact) and trade regulations and costs (negative impact). In terms of the intensive margin (or the factors influencing the volume of exports), there are strong parallels with the extensive margin, with the exception being that the time involved in exporting has more of an impact than documentary requirements.

Conclusion: Among the factors contributing to South Africa’s exports having largely developed in the intensive margin are a general lack of market-related information, infrastructural weaknesses (both of a physical and technological nature) and a difficult regulatory environment – all of which add to the cost and time involved in exporting. Policymakers have long spoken about the need for the country to diversify its export basket, but now talk about needs to give way to action. The government and its economic partners need to arrive at a common vision of an export sector that will be able to expand into new products and markets, be an active participant in global value chains and deliver sustainable jobs.


Keywords

trade margins; extensive margin; intensive margin; gravity model; South Africa

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