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date: 15 July 2020

Abstract and Keywords

The categories “emerging” and “advanced” multinationals gloss over the “middleness” of multinationals from and even in middle-income countries. Middle-income countries face weaker institutions and smaller markets than high-income countries, but conditions are better than in low-income, typically least developed countries. Similarly, skills levels and wages are higher than in low-income countries, but lower than in high-income countries. We argue that this “middleness” matters. Emerging multinationals leverage their position in the global economic hierarchy as brokers working with lead firms, local optimizers operating only downstream, specialist niche providers working only upstream, and sometimes global consolidators operating across the hierarchy. Advanced multinationals use the global economic hierarchy to expand as lead firms in global value chains or pecking order exploiters that enter low-income countries through middle-income countries. Our research, using evidence from South African multinationals, expands our understanding of multinationals’ operations, especially in Africa.

Keywords: global value chains, South Africa, economic hierarchy, emerging market multinationals, middleness

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