International product fragmentation—the cross-border dispersion of component production/assembly within vertically integrated production processes—is an important feature of the deepening structural interdependence of the world economy. This paper examines the implications of this phenomenon for global and regional trade patterns, with special emphasis on countries in East Asia, using a new data set culled from the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database. It is found that, while “fragmentation trade” has generally grown faster than total world trade in manufacturing, the degree of dependence of East Asia on this new form of international specialization is proportionately larger than that of North America and Europe. The upshot is that international product fragmentation has made East Asian growth increasingly reliant on extra-regional trade, strengthening the case for a global, rather than a regional, approach to trade and investment policymaking.

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