Uncertainty in the Search for New Exports


This paper explores the role that uncertainty plays in the emergence of new products or services for export in developing countries. Using a comparative case study method, I explore the degree to which those entrepreneurs who discovered new export activities faced uncertainty, and what the nature of this uncertainty was. I then document how this uncertainty, when present, was resolved, and how this affected subsequent diffusion of the newly discovered activity. The cases suggest two important dimensions of uncertainty in the emergence of new export activities: productivity characteristics and demand characteristics. A new activity could feature one, both, or neither types of uncertainty. The reasons for lower inherent uncertainty in these cases suggest a new theory of product similarity that is heterogeneous, multi-dimensional, and operating at a highly disaggregated level. Furthermore, the degree of uncertainty has implications for the expected ‘triggers’ of discovery, and these are born out in the cases. Finally, when uncertainty was present, its resolution often provided significant benefits to subsequent entrants, and the manner in which high uncertainty was overcome suggests potential avenues for policy.

CID Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Fellow Working Paper: 16
Keywords: self-discovery, structural transformation, search
JEL Codes: O1, O3, F14