Beyond harsh trade!? The relevance of 'soft' competitiveness factors for Ugandan enterprises to endure in Global Value Chains

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This article is based on an empirical study which examined the issues of organization and coordination of global production and trade for the case of trade between Uganda and Europe. The paper reviews some of the recent literature on Global Value Chains (GVCs) in order to construct its conceptual frame work and presents an overview of the findings of the empirical study on GVC governance and exporters’ upgrading. Respective experiences of 34 exporters in Uganda and 19 importers in Europe were documented through in-depth interviews and consequently analyzed. The paper discusses matters of cooperation between the exporters and importers and points to its significance for upgrading and enhanced competitiveness of the exporters studied. It further identifies firm level ‘soft competitiveness factors’ (SCFs) of Ugandan exporters (such as communication, trust, reliability, relationship management, or business practices) and discusses their relevance for the firms’ performance in GVCs. The findings reveal that deficiencies in SCFs can have damaging effects, and vice-versa. Possession of the SCFs can yield significant competitive advantage for exporters and help strengthening the relationship with the importers. The paper also discusses illtreatment of exporters by their importers. The article concludes that the findings highlight a particular kind of challenge that is often overseen in the debate about exports of African firms: the challenge regarding business behaviours, practices, and ethics including the ability to engage in relations with foreign buyers and leverage resources, knowledge and generally cooperation from them, first, and the general issue of problematic business practices in the global economy, second. Practitioners, policy