The Future of Low-Skilled Manufacturing Labor in Industry 4.0

By: Nazla Mariza, Humphrey Fellow 2017-2018, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University; Visiting Researcher (Summer 2018), Center for Strategic and International Studies

Since the era of industrial revolution (IR), the manufacturing sector relied heavily on low-skilled physical labor, making it one of the largest job producers. Developing countries with large populations took advantage by offering abundant numbers of low-wage workers. China, as a country with the largest population in the world, has been benefitting from this situation. Their economy has been growing by hosting major manufacturing industries from foreign investment since early 1990s.

Technological advancement, or industry 4.0, has been influencing different aspects of human life including manufacturing. With investment in R&D, AI and robots are more efficient than human power and will eventually replace labor; its cost will no longer be the main consideration in manufacturing. This commentary will look at technology wave in manufacturing, its move toward a capital-intensive model, and the future of labor-intensive industry in developing countries.

The contribution of manufacturing to development

Historically, manufacturing has had significant contributions to economic development through dual function productivity gains and job-creation for low-skilled workers. Countries at the forefront of the industrial revolution now earn higher incomes on average. During the first IR, the manufacturing sector relied heavily on low-skilled physical labor, making it one of the largest job producers. Some economists believe that investing in manufacturing will effectively reduce poverty as it provides a steady income to the poor—at least initially—before boosting productivity. In the era of globalization, manufacturing processes often span several countries to produce a commodity. High-Income Countries (HICs) outsource some of their production processes to cost-effective locations. Countries with a large pool of low-wage laborers attract foreign companies and often gain the dual benefit of developing their manufacturing industry.

The Rise of China’s Manufacturing Sector

Shifting manufacturing to developing countries helps boost the economy. China is now a powerful emerging economy with the second largest gross domestic product (GDP) in the world after the U.S. Manufacturing is the foundation of China’s economic growth, which has prospered because of outsourced manufacturing activity, accounting for almost half of its GDP.

China has successfully expanded its manufacturing industry by changing and harnessing its comparative advantages in the 1980s and 1990s through privatization and opening markets to international trade. China has also been successful in maximizing its large pool of low-skilled laborers by using low wage/labor cost ratio in developed countries. Additionally, there are other benefits that China offers to companies, such as competitive product prices along with flexible minimum quantity supply chain systems. These reforms helped China engage in the international market and become a successful breeding ground for manufacturing, receiving an overflow of outsourcing from various companies.

Foreign investment has supported the manufacturing industry and economic growth has increased dramatically by 9 to 14 percent from 1992 to 2011. This growth has been sustained for over 20 years, making China the single largest producer of manufactured goods in the world and accounting for 10 percent of total global exports ($2.1 trillion). It is not surprising that China’s export of goods and services has increased by 43 times in under three decades. The poverty level has decreased from 6.6 percent in 1990 to 1.4 percent in 2014, although inequality remains high at 42.2 percent in 2012.

In the era of digitalization, technology innovation has affected the manufacturing industry. This change presents opportunities and challenges, but how can major players such as China capitalize on the opportunities of forthcoming technological advancement?

China’s rise to power in the international economy was successful, in part, because it had the right set of conditions. However, countries that aim to mimic China’s pathway to development face an obstruction to growth that China did not have – the Fourth IR (4IR). Manufacturing is transforming with the introduction of new technologies such as AI, robotics, 3D printing, and automation. The manufacturing sector will soon likely implement the use of innovative technologies that could eventually replace some manufacturing jobs – displacing existing human labor. For example, robots can build cars, but no one has yet made a robot that can sew a shirt, at least at a cost that would allow the producer to sell the shirt at a competitive price. As a result, productivity and revenues are predicted to spike— at the cost of downsizing of up to 25 percent.

Manufacturing new advanced goods such as autonomous vehicles, biochips and biosensors, autonomous medical devices, and control systems could also affect labor demand. Consequently, innovative technology in manufacturing will demand higher level skills (e.g. programming and IT). Currently, labor skill in manufacturing— mostly located in developing countries—is relatively low and will create skills gaps, so training and education programs should be more adaptive to shifted operations in manufacturing.

Given that HICs have established R&D facilities and high-skilled laborers (i.e. scientists, computer technology specialist, innovative product designers), they will likely benefit from digitalization and engage more with it. Potentially, HICs may move global production back to their own countries, as low labor cost becomes less relevant in determining production location.

Low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) will feel the biggest impact as they can no longer rely on labor cost for their comparative advantage. A critical question will be whether new technology trends will impede on manufacturing activities across LMICs or create new opportunities. Do LMICs need to focus on improving their competitiveness in producing traditional goods?

It is interesting to see how the transformation will affect the kings of manufacturing. China has been preparing itself to adapt to this emerging technology trend, realizing the need to be flexible. In 2015, China launched “Made in China 2025” (MC2025) intending to prepare itself to enter the age of smart manufacturing. China also aspires to be the biggest technological power by 2050. The MC2025 document outlines China’s response to Germany’s “Industry 4.0” and the “Industrial Internet” in the U.S. by developing ten industries, namely next-generation IT. This includes high-end numerical control machinery and robotics; aerospace and aviation equipment; high-tech maritime engineering equipment  and biopharmaceuticals. This big leap marks a shift in China’s manufacturing industry toward a more capital-intensive industry.

This ambitious plan will position China as the world’s manufacturing superpower, enabling it to reach HIC status. To do so, China realizes it can no longer rely on producing cheap goods. The Chinese government aims to move up the value chain to produce more advanced products and establish its domestic technology, removing foreign dependency.

To support all these ambitions, China has been committed to R&D activities, whose budget has been increasing every year to levels much higher than its competitors. In 2015, according to UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Germany allocated $110 billion to R&D, South Korea issued $73 billion, and Japan allocated $170 billion. China surpassed these countries’ budgets combined, with $370 billion that same year.

Despite high R&D investment, the use of robotics in manufacturing is still relatively low in China. In 2016, China developed on average 19 industrial robots per 10,000 industry employees, much less than Germany, which produced 301, and South Korea’s 531. This demonstrates that HICs may still play a key role in manufacturing if they can maintain their competitiveness in high innovative technology. Notwithstanding, China may soon catch up given its aggressive technological development. Recently, China opened new institutes for robotics and AI that aim to facilitate the transformation of traditional industries.

Above all, this new trend creates fear for developing countries that depend on a large pool of low-skilled labor to remain competitive. Manufacturing is not a feasible industry to provide the same dual benefits of productivity and job-creation for unskilled labor. How will developing countries fare in manufacturing, as China shifts its focus?

Despite the rise of automation, it won’t replace sectors that require human emotions, creativity, and instinctive decision-making (e.g. service industry, tourism, hospitality and nursing).China will be less competitive in producing labor-intensive goods such as car parts, electronic products, garments, textiles, shoes and toys with its declining work-age population expected to continue decreasing to 830 million in 2030. This affects the increase of labor costs ($9,907 annual labor wage in 2017).

In 2014, Chinese exports from labor-intensive manufacturing reached $1.5 trillion. Shifting away the labor-intensive manufacturing may open a window of opportunity for other countries to enter the manufacturing space. A study by Gustav Papanek from Boston Institute for Development Economics shows that moving half of China labor-intensive manufacturing to other countries would gain them up to $750 billion, a big opportunity for those with comparative advantages (labor, costs, proximity to raw materials).

However, there are concerns. Moving operations out of China to other countries is difficult. Some hindering factors include low productivity, inadequate supply and engineering, logistic costs and poor infrastructure. Thus, paying higher labor wages in China remains more competitive. If other developing countries want to take up the spill-over share from China, nothing is more essential for them than to seriously rebuild their comparative advantage. Developing effective macroeconomic policies and a robust financial sector is a must.

If developing countries with big population and fast economic growth such as India and Indonesia fail to seize the chance from China, new players will possibly take over. There are new frontier markets in Asia such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Vietnam, while Nepal, Cambodia and Laos have been preparing for economic growth.

What will happen in the future?

The future of economic growth in this region will depend on a variety of factors. Many of these are uncertain, but one: the competition among China, HICs and LMICs will continue. Countries still have a chance to enhance their unique competitiveness if they act strategically. The division of roles is possible if each can provide value in the chain of manufacturing process. Some could supply raw materials, while others focus on production or logistics. Failure to diversify will pave the way for China to be the single manufacturing superpower in the world. Support from HICs to LMICs in increasing LICs capacity in global value chain can help.

Challenges are not merely about automation, but also about the reallocation of resources to growing sectors such as the services industry. The growing pace of manufacturing will likely require greater services, whether as inputs, activities within firms or as output sold bundled with goods. This is known as “servification”, which means manufacturing sectors increasingly rely on services. Services account for about one third of value-added in manufacturing sales and exports, creating opportunities for LMICs and HICs to play a role as service suppliers.

The growing population in developing countries and ageing population in developed countries, create demand for the service sector. So, the problem is not a lack of need but one of effectively addressing the demand. The people who need healthcare, transportation, and education cannot afford it, and the government must step in to address the future shift of labor and service demands and adjust to changing needs.

Land Grabbing in South America: Fueling Displacement and Inequality

Mackenzie Blog Pic

Photo of a woman in rural Paraguay, as part of a series of photographs that reflect the challenges and dignity of the rural poor being displaced at the hands of an agricultural export model. By Flickr user Ministerio de Cultura de la Nación Argentina under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

By MacKenzie Hammond

As the global population continues to rise, land and other natural resources will only grow in importance. Foreign companies have taken advantage of cheap lands and corrupt governance in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa to expand their operations. Worse yet, more than 60 percent of those crops are exported, often leading to rural displacement and food insecurity in developing countries. ‘Land grabbing,’ was first defined in the Tirana Declaration in 2011 as an acquisition of land that violates human rights, dictates unfair contracts, disregards impact on social, economic, or environmental conditions and ultimately causes rural farmers to lose their way of life. Land is packaged and sold to multinational corporations which uproot families and take land away from indigenous populations and the rural inhabitants without offering alternative options for employment.

Foreign investors, such as multinational corporations, promote their commitment to add value to the national economy of countries they invest. Although selling land to foreign investors can increase agricultural exports and contribute to overall economic growth, it does not always translate into economic inclusion for local land owners. Wealth does not trickle down from multi-national corporations to benefit local impoverished populations because increased mechanization reduces labor costs and agricultural employment opportunities. Throughout history, land ownership has been a key determinant of power and wealth. Today, land ownership continues to favor wealthy stakeholders and frequently disadvantages low-income communities. This article analyzes the impact of land acquisition in rural communities of South America and, specifically, the current initiatives in place to improve the livelihoods of impacted populations in Paraguay.

El Gran Chaco is a region in South America that extends across Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia, and Brazil. The basin has been a focus of foreign investments in the last few decades because of low land and production costs, loose environmental regulations, and high returns. Land is easily acquired in these countries by foreigner’s due to weak land governance and an unequal distribution of resources. Some unenforced policy environments have enabled opportunities for exploitation. One intention of channeling foreign direct investment (FDI) into developing countries is to promote integration into an increasingly globalized market. Developing countries should export common commodities like soybeans, palm oil, and beef to new markets. For example, soybean exports from Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay combined in 2016 were worth $24.3 billion and accounted for nearly 47 percent of the world’s total soybean exports.

The international demand for products, such as soybeans, and the required land-intensive processes have created extensive problems for the local populations excluded from participation in the global economy. These include increased urbanization and poverty, loss of economic opportunity, and negative environmental and health impacts. Many efforts are tackling the symptoms of the problem, but more attention should address the root cause of the problem – land ownership.

In recent years, local unrest has prompted governmental action in Brazil and Argentina to limit land grabbing. Argentina enacted a land acquisition act in 2011 which limited foreign land ownership to 1,000 hectares. Additionally, Argentina and Brazil have a tax on soybean exports, which puts a burden on producers, but supports the local economy. Argentina recently increased this tax to 50 percent, which has the potential to drive out producers. Through these actions, governments are taking a stance against foreign abuse on the resources and people of these countries.

While countries such as Brazil and Argentina are taking intentional actions to alleviate the issue, others are not taking the effective steps to protect the local populations or land. Paraguay, for example, lacks thorough restrictions on foreign investments for commodities like soybeans and struggles to properly enforce current laws that protect rural populations.

Case Study: Paraguay and the Soybean Monocrop

Paraguay has one of the most unequal land distributions in the world. Nearly 80 percent of agricultural land is held by only 1.6 percent of landowners. Former President Alfredo Stroessner sold or gave away 25 percent of Paraguay’s fertile land during his 35-year dictatorship. Over the years, wealthy land owners have sold their land to large private investors. Companies like Louis Dreyfus or Monsanto are among the many investors who purchase land in Paraguay because of its low valuations, tax incentives, and comparatively good agroecological potential. Since the 1990s, most of these investments have contributed to the expansion of soybean plantations. 75 percent of all arable land in Paraguay is dedicated to soybean plantations. Of these plantations, over 96 percent of soybeans cultivated in Paraguay are exported, primarily to Russia, the European Union (EU), and Turkey, where it is then used primarily for animal feed.

The versatility of soybeans makes it an attractive crop to produce, yet sharing the benefits of this industry has remained a challenge for Paraguay. Rural inhabitants who are uprooted from their land do not benefit from soy exports because soybean plantations increasingly use mechanized processes instead of physical labor. Rural populations not only lose their land but are left without a job to support their families. The expansion of soybeans has forced nearly 9,000 Paraguayan families each year to migrate to the cities in search of work and a better livelihood.

These displaced individuals need a plan for integration into the local economy, whether they have migrated to urban settings or attempted to stay in their rural environments. For example, the World Bank developed a strategy for Paraguay that aimed to improve financial inclusion, increase access to basic services for impoverished communities, and foster market integration for smallholder farmers. The country partnership strategy will be ending in 2018, and the World Bank has not released a progress report on the impact of this strategy yet.

In addition to multilateral organizations – human rights groups, local NGOs, and campaigns are helping attract attention to this immediate concern and provoke a response from the government. Organizations such as the Global Forest Coalition and Friends of the Earth are providing land-use planning methods, legal advice and training for farmers, and human rights interventions to protect the land and freedom of rural inhabitants. Others, like the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), aim to increase rural capacity in municipalities and organizations. Local government and civil society organizations (CSOs) can strengthen and empower small farmers through facilitated dialogue between affected citizens and government, community protection programs, and cooperation agreements.

Other development organizations in Paraguay link rural farmers to markets through partnerships with the private sector. This way, smallholder farmers are reintegrated into the supply chain of agricultural exports. Despite these efforts for economic integration in Paraguay, these challenges are deeply rooted in structural and political capacity issues that will require institutional actions to improve regulatory frameworks and laws that protect land owners and help those that have already been displaced.

Conclusion

The land management crisis extends beyond Paraguay and El Chaco, beyond soybeans and indigenous populations; more international attention should be given to the situation in Paraguay and in countries around the world where land and wealth divide populations, cause conflict, and destroy livelihoods. Land grabbing will continue to increase urban density and stretch resources, housing, and jobs; youth populations will have higher aspirations than what those jobs can provide; food demand will increase as populations do and agricultural production will struggle to fulfill it. These consequences will intensify if the root of this problem is not addressed proactively. Preventing future land grabs will require an integrated stakeholder response to secure effective and sustainable resource distribution, environmental and human rights protections, and government accountability and transparency.

Remittances: A Complement to International Aid

By Rohit Sudarshan

The future of traditional foreign assistance is in a precarious situation. Over the past five years, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries that contribute the largest share of international aid—namely Australia, France, and the U.S.—have seen a downward trend in official development assistance (ODA) as a percentage of gross national income (GNI). Additionally, the United Kingdom’s development agency, DFID, is currently handling a surge of fraud investigations regarding their foreign aid. Countries that are global leaders must promote other financial means for international development. Few options are as important and efficient as remittances.

Remittances are payments made by immigrants to families and friends in their country of origin and represent an effective method for those in developing countries to continue to improve their standard of living. While ODA requires the coordination of government agencies as well as policymakers from many countries, remittances do not face that same constraint. The difficulty in ensuring accountability has meant that governments have misused and absorbed aid money. For these reasons, remittances can be an appealing alternative; they can move expediently and directly to a recipient that needs it.

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Hawala: An International Development Tool?

By Catarina Santos

Introduction

Roughly 38 percent of the two billion people in the world’s lowest economic percentile do not have bank accounts and therefore lack access to the global financial market.  Hawala, or “transfer” in Arabic, is a remittance system that runs parallel to formal financial system transactions. Although it is often associated with financing terrorist activities, narcotics trafficking and tax evasion, and is therefore illegal in most countries, hawala can be an important tool to facilitate the sending of remittances. This is especially the case for poorer populations in developing countries and for transactions by undocumented people. In fact, remittances received through hawala account for a third of Somalia’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Despite its ubiquity in many parts of the world, hawala remains under the radar. This article provides a background on how hawala functions, discusses why it can be an attractive alternative remittance system, and considers whether hawala should be regulated as a security threat or promoted as a development tool.

Background on hawala and how it works

Hawala started in South Asia around the 18th century, before Western banking practices reached the region. It evolved over the years and today is used mostly by migrant workers overseas for financial transactions domestically and internationally. This system distinguishes itself from the traditional remittance systems because it is largely based on trust and uses family connections and affiliations within communities to circulate money between “hawaladars,” or hawala dealers.

Why would migrants prefer to use this system over an official banking system? The main reasons are cost effectiveness, efficiency, reliability, lack of bureaucracy, and tax evasion. This system does not require identification documents or formal bank accounts, and does not leave a paper trail.  Users of this method are therefore often associated with undocumented people and people committing illegal activities.

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Creating Public-Private-Military Partnerships to Fill Administrative and Financial Gaps in U.S. Infrastructure Reconstruction Projects in Afghanistan

By Jackson Celestin 

On March 11, 2016, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John F. Sopko released a report reviewing 45 Department of Defense (DOD) reconstruction projects in Afghanistan. Of the 45 projects, 28 did not meet structural contract requirements or technical specifications, 16 were structurally deficient to the point that they were considered unsafe for use, and 7 of the 15 completed projects had never been used. According to Sopko, the projects suffered from inadequate contractors, project management and oversight; and faulty building materials. To limit deficient projects, Sopko suggested the DOD improve its project planning and design procedures, hire contractors who are qualified and capable of complying with construction requirements, and conduct adequate oversight to guarantee that projects are built to protocol and contractors are held accountable

 Though Sopko’s recommendations are reasonable solutions, they ignore larger trends visible in the U.S.’ reconstruction budget in Afghanistan. Of the $114.92 billion the U.S. has spent since 2002 through the Afghanistan Reconstruction Fund, the DOD has dedicated $10.68 billion (9 percent) to Operations and Oversight and only $990 million (less than 1 percent) to the main infrastructure fund, the Afghanistan Infrastructure Fund (AIF).

Between Sopko’s report and the allocation of U.S. reconstruction funds in Afghanistan, there appears to be an expertise, administration, and funding gap that is preventing the United States from establishing sustainable infrastructure projects in Afghanistan. In the field of international development, this is a common challenge, and more agencies are turning to public-private partnerships (PPPs) to address it. Inspired by PPPs in international development, this blog presents a new model that partners the public and private sectors with the military. This article will refer to this model as Public-Private-Military Partnerships (PPMPs). Though they may face challenges in attracting private investors, working with low starting budgets, and addressing anti-Western and anti-military perceptions, PPMPs can combine the groups’ comparative advantages to fill the knowledge and funding gap in the United States’ Afghanistan reconstruction projects. They can also further connect the military to global development for better military assistance in conflict areas and help conflict and post-conflict areas to pursue global development and sustainability goals.

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This graph is an original creation of the author, Jackson Celestin, based on data from the July 30, 2016 SIGAR Quarterly Report to Congress.

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