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Firms in International Trade

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  • Andrew Bernard
  • J. Bradford Jensen
  • Stephen Redding
  • Peter Schott

Abstract

Standard models of international trade devote little attention to firms. Yet of the 5.5 million firms operating in the United States in 2000, just 4 percent engaged in exporting, and the top 10 percent of these exporting firms accounted for 96 percent of U.S. exports. Since the mid 1990s, a large number of empirical studies have provided a wealth of information about the important role that firms play in mediating countries’ imports and exports. This research, based on micro datasets that track countries’ production and trade at the firm level, demonstrates that trading firms differ substantially from firms that solely serve the domestic market. Across a wide range of countries and industries, exporters have been shown to be larger, more productive, more skill- and capital-intensive, and to pay higher wages than non-trading firms.2 Furthermore, these differences exist even before exporting begins. The ex ante “superiority” of exporters suggests self-selection: exporters are more productive, not as a result of exporting, but because only the most productive firms are able to overcome the costs of entering export markets. It is precisely this sort of microeconomic heterogeneity that grants firms the ability to influence macroeconomic outcomes. When trade policy barriers fall or transportation costs decline, high-productivity exporting firms survive and grow while lower-productivity non-exporting firms are more likely to fail. This reallocation of economic activity across firms raises aggregate productivity and provides a new source of welfare gains from trade. Confronting the challenges posed by the analysis of micro data has shifted the focus of the international trade field from countries and industries towards firms and products. We highlight these challenges with a detailed analysis of how trading firms differ from non-trading firms in the United States. We show how these differences serve as the foundation of a series of recent heterogeneous-firm models that offer new insights into the causes and consequences of international trade. We then introduce a new set of stylized facts that emerge from analysis of recently available U.S. customs data. These transaction-level trade data track all of the products imported and exported by the U.S. firms to all of its trading partners from 1992 to 2000. They show that the extensive margins of trade – that is, the number of products firms trade as well as the number of countries they trade with – are central to understanding the well-known role of distance in dampening aggregate trade flows. We conclude with suggestions for further theoretical and empirical research.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau in its series Working Papers with number 07-14.

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Length: 30 pages
Date of creation: Apr 2007
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cen:wpaper:07-14

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References

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  1. Marc J. Melitz & Gianmarco I.P. Ottaviano, 2005. "Market Size, Trade, and Productivity," NBER Working Papers 11393, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Elhanan Helpman, 2006. "Trade, FDI, and the Organization of Firms," NBER Working Papers 12091, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Bernard, Andrew & Redding, Stephen J & Schott, Peter, 2006. "Multi-Product Firms and Product Switching," CEPR Discussion Papers 5708, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  4. Andrew B. Bernard & J. Bradford Jensen & Peter K. Schott, 2003. "Survival of the Best Fit: Exposure to Low-Wage Countries and the (Uneven) Growth of US Manufacturing Plants," Working Paper Series WP03-3, Peterson Institute for International Economics.
  5. Juan Carlos Hallak & Peter K. Schott, 2008. "Estimating Cross-Country Differences in Product Quality," NBER Working Papers 13807, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Andrew B. Bernard & Stephen Redding & Peter K. Schott, 2006. "Multi-product firms and trade liberalization," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 3684, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  7. Bernard, A., 1997. "Exceptional Exporter Performance: Cause, Effect, or Both?," Working papers 97-21, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  8. Marc J. Melitz, 2003. "The Impact of Trade on Intra-Industry Reallocations and Aggregate Industry Productivity," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 71(6), pages 1695-1725, November.
  9. Caves, Douglas W & Christensen, Laurits R & Diewert, W Erwin, 1982. "The Economic Theory of Index Numbers and the Measurement of Input, Output, and Productivity," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(6), pages 1393-1414, November.
  10. Volker Nocke & Stephen Yeaple, 2006. "Globalization and Endogenous Firm Scope," NBER Working Papers 12322, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  12. Trefler, Daniel, 1995. "The Case of the Missing Trade and Other Mysteries," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(5), pages 1029-46, December.
  13. Carsten Eckel & J Peter Neary, 2006. "Multi-Product Firms and Flexible Manufacturing in the Global Economy," Working Papers 200608, School Of Economics, University College Dublin.
  14. Johannes Van Biesebroeck, 2003. "Exporting Raises Productivity in Sub-Saharan African Manufacturing Plants," NBER Working Papers 10020, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Rubinstein, Yona & Helpman, Elhanan & Melitz, Marc, 2008. "Estimating Trade Flows: Trading Partners and Trading Volumes," Scholarly Articles 3228230, Harvard University Department of Economics.
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  17. Sofronis Clerides & Saul Lach & James Tybout, 1996. "Is "learning-by-exporting" important? Micro-dynamic evidence from Colombia, Mexico and Morocco," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 96-30, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  18. Peter K. Schott, 2004. "Across-product Versus Within-product Specialization in International Trade," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 119(2), pages 646-677, May.
  19. Daniel Trefler, 2001. "The Long and Short of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement," NBER Working Papers 8293, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  20. David Hummels & Alexandre Skiba, 2004. "Shipping the Good Apples Out? An Empirical Confirmation of the Alchian-Allen Conjecture," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(6), pages 1384-1402, December.
  21. Sanghamitra Das & Mark J. Roberts & James R. Tybout, 2001. "Market Entry Costs, Producer Heterogeneity, and Export Dynamics," NBER Working Papers 8629, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  22. Hallak, Juan Carlos, 2006. "Product quality and the direction of trade," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(1), pages 238-265, January.
  23. Andrew B. Bernard & Stephen Redding & Peter K. Schott, 2004. "Comparative Advantage and Heterogeneous Firms," NBER Working Papers 10668, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  24. Roberto Alvarez & Ricardo López, 2005. "Exporting and performance: evidence from Chilean plants," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 38(4), pages 1384-1400, November.
  25. Choi, E. Kwan & Harrigan, James, 2003. "Handbook of International Trade," Staff General Research Papers 11375, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
  26. Nina Pavcnik, 2000. "Trade Liberalization, Exit, and Productivity Improvements: Evidence from Chilean Plants," NBER Working Papers 7852, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  27. Helpman, E., 1998. "The Structure of Foreign Trade," Papers 18-98, Tel Aviv.
  28. Andrew B. Bernard & J. Bradford Jensen, 2006. "Firm Structure, Multinationals, and Manufacturing Plant Deaths," Working Paper Series WP06-7, Peterson Institute for International Economics.
  29. Russell Hillberry & David Hummels, 2005. "Trade Responses to Geographic Frictions: A Decomposition Using Micro-Data," NBER Working Papers 11339, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  30. Andrew B. Bernard & Jonathan Eaton & J. Bradford Jenson & Samuel Kortum, 2000. "Plants and Productivity in International Trade," NBER Working Papers 7688, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  31. Jonathan Eaton & Samuel Kortum & Francis Kramarz, 2011. "An Anatomy of International Trade: Evidence From French Firms," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 79(5), pages 1453-1498, 09.
  32. Krugman, Paul, 1980. "Scale Economies, Product Differentiation, and the Pattern of Trade," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 70(5), pages 950-59, December.
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  35. Bernard, Andrew B. & Jensen, J. Bradford & Schott, Peter K., 2006. "Trade costs, firms and productivity," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 53(5), pages 917-937, July.
  36. repec:rus:hseeco:121669 is not listed on IDEAS
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  1. Thinking about the firm-size distribution
    by jdingel in Trade Diversion on 2012-05-27 13:05:07
  2. Thinking about the firm-size distribution
    by jdingel in Trade Diversion on 2012-05-27 13:05:07
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