Overseas shipyards routinely deliver oceangoing merchant vessels at prices that are a fraction of what the best-performing U.S. shipbuilders are able to quote. Despite efforts to attain commercial competitiveness, it is not clear that the performance gap between the U.S. industry and international shipbuilders is closing. In fact, at least in the case of the U.S. industry compared with the global industry leaders (Japan and South Korea), it is possible that the productivity gap may be widening as a result of the process of relentless performance improvement that has been under way for years in those two nations. In this working paper, we provide a quantitative indication of the rates of change in productivity in Japanese and South Korean shipyards during recent decades. Accompanying this are some comments on the environment that has produced these productivity improvement rates. With this paper, we hope to contribute to an understanding of the dynamics of international competition in the merchant shipbuilding industry.

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