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Countries Ranked by Their Economic Complexity

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global economic complexity ranking

Countries Ranked by Their Economic Complexity

In the past, the trade between nations was a much simpler matter to grasp. Commodities and a few finished goods moved between a handful of countries in a straightforward way.

Today, around 6,000 officially classified products pass through the world’s ports, and digital products and services zip across country lines creating an extra layer of difficulty in measuring economic activity.

To try to understand this enormous level of economic complexity, the team at Harvard’s Growth Lab have created the Country Complexity Ranking. Here’s a look at the top 50 countries in the ranking:

RankCountryScoreTop Export(s)
1Japan2.28Cars, ICT (tech)
2Switzerland2.14ICT, gold, packaged medicaments
3South Korea2.05ICT, cars
4Germany2.02Integrated circuits, ICT, cars
5Singapore1.81ICT, cars
6Czech Rep.1.79Cars, vehicle parts
7Austria1.71ICT, tourism
8Finland1.69ICT
9Sweden1.67ICT
10Hungary1.64ICT, cars
11Slovenia1.57Cars, ICT
12United States1.47ICT, tourism
13Italy1.42ICT, tourism
14United Kingdom1.42ICT, finance
15Slovakia1.41Cars
16France1.40ICT, tourism
17Ireland1.39ICT
18Israel1.37ICT, diamonds
19China1.30Electronic equipment
20Mexico1.27Cars
21Poland1.19ICT
22Denmark1.18Transport, ICT
23Belgium1.16ICT
24Romania1.16ICT, vehicle parts
25Thailand1.15Tourism
26Netherlands1.04ICT
27Estonia1.03ICT, transport
28Malaysia0.95Integrated circuits
29Belarus0.93Refined oils, ICT
30Croatia0.92Tourism, ICT
31Lithuania0.85Transport, refined oils
32Spain0.85Tourism, ICT
33Philippines0.75Integrated circuits, ICT
34Portugal0.72Tourism, ICT
35Canada0.69Crude oil, cars, ICT
36Bosnia and Herz.0.65Tourism, ICT
37Serbia0.65ICT
38Turkey0.65Tourism, transport
39Latvia0.64Transport, ICT
40Bulgaria0.62Tourism, ICT
41Norway0.56Crude oil, petrol. gases
42Ukraine0.42ICT, transport
43Cyprus0.38Tourism, transport
44Tunisia0.34Electrical wire, tourism
45India0.32ICT
46Costa Rica0.30ICT, tourism
47Uruguay0.29Tourism, wood pulp
48Brazil0.24Soya beans, iron ore
49Russia0.24Crude oil, refined oils
50Lebanon0.24Tourism, ICT

Source

Japan, Switzerland, and South Korea sit at the top of the ranking.

Czech Republic – which was recently ranked as the most attractive manufacturing destination in Europe – has a strong showing, ranking 6th in the world. The United States slipped out of the top 10 into 12th position.

The Power of Productive Knowledge

Highly ranked countries tend to have the following attributes:

    • A high diversity of exported products
    • Sophisticated and unique exported products (i.e. few other countries produce similar products)

In short, the ranking hinges on the concept of “productive knowledge” – or the tacit ability to produce a product.

Muhammed Yildirim, of Harvard University, has thought up a useful analogy for thinking about the role of productive knowledge in the complexity of an economy:

“Suppose that each type of productive knowledge is a letter and each product is a word composed of these letters. Like the game of Scrabble, each country holds a set of letters with plenty of copies of each letter and tries to make words out of these letters. For instance, with letters like A, C and T, one can construct words like CAT or ACT. Then our problem of measuring economic complexity resembles interpreting how many different letters there are in each country’s portfolio. Some letters, like A and E, go in many words, whereas other letters, like X and Q, are used in very few. Extending this analogy to the countries and products, only those with a larger diversity of letters will be able to make more and more unique products. On the other hand, words that require more letters will be made only in the countries that have all the requisite pieces.”

complexity scrabble analogy

Not All Exports are Created Equal

Much like the rack of letters in a Scrabble game, the elements of every export-driven economy can be broken down and quantified. The resulting categories encompass everything from rendered pig fat to integrated circuits, each contributing to the country’s overall score.

complexity connectiveness by sector

Agricultural and extractive industries tend to score lower on the complexity scale. Machinery can be highly complex to produce and is connected to many facets of the global economy.

Visualizing this overall mix of categories can provide a unique perspective beyond big picture numbers like GDP. Below are a few real world examples of export markets on both ends of the complexity spectrum.

Japan

Since this ranking began in the mid-1990s, Japan has never been bumped from the top spot.

Due to a restricted land mass and some ingenuity, Japan has become the prototypical example of a low-ubiquity, high-sophistication export economy.

japan economic complexity breakdown

Interactive breakdown

⁨Cars and electronics are obvious standouts, but there numerous other high-value product categories in the mix as well. The country also has a wide variety of high value exports and trading partners, lowering the risk of a trade war or industry downturn crippling the country’s economy.

Australia

Many will be surprised to learn that Australia sits in the lower third of this complexity ranking.

Although Australia’s global ranking is high in a myriad of categories – household wealth per person, for example – its economic complexity score is -0.60, much lower than expected for its income level. Looking at the breakdown below, there are clues as to why this might be the case.

australia economic complexity breakdown

Interactive breakdown

Australia’s⁩ largest exports are in ⁨low⁩ complexity categories, such as minerals and agriculture. To compound matters, the country’s economy is heavily linked to China’s. To underscore this point, a recent study found that a 5% drop in China’s GDP would result in a 2.5% dip in Australia’s.

Venezuela

It’s no secret that Venezuela has seen some tough times in recent years. The chart below shows just how reliant Venezuela was on oil exports to sustain its economy.

venezuela economic complexity breakdown

Interactive breakdown

An over-reliance on a single export can leave a country extremely vulnerable in the event of price volatility or geopolitical events. In the case of Venezuela, three quarters of their export economy was comprised of crude oil – one of the lowest scoring product categories in the ranking.

The Rush to Diversify

A low level of economic complexity isn’t necessarily a problem. Many countries with middle-to-low scores in the ranking have great standards of living and a high level of wealth. Countries like Canada, Norway, and Australia were all well down the list.

On the other hand, some countries have made diversification a priority. SoftBank’s $100 billion Vision Fund is partially the result of Saudi Arabia’s push to develop a diversified, knowledge-based economy. Other oil-rich nations, such as Kazakhstan, are also pushing to diversify in the face of the world’s evolving energy mix.

As world economies evolve and the shift from fossil fuels continues, we will likely see economic complexity increase across the board.

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Chart of the Week

The Road to Recovery: Which Economies are Reopening?

We look at mobility rates as well as COVID-19 recovery rates for 41 economies, to see which countries are reopening for business.

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The Road to Recovery: Which Economies are Reopening?

COVID-19 has brought the world to a halt—but after months of uncertainty, it seems that the situation is slowly taking a turn for the better.

Today’s chart measures the extent to which 41 major economies are reopening, by plotting two metrics for each country: the mobility rate and the COVID-19 recovery rate:

  1. Mobility Index
    This refers to the change in activity around workplaces, subtracting activity around residences, measured as a percentage deviation from the baseline.

  2. COVID-19 Recovery Rate
    The number of recovered cases in a country is measured as the percentage of total cases.

Data for the first measure comes from Google’s COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports, which relies on aggregated, anonymous location history data from individuals. Note that China does not show up in the graphic as the government bans Google services.

COVID-19 recovery rates rely on values from CoronaTracker, using aggregated information from multiple global and governmental databases such as WHO and CDC.

Reopening Economies, One Step at a Time

In general, the higher the mobility rate, the more economic activity this signifies. In most cases, mobility rate also correlates with a higher rate of recovered people in the population.

Here’s how these countries fare based on the above metrics.

CountryMobility RateRecovery RateTotal CasesTotal Recovered
Argentina-56%31.40%14,7024,617
Australia-41%92.03%7,1506,580
Austria-100%91.93%16,62815,286
Belgium-105%26.92%57,84915,572
Brazil-48%44.02%438,812193,181
Canada-67%52.91%88,51246,831
Chile-110%41.58%86,94336,150
Colombia-73%26.28%25,3666,665
Czechia-29%70.68%9,1406,460
Denmark-93%88.43%11,51210,180
Finland-93%81.57%6,7435,500
France-100%36.08%186,23867,191
Germany-99%89.45%182,452163,200
Greece-32%47.28%2,9061,374
Hong Kong-10%97.00%1,0671,035
Hungary-49%52.31%3,8161,996
India-65%42.88%165,38670,920
Indonesia-77%25.43%24,5386,240
Ireland-79%88.92%24,84122,089
Israel-31%87.00%16,87214,679
Italy-52%64.99%231,732150,604
Japan-33%84.80%16,68314,147
Malaysia-53%80.86%7,6296,169
Mexico-69%69.70%78,02354,383
Netherlands-97%0.01%45,9503
New Zealand-21%98.01%1,5041,474
Norway-100%91.87%8,4117,727
Philippines-87%23.08%15,5883,598
Poland-36%46.27%22,82510,560
Portugal-65%58.99%31,59618,637
Singapore-105%55.02%33,24918,294
South Africa-74%52.44%27,40314,370
South Korea-4%91.15%11,34410,340
Spain-67%69.11%284,986196,958
Sweden-93%13.91%35,7274,971
Switzerland-101%91.90%30,79628,300
Taiwan4%95.24%441420
Thailand-36%96.08%3,0652,945
U.S.-56%28.20%1,768,346498,720
United Kingdom-82%0.05%269,127135
Vietnam15%85.02%327278

Mobility data as of May 21, 2020 (Latest available). COVID-19 case data as of May 29, 2020.

In the main scatterplot visualization, we’ve taken things a step further, assigning these countries into four distinct quadrants:

1. High Mobility, High Recovery

High recovery rates are resulting in lifted restrictions for countries in this quadrant, and people are steadily returning to work.

New Zealand has earned praise for its early and effective pandemic response, allowing it to curtail the total number of cases. This has resulted in a 98% recovery rate, the highest of all countries. After almost 50 days of lockdown, the government is recommending a flexible four-day work week to boost the economy back up.

2. High Mobility, Low Recovery

Despite low COVID-19 related recoveries, mobility rates of countries in this quadrant remain higher than average. Some countries have loosened lockdown measures, while others did not have strict measures in place to begin with.

Brazil is an interesting case study to consider here. After deferring lockdown decisions to state and local levels, the country is now averaging the highest number of daily cases out of any country. On May 28th, for example, the country had 24,151 new cases and 1,067 new deaths.

3. Low Mobility, High Recovery

Countries in this quadrant are playing it safe, and holding off on reopening their economies until the population has fully recovered.

Italy, the once-epicenter for the crisis in Europe is understandably wary of cases rising back up to critical levels. As a result, it has opted to keep its activity to a minimum to try and boost the 65% recovery rate, even as it slowly emerges from over 10 weeks of lockdown.

4. Low Mobility, Low Recovery

Last but not least, people in these countries are cautiously remaining indoors as their governments continue to work on crisis response.

With a low 0.05% recovery rate, the United Kingdom has no immediate plans to reopen. A two-week lag time in reporting discharged patients from NHS services may also be contributing to this low number. Although new cases are leveling off, the country has the highest coronavirus-caused death toll across Europe.

The U.S. also sits in this quadrant with over 1.7 million cases and counting. Recently, some states have opted to ease restrictions on social and business activity, which could potentially result in case numbers climbing back up.

Over in Sweden, a controversial herd immunity strategy meant that the country continued business as usual amid the rest of Europe’s heightened regulations. Sweden’s COVID-19 recovery rate sits at only 13.9%, and the country’s -93% mobility rate implies that people have been taking their own precautions.

COVID-19’s Impact on the Future

It’s important to note that a “second wave” of new cases could upend plans to reopen economies. As countries reckon with these competing risks of health and economic activity, there is no clear answer around the right path to take.

COVID-19 is a catalyst for an entirely different future, but interestingly, it’s one that has been in the works for a while.

Without being melodramatic, COVID-19 is like the last nail in the coffin of globalization…The 2008-2009 crisis gave globalization a big hit, as did Brexit, as did the U.S.-China trade war, but COVID is taking it to a new level.

Carmen Reinhart, incoming Chief Economist for the World Bank

Will there be any chance of returning to “normal” as we know it?

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Chart of the Week

Visualizing the Countries Most Reliant on Tourism

With international travel grinding to a halt, here are the economies that have the most to lose from a lack of tourism.

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Visualizing the Countries Most Reliant on Tourism

Without a steady influx of tourism revenue, many countries could face severe economic damage.

As the global travel and tourism industry stalls, the spillover effects to global employment are wide-reaching. A total of 330 million jobs are supported by this industry around the world, and it contributes 10%, or $8.9 trillion to global GDP each year.

Today’s infographic uses data from the World Travel & Tourism Council, and it highlights the countries that depend the most on the travel and tourism industry according to employment—quantifying the scale that the industry contributes to the health of the global economy.

Ground Control

Worldwide, 44 countries rely on the travel and tourism industry for more than 15% of their total share of employment. Unsurprisingly, many of the countries suffering the most economic damage are island nations.

At the same time, data reveals the extent to which certain larger nations rely on tourism. In New Zealand, for example, 479,000 jobs are generated by the travel and tourism industry, while in Cambodia tourism contributes to 2.4 million jobs.

RankCountryT&T Share of Jobs (2019)T&T Jobs (2019)Population
1Antigua & Barbuda91%33,80097,900
2Aruba84%35,000106,800
3St. Lucia78%62,900183,600
4US Virgin Islands69%28,800104,400
5Macau66%253,700649,300
6Maldives60%155,600540,500
7St. Kitts & Nevis59%14,10053,200
8British Virgin Islands54%5,50030,200
9Bahamas52%103,900393,200
10Anguilla51%3,80015,000
11St. Vincent & the Grenadines45%19,900110,900
12Seychelles44%20,60098,300
13Grenada43%24,300112,500
14Former Netherlands Antilles41%25,70026,200
15Belize39%64,800397,600
16Cape Verde39%98,300556,000
17Dominica39%13,60072,000
18Vanuatu36%29,000307,100
19Barbados33%44,900287,400
20Cayman Islands33%12,30065,700
21Jamaica33%406,1002,961,000
22Montenegro33%66,900628,100
23Georgia28%488,2003,989,000
24Cambodia26%2,371,10016,719,000
25Fiji26%90,700896,400
26Croatia25%383,4004,105,000
27Philippines24%10,237,700109,600,000
28Sao Tome and Principe23%14,500219,200
29Bermuda23%7,80062,300
30Albania22%254,3002,880,000
31Iceland22%44,100341,200
32Greece22%846,20010,420,000
33Thailand21%8,054,60069,800,000
34Malta21%52,800441,500
35New Zealand20%479,4004,822,000
36Lebanon19%434,2006,825,000
37Mauritius19%104,2001,272,000
38Portugal19%902,40010,197,000
39Kiribati18%6,600119,000
40Gambia18%129,6002,417,000
41Jordan18%254,70010,200,000
42Dominican Republic17%810,80010,848,000
43Uruguay16%262,5003,474,000
44Namibia15%114,6002,541,000

Croatia, another tourist hotspot, is hoping to reopen in time for peak season—the country generated tourism revenues of $13B in 2019. With a population of over 4 million, travel and tourism contributes to 25% of its workforce.

How the 20 Largest Economies Stack Up

Tourist-centric countries remain the hardest hit from global travel bans, but the world’s biggest economies are also feeling the impact.

In Spain, tourism ranks as the third highest contributor to its economy. If lockdowns remain in place until September, it is projected to lose $68 billion (€62 billion) in revenues.

RankCountryTravel and Tourism, Contribution to GDP
1Mexico15.5%
2Spain14.3%
3Italy13.0%
4Turkey11.3%
5China11.3%
6Australia10.8%
7Saudi Arabia9.5%
8Germany9.1%
9United Kingdom9.0%
10U.S.8.6%
11France8.5%
12Brazil7.7%
13Switzerland7.6%
14Japan7.0%
15India6.8%
16Canada6.3%
17Netherlands5.7%
18Indonesia5.7%
19Russia5.0%
20South Korea2.8%

On the other hand, South Korea is impacted the least: just 2.8% of its GDP is reliant on tourism.

Travel, Interrupted

Which countries earn the most from the travel and tourism industry in absolute dollar terms?

Topping the list was the U.S., with tourism contributing over $1.8 trillion to its economy, or 8.6% of its GDP in 2019. The U.S. remains a global epicenter for COVID-19 cases, and details remain unconfirmed if the country will reopen to visitors before summer.

Travel and tourism contribution to GDP in absolute terms

Meanwhile, the contribution of travel and tourism to China’s economy has more than doubled over the last decade, approaching $1.6 trillion. To help bolster economic activity, China and South Korea have eased restrictions by establishing a travel corridor.

As countries slowly reopen, other travel bubbles are beginning to make headway. For example, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have eased travel restrictions by creating an established travel zone. Australia and New Zealand have a similar arrangement on the horizon. These travel bubbles allow citizens from each country to travel within a given zone.

Of course, COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on employment and global economic activity with inconceivable outcomes. When the dust finally settles, could global tourism face a reckoning?

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