Gabriel Felbermayr, Yoto Yotov, 14 April 2021

Whether or not large bilateral trade imbalances are a signal of non-reciprocal (or ‘unfair’) trade costs has been the subject of debate for some time, and was brought to the fore during President Trump’s time in office. This column argues that if the trading partners’ average trade costs with the whole of the world are taken into account, then the ‘unfair trade’ argument does not hold up. Using standard gravity modeling, the authors find that up to 88% of the variance in bilateral balances can be explained without making any reference to asymmetries in bilateral trade costs.

Pierre Dubois, Yassine Lefouili, Stephane Straub, 30 January 2021

Patients in the developing world often face prices for essential medicines far in excess of international reference levels, even if those drugs have lost patent protection. This column presents evidence from seven low- and middle-income countries with diverse drug procurement systems to assess the effect of centralised procurement on drug prices. The results of the study highlight that centralised procurement of drugs by the public sector leads to lower prices, but that the induced price reduction is smaller when the supply side is more concentrated.

Adnan Seric, Holger Görg, Wan-Hsin Liu, Michael Windisch, 07 January 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of the global trade network underpinning global value chains. Initial disruptions in the supply chains for key medical goods due to surges in demand and newly erected trade barriers have prompted policymakers around the world to question their country’s reliance on foreign suppliers and international production networks. This column takes a closer look at China’s post-pandemic recovery and argues that its response may hold clues to the future of global value chains.

Kerem Cosar, Benjamin Thomas, 04 January 2021

Open oceans are vital for the transport of a large share of world trade. But they are also frequently at the centre of geopolitical tensions between nation states. This column estimates the economic costs of impeded shipping access in South East Asia. The results of the study suggest that restrictions to shipping due to military sanctions could have large negative effects on economic welfare for countries all over the world, including oil exporters such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

Julian di Giovanni, Andrei Levchenko, Isabelle Mejean, 14 December 2020

Superstar firms have recently been linked to phenomena such as top income inequality, comparative advantage in trade, and the fall in the labour share. Another important feature of superstar firms is their international trade linkages. This column studies how susceptible an economy with few large firms which account for the majority of imports and exports is to international business cycle shocks.  It finds that at the micro level, such larger firms respond more strongly to foreign shocks than smaller firms. At the macro level, this heterogeneity dampens the domestic GDP response to a foreign shock. 

Fernando Arteaga, Desiree Desierto, Mark Koyama, 04 December 2020

When the galleon San José sank in a typhoon in 1694, it was carrying a cargo worth 2% of the GDP of the entire Spanish empire. Fernando Arteaga, Desiree Desierto and Mark Koyama tell Tim Phillips about how bribes sank Spanish treasure ships.

Federico Di Pace, Luciana Juvenal, Ivan Petrella, 28 November 2020

The abrupt movements in commodity prices at the onset of the Covid-19 crisis have reignited policymakers’ concerns over movements in the terms of trade. The shock has certainly confirmed that terms of trade are very volatile and extremely sensitive to changes in global economic activity. This column argues that these terms of trade shocks are likely to have a persistent impact on the business cycle of developing economies, which are particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in the price of their exports.  

Bengt Söderlund, 04 November 2020

Strict travel restrictions are preventing business partners from different countries from meeting in person. This column explores the effect of business travelling time on trade using data from the liberalisation of Soviet air space in 1985, which radically reduced flight times between Europe and East Asia. The findings reveal that travelling time can account for most of the trade frictions that cause bilateral trade to sharply decline with geographical distance, suggesting that the current travel restrictions could have large negative effects on trade.

Fernando Arteaga, Desiree Desierto, Mark Koyama, 25 October 2020

The Spanish Crown had a monopoly on the trade route between Manila and Mexico for more than 250 years. The ships that sailed this route were “the richest ships in all the oceans”, but much of the wealth sank at sea and remain undiscovered. This column uses a newly constructed dataset of all of the ships that travelled the route to show how monopoly rents that allowed widespread bribe-taking would have led to overloading and late ship departure, thereby increasing the probability of shipwreck. Not only were late and overloaded ships more likely to experience shipwrecks or to return to port, but the effect is stronger for galleons carrying more valuable, higher-rent cargo. This sheds new light on the costs of rent-seeking in European colonial empires.

Gerdien Meijerink, Bram Hendriks, Peter A.G. van Bergeijk, 02 October 2020

The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic led to a 14% dive in world trade by April 2020. Using the CPB’s World Trade Monitor and a Bayesian VAR model, this column compares the recent contraction, and partial recovery, to the 2008/2009 Global Crisis and the Great Depression. The current trade recession appears to have a sharper ‘V-shape’, with a stronger collapse but a quicker recovery than the previous crises.

Sebastian Doerr, Dalia Marin, Davide Suverato, Thierry Verdier, 19 August 2020

A well-established observation in the trade literature is that conglomerate firms are more productive than single-product firms, but this appears to be at odds with findings in the finance literature that multi-segment firms trade at a discount and have lower Tobin’s Q than single-product firms, because internal capital markets misallocate funds across divisions within firms. This column develops a novel theory of misallocation within firms (rather than between firms) due to managers' empire building. Introducing an internal capital market into a two-factor model of multi-segment firms, it shows that more open markets impose discipline on competition for capital within firms, which explains why exporters exhibit a lower conglomerate discount than non-exporters. Testing the model with data on US companies, the authors establish that import competition reduces mis-allocation within firms. A one standard deviation increase in Chinese imports lowers the conglomerate discount by 32% and over-reporting of costs by up to 15%.

Ingo Borchert, Joscelyn Magdeleine, Juan Marchetti, Aaditya Mattoo, 20 June 2020

Despite the growing importance of services in output and trade, there has been relatively little information on how services policies have evolved over the past decades. This column presents evidence on services trade policies from a new database created by the World Bank and WTO. It reveals that higher income economies are more open on average than developing economies, but the chronology of reform varies across sectors. In addition, while explicit restrictions are being lowered, regulatory scrutiny is increasing in most sectors, especially in higher income economies.

Fernando Leibovici, Ana Maria Santacreu, 14 June 2020

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to a massive increase in the demand for essential medical equipment. This column discusses recent findings on the role of international trade of essential medical goods in exacerbating or mitigating the impact of a pandemic. The effects depend crucially on the countries’ trade imbalances in essential medical goods. Net importers of these goods are relatively worse off during a pandemic than net exporters. Although the welfare losses of net importers are lower in a world with high trade barriers, they benefit from reducing barriers once the pandemic arrives.

Christopher Woodruff, 30 April 2020

Low-income countries lack the resources to replicate European-style income support programmes to alleviate the economic impact of COVID-19 lockdowns. In Bangladesh, a key challenge will be to support export-oriented production in the ready-made garment sector, which employs 4 million workers. Whether factories retain or lay off workers in response to government policies – and whether the health crisis escalates into a humanitarian crisis or not – depends crucially on decisions of foreign apparel buyers to honour or drop commitments to previously agreed orders.

Reshad N Ahsan, Laura Panza, Yong Song, 18 April 2020

While the relationship between trade and war is ambiguous, some argue that diminished trade can pose a threat to global peace by lowering both the opportunity costs of war and the cost of raising an army. This column examines the relationship between Atlantic trade and war in Europe between 1640 and 1896, a period in which intra-European conflict decreased dramatically. It finds that the growth in Atlantic trade lowered the probability of intra-European conflict by 15 percentage points.

Alvaro Espitia, Nadia Rocha, Michele Ruta, 09 April 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is increasingly a concern for developing countries. This column shows that most developing countries rely heavily on imports to meet their needs of medical supplies essential to combat COVID-19. Recently imposed export restrictions by leading producing countries could thus cause significant disruptions in supplies for developing countries and might further contribute to price increases of medical supplies. Taking multiplier effects into account, prices for medical supplies are estimated to rise by up to 23% on average. Tariffs and other restrictions to imports further impair the flow of critical products to developing countries.

Rabah Arezki, Ha Nguyen, 01 April 2020

Countries in the Middle East and North Africa face a dual shock from the COVID-19 pandemic and a collapse in oil prices. This column explores the policy options available to deal with such shocks, arguing that authorities should sequence and tailor their responses. MENA countries should first focus on responding to the health emergency and economic depression, postponing fiscal consolidation linked to the persistent drop in oil prices until the recovery from the pandemic is well underway. 

Kym Anderson, 16 February 2020

Global alcoholic beverage markets have changed dramatically in recent years due to globalisation, income growth in emerging economies, changes in individual preferences, policy initiatives to curb socially harmful drinking, and, in particular, the dual trade policy shocks of Brexit and the US’s unilaterally imposed discriminatory tariffs. This column provides an overview of the major trends and projects the possible effects of Brexit and the US tariffs on the global alcohol market. It concludes that both shocks would reduce world trade in wine. Even countries not targeted by US tariffs can be worse off if those tariffs sufficiently reduce global consumption. 

Mario Larch, José-Antonio Monteiro, Roberta Piermartini, Yoto Yotov, 20 November 2019

Though economic theory clearly makes the case for WTO trade rules, the empirical evidence of their effect is mixed. This column argues that previous studies may have underestimated the positive role of GATT/WTO membership by not taking into account the non-discriminatory nature of their agreements. Besides market access, the agreements provide greater transparency and predictability that benefit WTO members and non-members alike. Taking these effects into account suggests that, on average, GATT/WTO membership has increased trade between Members by 171% and trade between member and non-member countries by about 88%. 

Xavier Jaravel, Erick Sager, 16 October 2019

International trade creates both winners and losers. Using comprehensive price data, this column estimates the US price effects of the China shock from 2000 to 2007. It finds that US consumers benefited from large price declines in product categories in which imports from China increased, as increased trade with China eroded the market power of US producers. The positive impact of the China shock on the purchasing power of US consumers is large in comparison to its negative impact on US jobs.


CEPR Policy Research