The School of Economics is proud to announce that Prof Marianne Matthee recently received the National Research Foundation’s Y2 rating. This means that she is recognised as a young researcher (within 5 years from PhD) who has demonstrated the potential (by research outputs) to establish herself as a researcher in her field. It is a big honour and the result of a lot of hard work. Here is more about what she has been working on and future research plans:
Over the past seven years, the focus of my research has predominantly been on exporting as an economic activity of South African regions and firms. It started out by investigating different elements of sub-national or regional exports. These elements included, among others, the determinant of exports and the importance of domestic transport costs, location and export composition. During this time, I began to develop an understanding of the dynamics of regional exports and realised that the next step should be to focus on the firms in the regions that generate exports. Therefore, my subsequent research contained firm-level analyses also under the broad topic of internationalisation. I have been fortunate to work with experienced co-authors who have assisted a great deal in the growth and development of my research career. Writing with international co-authors (such as Prof Wim Naudé, Prof Thomas Gries and Prof Maarten Bosker) has taught me how to write articles on the level required by international journals. I have also gained experience by working with more senior colleagues in my School (such as Prof Waldo Krugell and Prof Wilma Viviers). Finally, I have also been fortunate to write articles with students who were under my supervision for their master’s and PhD degrees.
Internationally, there is a rich literature on the geography of exports (e.g. by Hanson) and on exporting firms (e.g. Melitz). My research adds a developing country perspective to this literature. Furthermore, considering South Africa brings a unique dimension, as the country’s economic geography is unusual and it is still a fairly recent participant in the global arena. On a national level, my work links up with the sectoral work done by Edwards, the firm-level work done by Rankin and the geographical work done by Krugell. The importance of the location and characteristics of exporters also has impacted policy in research done for the North West Provincial Government.
My research vision is to conduct high quality firm-level work on exporters in South Africa. Internationally, research on exporting has begun to focus on firm-level analysis. Such analysis provides an in-depth understanding of the firm dynamics and the necessary policy interventions required to make firms and ultimately the country competitive. In South Africa, industry and firm-level analysis is important both for academic and policy purposes. Deriving from the Melitz model, the international literature examines questions such as why few firms export, the importance of size, age and learning by doing. It examines the dynamics of export firms such as trade responses at the extensive and intensive margins and the barriers faced by exporting firms. For all of these, South African analysis is limited, but I believe that studies of an economy that has only recently opened to the world again can offer insights into this field. Once the above issues are understood, cross-country comparisons can be made.
In terms of policy, the government is in the process of formulating and implementing a wide range of economic policies to enhance employment, industrial development, international trade and ultimately balanced economic growth. Export and exporters are seen to be the drivers of growth and employment. Recently, the New Growth Path and National Development Plan have proposed a more pro-active stance for government in diversifying the economy and facilitating industrial development. Policy formulation and evaluation of industry performance are on the government’s agenda. The design and evaluation of economic policy require rigorous economic analysis, drawing on a detailed understanding of the field and relevant data of a high quality.
It is here that I would like to make a contribution. However, data required for industry-level and firm-level analyses are either lacking, or if data exists, not accessible to researchers. It is therefore my challenge, together with my collaborators, to obtain data on firm-level exports for academic research and different projects are already underway to obtain firm-level exporter data.
I would like to use my NRF rating and financial support to launch projects to obtain firm-level data on internationalisation issues (for example, the barriers that they face). Such micro-data on firms and exporters could impact economic research in the same manner that NIDS (National Income Dynamic Study) impacted research on households. A long-term project is to conduct studies on South African (and African) firms using panel datasets or even Randomised Control Trails that can provide more information on the causal relationship between exports and the drivers thereof.