The global value chain revolution has changed trade and trade agreements. Trade now matters for making goods as well as selling them. Trade governance has shifted away from the WTO towards megaregional agreements. This column argues that 21st-century regionalism is not fundamentally about discrimination, and that its benefits and costs are best thought of as network externalities and harmonisation costs respectively. More research is needed to determine how the megaregional trade agreements across the Pacific and Atlantic will fit with the WTO.
Richard Baldwin, 20 January 2014
Pascal Lamy, 18 December 2013
The emergence of intra-firm trade as the primary component of international trade reflects a global interdependence in the production process. In this column the former Director-General of the WTO argues that this necessitates a re-examination of how we think about – and how we measure – trade between nations. Interdependence allows different sectors to add value, and complicates the implementation of trade barriers. Only with a modern perspective can effective trade policy be conducted.
Richard Baldwin, 12 December 2013
The WTO signed a mini-package of trade initiatives in Bali last week. This column argues that the ‘Bali package’ is welcome but not enough. Without some new initiative or direction, the WTO looks set to drift for the next few years. The WTO cannot move ahead until the trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic ‘mega-regionals’ are done or dead. In the meantime, the WTO should promote research and discussion on how 21st-century trade issues could be brought into the WTO when the time is ripe.
Julien Martin, Florian Mayneris, 04 December 2013
While quality upgrading is always viewed positively in both policy and academic circles, little is known about the macro implications for countries of specialising in high-end varieties. This column presents evidence that high-end variety exporters are less sensitive to trade costs. This implies a greater geographic diversification of exports, which compensates for their higher sensitivity to demand shocks and smoothes aggregate volatility. It also increases export growth when business opportunities arise in distant markets.
Kyle Handley, Nuno Limão, 23 November 2013
The impact of policy uncertainty on economic activity is potentially important, but controversial because it is hard to identify and quantify. Recent research provides a framework to identify the impacts of policy uncertainty on firm decisions, and finds it has strong effects in the context of international trade. China’s WTO accession secured its most-favoured nation status in the US, and the evidence shows this reduction in uncertainty can explain a significant fraction of its export boom to the US.
Andrew Bernard, Andreas Moxnes, Karen-Helene Ulltveit-Moe, 15 November 2013
Discussions of international trade often focus on aggregate trade flows, but it is firms that trade, not countries. This column presents evidence from Norwegian export data showing that larger exporters have more customers and greater dispersion in customer size. Moreover, exporters with many customers tend to sell to importers with few suppliers. These stylised facts are captured by a model in which finding a buyer is costly. The model’s prediction that export responses are amplified in destinations with less buyer dispersion is confirmed in the data.
Matthias Helble, Ganeshan Wignaraja, 13 November 2013
Intensifying negotiations leading to the December WTO Ministerial Conference in Bali have renewed optimism for concluding the beleaguered Doha Round and boosting Asia’s trade. Agreement in Bali on tariff-quota administration, trade facilitation, and food security would improve the prospects for a Doha deal and WTO credibility. Failure at Bali, however, would spur the rise of mega-regional trade agreements – to the detriment of countries outside these agreements.
Nicholas Crafts, Nikolaus Wolf, 22 October 2013
Europeans worry about competition from low-wage economies. This column looks at the basis of the success of the 19th-century Lancashire cotton industry faced with a similar situation. The message is that the productivity benefits of a successful agglomeration can underpin both high wages and competitive advantage in world trade. Policymakers can support such agglomerations by easing land-use restrictions, promoting investments in transport, and providing local public goods.
Thorsten Beck, 06 June 2013
The World Bank’s ‘Doing Business’ data collection project is under threat from large nations who score poorly, especially China. This column argues that although there are problems with country rankings, the underlying data is very valuable for empirical researchers. The Doing Business project should continue quantifying different dimensions of the business environment, but reduce its focus on country rankings.
Simon Evenett, Robert Stern, 21 March 2013
The US and the EU have announced their intentions to launch trade talks – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. This column argues that this should not be thought of as a standard tariff-lowering deal with a few extras thrown in for good measure. Rather, we don’t really know what it will do because trade economists have failed to develop the necessary tools for understanding its impact. It is time for policy analysts to re-tool.
Ganeshan Wignaraja, 21 February 2013
Until 2012, the past decade saw Indonesia’s growth maintain a respectable momentum. This column argues that recent hints of political dirigisme presents Indonesia with a stark development choice. Policymakers can continue their tightening of political control – staving off the trade effects of a global crisis in the run up to elections next year – or they can orient the economy outward, with complementary policies to sustain long-term growth.
Hylke Vandenbussche, Jozef Konings, 30 January 2013
The rise of international production sharing – ‘global value chains’ – has transformed international commerce and pushed economists into new territory. This column argues that there is evidence to suggest that old-fashioned protection can have an unexpected negative effect on firms that are part of a global value chain. In an increasingly globalised world, exporters’ success seems to positively depend on the free entry of imports rather than the other way round.
Jérôme Héricourt, Sandra Poncet, 19 January 2013
The increasing volatility of exchange rates after the fall of the Bretton Woods agreements has been a constant source of concern for both policymakers and academics. Does exchange-rate risk dangerously increase transaction costs and reduce gains to international trade? This column uses recent research to argue that there is indeed a negative impact of exchange-rate volatility on firms’ exporting behaviour, magnified for financially vulnerable firms and dampened by financial development. Thus, emerging countries should be careful when relaxing their exchange-rate regime.
Klaus Desmet, Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, 16 January 2013
There are two ways to deal with climate change: mitigation and adaptation. This column argues that in order to adapt, we need to take another look at an age-old coping mechanism: migration. Indeed, if overall hotter temperatures lower productivity in hot regions but raise productivity in what are currently cooler regions, the negative economic effects of climate change are likely to stem from frictions preventing the movement of people and goods. Without these frictions, adapting to climate change becomes that much easier. Climate change policy ought to aim at alleviating mobility frictions.
Paul Brenton, 08 January 2013
Africa is not achieving its potential in food trade, increasing the risk of widespread hunger and malnutrition. This column argues that the most serious problems for the continent are problems of political economy and barriers along the value chain. The good news is that, despite demand for food throughout Africa predicted to double over the next decade, governments can act now to overcome these problems. With a regional approach to food security, African governments can spur on benefits to farmers and consumers as well as job creation along the value chain of staples.
Paola Conconi, Giovanni Facchini , Max Steinhardt, Maurizio Zanardi, 07 January 2013
As populations in rich nations continue to age and skill shortages begin to emerge, concern over getting immigration policy right is set to intensify. This column discusses new research on US policymaking, showing that many of the determinants of policymakers’ attitudes towards trade are also in operation when it comes to migration. Using the Heckscher-Ohlin model, it finds that US House members from districts where skilled labour is abundant are more likely to support both trade liberalisation and a more open policy for unskilled immigration.
Fabrice Defever, Alejandro Riaño, 04 January 2013
The West perennially complains about China subsidising industry geared towards its domestic market. But what will happen when China enacts its latest Five Year Plan’s emphasis on domestic growth? This column argues that ending ‘pure-exporter subsidies’ – subsidies that boost Chinese exports while simultaneously protecting the least efficient, domestically oriented firms – will benefit Chinese consumers, but will cost the rest of the world.
Juan Marchetti, Michele Ruta, Robert Teh, 02 January 2013
Globally, large current account imbalances prevail. This column argues that they also continue to represent a systemic risk for the world economy. The WTO has a clear-cut role in the institutional effort to address these imbalances. However, this role has more to do with opening services and government procurement markets than with the often invoked trade sanctions in response to exchange rate misalignments.
Susan Ariel Aaronson, 22 December 2012
The internet is an expanding opportunity for growth. This column argues that in recent years, however, policymakers and market actors have been undermining its potential. Governments and market actors are reducing both access to information and freedom of expression, as well as moving towards a splintered, non-global internet. Commitment to an open, free and global internet will be hard, but if bilateral, regional or multilateral trade agreements encourage interoperability, we might see some harmony among signatories’ privacy, online piracy, and security policies.
Rudolfs Bems, Robert Johnson, 06 December 2012
With the rise of complex, globalised supply chains is the real effective exchange rate (REER), the most commonly used measure of competitiveness, now outdated? If it is, what should replace it? This column presents a ‘Value-Added REER’ and shows that it differs substantially from the conventional REER. Because it is possible to construct a new Value-Added REER from existing data, policymakers interested in improving their understanding of competitiveness might well consider including it in their toolbox.