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International Trade with Heterogeneous Firms: Theory and Evidence

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  • Alessandra Bonfiglioli
  • Rosario Crinò
  • Gino Gancia

Abstract

International trade is dominated by a small number of very large firms. Models of trade with heterogeneous firms have been developed to study the causes and consequences of this observation. The canonical model of trade with heterogeneous firms shows that trade leads to between-firm reallocations and selection: it shifts employment towards firms with the best attributes and forces marginal firms to exit. The model also illustrates the role of heterogeneity, and its various sources, in explaining the volume of trade and the firm-level margins of adjustment. Consistent with the model, the empirical literature has documented that exporting is a rare activity, that exporting firms are larger and more productive than other firms, and that trade liberalization reallocates market shares towards the best-performing firms in various countries. Studies using transaction-level data have unveiled additional salient features of trade flows. First, sales by foreign firms are very heterogeneous and highly concentrated. Second, both the extensive margin (number of exporting firms) and the intensive margin (average export per firm) are important in explaining the level of exports and its changes over time. More heterogeneity in sales across firms is associated with a higher volume of trade along both margins. Third, increased foreign competition reallocates market shares towards top firms and hence can increase concentration from any country of origin. Numerous extensions of the benchmark model have been proposed to study other important aspects, such as the relevance of multi-product and multinational firms, the import behavior of firms, and the extent to which heterogeneity is endogenous to firms. choices, but some open challenges still remain.

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  • Alessandra Bonfiglioli & Rosario Crinò & Gino Gancia, 2021. "International Trade with Heterogeneous Firms: Theory and Evidence," CESifo Working Paper Series 9423, CESifo.
  • Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_9423
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    Cited by:

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    firm heterogeneity; top firms; selection; reallocation; margins of trade;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • E23 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Production
    • F12 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Models of Trade with Imperfect Competition and Scale Economies; Fragmentation
    • F14 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Empirical Studies of Trade
    • L11 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Production, Pricing, and Market Structure; Size Distribution of Firms
    • R12 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Size and Spatial Distributions of Regional Economic Activity; Interregional Trade (economic geography)

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