Technology flows, outsourcing and productivity: an analysis of UK trade and FDI

Nigel L. Driffield, Michael Henry, James H. Love

Research output: Preprint or Working paperWorking paper


By engaging in trade and foreign direct investment (FDI) with foreign partners, a country can access the R&D and related knowledge stocks of other countries (by accident or by design) and so benefit from those stocks of knowledge at a cost lower than that which would be incurred by developing the knowledge internally. This should lead to beneficial ‘spillover’ effects on the productivity of domestic firms. However, the literature on technology spillovers from trade and FDI is ambiguous in its findings. This may in part be because of the assumption in much of the work that trade and FDI flows are homogeneous in their determinants and thus in their effects. We develop a taxonomy of trade and FDI determinants based on R&D intensity and unit labour cost differentials, and test for the presence of spillovers from inward investment and imports on an extensive sample of UK manufacturing plants. We find that both trade and FDI have measurable spillover effects, but the size of these effects varies depending on the technological and labour cost differentials between the UK and its trading partners. There is therefore an identifiable link between the determinants and effects of trade and FDI which the previous literature has not explored. We also find that absorptive capacity matters for spillovers from FDI, but not from trade. Overall, these findings suggest that the productivity effects of FDI are largely restricted to plants with high absorptive capacity, while the productivity effects of imports occur largely among higher-technology plants regardless of their absorptive capacity.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationBirmingham (UK)
PublisherAston University
ISBN (Print)978-1-85449-689-8
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2007

Publication series

NameAston Business School research papers
PublisherAston University


  • technology
  • trade
  • FDI
  • productivity


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