The production of and trade in high technology products has always been seen to be important for both developed and developing countries. For developed nations these products are a source of significant exports, off-setting their loss of competitiveness in traditional low technology products. For developing nations, mastery of these products represents a necessary step on their industrialisation path. It is also an important means of protecting their external balance as their own consumption of these products burgeons and as they too lose competitiveness in traditional sectors as wage levels rise in their economies. On top of this, the high tech sectors are the fastest growing in the world economy and so represent an enormous opportunity for growth. It is for these reasons that South Africa should develop its high tech trade potential.
To formulate sensible policy to develop high tech trade, there is a need to accurately define and measure high tech trade in the country. This paper uses a method developed by the US Bureau of the Census which avoids the normal measurement pitfalls of aggregation by allocating products to high tech fields at a very detailed level. In this way, the inclusion of low tech products due to aggregation is avoided. The fields include biotechnology, life sciences, optoelectronics, computers and telecommunications, electronics, computer integrated manufacturing, material design, aerospace, weapons and nuclear technology.