Our Programmes



Sign up to our newsletter.

Follow ODI

Trade and economic transformation

Time (GMT +00) 11:00 12:30


Prof. Bernard Hoekman - Professor and Director, The Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute

Arancha Gonzalez - Executive Director, International Trade Centre

Dr. Dirk Willem te Velde - Senior Research Fellow and Head of International Economic Development Group, ODI

Dr. Maximiliano Mendez-Parra - Research Fellow, ODI

Chris Barton - Director of International Affairs, Trade Policy & Export Control, UK's Department for Business (BIS)

On 14th-17th December 2015, the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) hosted the Trade and Development Symposium (TDS) alongside the Tenth World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Nairobi. The Supporting Economic Transformation programme (SET) held a panel session at the TDS on the 17th December to discuss trade and economic transformation. The TDS was attended by global thought leaders, key private sector actors, active civil society groups, as well as high-level governmental and intergovernmental organisation representatives.

Key Points from Session

  • Trade is the single most powerful mechanism to reduce poverty and promote development.

  • Trade supports economic transformation and high quality growth. Economic transformation implies both moving resources between sectors (for example, from agriculture to manufacturing) known as structural change and also improving productivity within sectors (for example, from subsistence agriculture to high-value crops). Thus economic transformation includes, but is more than, industrialisation.

  • Ideas matter in the debate on trade and economic transformation. Countries have not been able to transform economically without focusing on trade and competitiveness and there is no role for concepts such as infant industry protection.

  • There has been a negative perception on the role of services in economic transformation, but recent data suggest that services are a major contributor to employment. Exports of services have grown faster than exports of goods, and services from developing countries are increasingly becoming intermediates. In many countries value addition from services in goods exports is greater than exports of services.

  • There is a robust relationship between services productivity and performance of manufacturing and merchandise trade.

The full event report can be read here.


​Economic growth is necessary for development. The increase in the quantity of resources available to produce and/or distribute is essential in the development process. However, economic growth alone does not guarantee all development objectives. The quality of economic growth matters, and it essential for sustained development that growth involves some form of economic transformation.

Trade can be a powerful channel to mobilise resources from low to high productivity sectors and to improve productivity within sectors. The Supporting Economic Transformation (SET) programme has explored the links between trade, trade policy and economic transformation. Trade helps to diversify production, discover and develop new productive capabilities and to increase domestic value added.

Services are becoming increasingly important in world trade. Moreover, as services are an important component of the production processes, the trade and production structure, in value added terms, become similar. The SET programme is studying in depth the links between trade in services and economic transformation.

This event was livestreamed on the TDS/ICTSD website and a recording is available on the SET Website.

For more information about the event please contact Sonia Hoque ([email protected]).

Hilton Nairobi, Kenya