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By tctuvan
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Abstract
This article investigates issues related to industrial restructuring in Russia. Based on
extensive sectoral data it examines, more particularly, levels and changes in labour
productivity, unit labour costs and revealed comparative advantages for a large
number of Russian industrial sectors. The main findings are the following. First,
impressive increases in labour productivity have been achieved since 1997, especially
during the post-crisis period. Second, this has been true for all major sectors, with the
exception of those which are still predominantly state-controlled or which suffer from
strong state interference. Third, there have been significant relative adjustments
within the industrial sector, as labour productivity increased more in less productive
sectors. Since the crisis, relative unit labour costs have also adjusted considerably,
as less competitive sectors experienced larger labour force reductions. Fourth,
international competitiveness — as measured by revealed comparative advantage —
remains limited to a small number of sectors that mainly produce primary
commodities (particularly hydrocarbons) and energy-intensive basic goods. And
finally, there has been a tendency for further specialisation in resource-based exports
in recent years.
Industrial restructuring is one of the most important, as well as one of the most
difficult, challenges that former planned economies have faced during transition.
Under central planning, enterprises had generally operated under soft budget
constraints, and many of them had produced goods that had little appeal to buyers once
the Soviet bloc opened.Moreover, the majority of enterprises also used production and
management technologies that differed substantially from best practice, and
Rudiger Ahrend, OECD Economics Department, 2, Rue Andre ´ Pascal, 75775 Paris Cedex 16,
France.Email: [email protected]. This article updates and extends material originally
produced for the fifth OECD Economic Survey of the Russian Federation. The author is
indebted to colleagues in the Economics Department for useful discussions and comments, in
particular Andrew Dean, Val Koromzay, Silvana Malle, Douglas Sutherland and William
Tompson. Special thanks go to Corinne Chanteloup and Anne Legendre for technical
assistance. Responsibility for any errors of fact or judgement that remain in the article rests, of
course, entirely with the author.
enterprises were generally hugely overstaffed. As a result, enterprises generally faced
the urgent need to restructure decisively in order to achieve competitiveness in a
market environment and thus to secure themselves a viable future.
However, in spite of the ultimate inevitability of restructuring, in many instances
enterprises did not restructure as vigorously as economic reformers had initially hoped
but instead started to look for easier ways out. In practice, this primarily meant
lobbying for direct or indirect state subsidies. In Russia, the latter were initially
channelled through soft credits, and at later stages during the 1990s through the
toleration of payment arrears to the state budget and state-controlled energy suppliers.
As a result, there has been a widespread impression among economists that the failure
of enterprises to restructure sufficiently fast formed part of the explanation for
Russia’s dire growth performance in the 1990s and would also threaten Russia’s long-
term growth prospects (see e.g. Ickes, 2004). However, while there has been a large
number of interesting enterprise data-based studies on restructuring (see e.g. Brown
et al., 2004), there actually have been few attempts to measure the progress Russian
enterprises have been making in recent years from a more macroeconomic or sectoral
perspective.
The main aim of this article is to close this gap. It makes use of an extensive data
set that covers variables for a very detailed breakdown of industrial sectors in order to
examine issues relevant to the competitiveness of the Russian enterprise sector.
1
In
particular, it looks at levels and changes in labour productivity, unit labour costs and
revealed comparative advantages. The main findings are the following. First,
impressive increases in labour productivity have been achieved since 1997, especially
during the post-crisis period. Second, this has been true for all major sectors, with the
exception of those which are still predominantly state-controlled or which suffer from
strong state interference. Third, there have been significant relative adjustments within
the industrial sector, as labour productivity increased more in less productive sectors.
Since the crisis, relative unit labour costs have also adjusted considerably, as less
competitive sectors experienced larger labour force reductions, and initially also
relatively slower wage growth. Fourth, international competitiveness — as measured
by revealed comparative advantage — remains limited to a small number of sectors
that mainly produce primary commodities (particularly hydrocarbons) and energy-
intensive basic goods. And finally, there has been a tendency for further specialisation
in resource-based exports in recent years.
The remainder of the article is structured as follows: the first section looks at issues
related to labour productivity and unit labour costs, and the second at those concerned
with revealed comparative advantage.
Labour Productivity and Unit Labour Costs
Monitoring productivity developments in Russian industry is an important exercise in
order to assess Russia’s future growth prospects. This reflects the fact that the coming
years will see continued cost pressure on enterprises’ inputs and further real exchange
rate appreciation, which will have to be matched by productivity increases. The 1998
financial crisis remains a vivid reminder of what can happen when productivity fails to
increase in line with input costs or an appreciating exchange rate, rendering a
country’s industry increasingly uncompetitive.
2
Industrial competitiveness, however,
is not only a general but also a structural issue in Russia. The substantial variations in
productivity levels between sectors (see Figure 1) are to some degree inherited from
278 Rudiger Ahrend
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