Global value chains, import orientation and the state: South Africa's pharmaceutical industry

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As opposed to the predominant focus of global value chain (GVC) research on export oriented contexts, this article examines the prospects for development in places where the dominant form of engagement with GVCs is import oriented. Through the case of South Africa’s pharmaceutical industry, this analysis demonstrates the challenge for local manufacturing to compete, and the associated state policy responses, in a place which is largely plugged into GVCs as an end market rather than as a production location. As pharmaceutical multinationals have concentrated production elsewhere, South Africa’s manufacturing capacity in the industry has relatively declined in recent decades. Having struggled in its facilitator role, the South African state’s efforts to promote local manufacturing have turned to the producer role through state-owned companies and especially the buyer role through public procurement. Motivations for state policy in this context, however, must navigate the tension between the industrial interest in local manufacturing and the consumer and health policy interest in access to medicines. The experience of South Africa’s pharmaceutical industry points to the wider challenge and consequences of import oriented engagement with GVCs for local industrial development.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of International Business Policy
Early online date6 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2022


  • Global value chains
  • imports
  • pharmaceuticals
  • South Africa

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global inequalities
  • Global Development Institute


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