The term may also be applied to markets, where it is used to refer to the extent to which the market structure may be regarded as perfectly competitive. This usage has nothing to do with the extent to which individual firms are "competitive'.
In recent years, the concept of competitiveness has emerged as a new paradigm in economic development. Competitiveness captures the awareness of both the limitations and challenges posed by global competition, at a time when effective government action is constrained by budgetary constraints and the private sector faces significant barriers to competing in domestic and international markets.
The term is also used to refer in a broader sense to the economic competitiveness of countries, regions or cities. Recently, countries are increasing looking at their competitiveness on global markets. Ireland (1997), Greece (2003), Croatia (2004), Bahrain (2005), the Philippines (2006), Guyana and the Dominican Republic are just some examples of countries that have advisory bodies or special government agencies that tackle competitiveness issues. Even regions or cities, such as Dubai or the Basque Country, are considering the establishment of such a body.
The institutional model applied in the case of National Competitiveness Programs (NCP) varies from country to country, however, there are some common features. The leadership structure of NCPs relies on strong support from the highest level of political authority. High-level support provides credibility with the appropriate actors in the private sector. Usually, the council or governing body will have a designated public sector leader (president, vice-president or minister) and a co-president drawn from the private sector. Notwithstanding the public sector’s role in strategy formulation, oversight, and implementation, national competitiveness programs should have strong, dynamic leadership from the private sector at all levels – national, local and firm. From the outset, the program must provide a clear diagnostic of the problems facing the economy and a compelling vision that appeals to a broad set of actors who are willing to seek change and implement an outward-oriented growth strategy. Finally, most programs share a common view on the importance of networks of firms or “clusters” as an organizing principal for collective action. Based on a bottom-up approach, programs that support the association among private business leadership, civil society organizations, public institutions and political leadership can better identify barriers to competitiveness; develop joint-decisions on strategic policies and investments; and yield better results in implementation.
National competitiveness is said to be particularly important for small open economies, which rely on trade, and typically foreign direct investment, to provide the scale necessary for productivity increases to drive increases in living standards. The Irish National Competitiveness Council uses a Competitiveness Pyramid structure to simplify the factors the affect national competitiveness. It distinguishes in particular between policy inputs in relation to the business environment, the physical infrastructure and the knowledge infrastructure and the essential conditions of competitiveness that good policy inputs create, including business performance metrics, productivity, labour supply and prices/costs for business.
The International Economic Development Council (IEDC) in Washington, D.C. published the "Innovation Agenda: A Policy Statement on American Competitiveness". This paper summarizes the ideas expressed at the 2007 IEDC Federal Forum and provides policy recommendations for both economic developers and federal policy makers that aim to ensure America remains globally competitive in light of current domestic and international challenges .
International comparisons of national competitiveness are conducted by the World Economic Forum, in its Global Competitiveness Report, and the Institute for Management Development , in its World Competitiveness Yearbook .
Krugman argues that "As a practical matter, however, the doctrine of 'competitiveness' is flatly wrong. The world's leading nations are not, to any important degree, in economic competition with each other." As Krugman notes, national economic welfare is determined primarily by productivity in both traded and non-traded sectors of the economy. .