Absolute advantage is fairly simple to identify in theory, but it can be difficult to tease out in practice. Even with the existence of absolute advantage, the influence of comparative advantage and other factors affecting trade make absolute comparisons between countries difficult.
Absolute advantage refers to the ability of a nation to produce a product or service more cheaply than another nation. This might be a result of inputs, such as natural resources, or because of the cost or productivity levels of labor. Absolute advantage may also arise from the level of available capital, such as factories or infrastructure. For example, India has an absolute advantage in operating call centers compared to the Philippines because of its low cost of labor and abundant labor force.
However, when it comes to trade, absolute advantage is not as important as comparative advantage. Comparative advantage takes into account the opportunity cost of specializing in one activity over another. It might be cheaper for India to operate call centers compared to the Philippines, but the potential gains from another activity, such as information technology services, might be far greater.
Indeed, India has seen immense growth in its IT services industry, with revenue doubling since 2010. It has a comparative advantage in specializing in IT relative to other nations. This may be why India's contribution to the call center business has been declining over time. On the other hand, the Philippines has seen its call center industry boom because it has a comparative advantage in relating to American customers.
Of course, in the real world, specialization and trade is not quite this simplistic. Other factors that influence trade decisions include barriers such as tariffs and quotas, the cost and economies of scale in production, and the mix of goods and services demanded by the local population. While a country may enjoy an absolute and even comparative advantage in a particular good or service, it often still produces those items for which it doesn't necessarily have an advantage.