It is true that export success depends on comparative advantage and international competitiveness, but these are relative terms: international competitiveness is bought at the expense of the competitiveness of others, and comparative advantage implies a near-monopoly position in the provision of some good or service.
Comparative advantage is not about what you are better at compared to other people. That is absolute advantage. Comparative advantage is what you are better at doing relative to the other things that you could be doing. And as such it greatly strengthens the case for trade.
Or as I put it some time ago:
The result of this idea is that it is never possible for there not to be gains from the specialisation of labour and the resultant trade. It’s also, as Samuelson points out, something which is grossly and widely misunderstood.
It is that it doesn’t matter how good or bad I am at anything compared to how good you are at any and every thing. That isn’t the comparison we are thinking should be made. The comparison is between how good I am at doing things and how good I am at doing other things. The specialisation I choose, the work that is divided to me, should be what it is that I am least bad at.
Think of the extended family barbecue, there will be the idiot cousin there. No, really, every family has one (and as with poker, if you don’t know who the mark is at the table then it’s you) but do we, when preparing the garden feast, insist that said idiot do nothing? Everyone else there is better at everything: including the patting of mince into hamburger patties. So should Fred (no, I don’t have a Cousin Fred) be told to do nothing, not even shape patties? No, that isn’t usually what we do, Fred does the thing which he is least bad at, even though he’s worse at everything than everyone else, and pats shredded cow into shape. We thus get meat that goes into buns as well as all of the other necessities, the coleslaw, the ribs, the Pimms and the cucumber sandwiches for later (for we’re certainly not going to let Fred near either flames or sharp edges, not after that barbecuing the cat on the embers of the gazebo last year) . Fred has added to the wealth, the production, through this specialisation and division of labour, as Smith said he would, and done so by doing what he is least bad at as Ricardo pointed out he should.
Comparative advantage is best understood as us specialising in whatever it is that we do least badly. And that requires no near-monopoly in anything at all.