This paper examines the role of international openness on the change of firm productivity in Southeastern Europe (SEE). This is a crucial question for middel income countries. Using firm-level date for six transition economies over the period 1994-2002, we identify whether foreign ownership and propensity to trade with more advanced countries can bring about higher learning effects. We find that (i) foreign ownership has helped at restructuring and enhancing productivity of local firms in four out of six countries, (ii) exporting to advanced markets has a larger impact on productivity growth in four countries, especially when firm's absorptive capacity is taken into account, (iii) in contrast, exporting to the less competitive markets of ex-Yugoslavia seems to affect negatively the productivity growth in three countries, and (iv) learning effects from importing follow a similar path than exporting. Our results suggest that trade liberalisation is not unifirmly beneficial. Regional composition of trade flows and absorptive capacity of local firms matter. Trade liberalisation within the SEE region thus may not provide a substitute for a general trade liberalisation and access to the more competitive markets of OECd countries.
international trade trade liberalization foreign ownership total factor productivity transition economics