For at least twenty five years – with growing involvement, intensity, and geographical extent – the manufacture of a good has been divided into phases so that it takes the form of a sequence of tasks assigned to firms located in very different places. Global value chains (henceforth GVCs) reflect this distinctive pattern of the international division of production. The phenomenon involves both firms in developing countries, where participation in GVCs is an opportunity to industrialize highly labour-intensive tasks, and firms in the developed countries, which frequently operate in what are considered to be the most remunerative segments of GVCs, i.e. upstream and downstream to the production of a good.
The organization of production in GVCs is a phenomenon of great importance. At the macro level, it has a significant impact on the productive specialization of individual countries, which now in large part compete on individual phases (for example, R & D, Design, Assembly, Logistics) rather than on final goods, which in fact are now “made in the world”. At the micro level, it offers opportunities of various kinds to firms, depending on their positioning and the capacity to move along the GVC and settle on more remunerative tasks (so-called upgrading process).
The Italian economy has been characterized by growing integration into GVCs. In fact, according to the index of GVC participation compiled by the OECD (2012), Italy ranks equal with Germany and France. At micro level, Italian firms seem to be involved in GVCs mainly as intermediate firms: that is, they sell to other firms rather than operate in the market for finished goods.