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Exports, borders, distance, and plant size

  • Thomas J. Holmes
  • John J. Stevens

The fact that large manufacturing plants export relatively more than small plants has been at the foundation of much work in the international trade literature. We examine this fact using Census micro data on plant shipments from the Commodity Flow Survey. We show the fact is not entirely an international trade phenomenon; part of it can be accounted for by the effect of distance, distinct from any border effect. Export destinations tend to be further than domestic destinations, and large plants tend to ship further distances even to domestic locations, as compared with small plants. We develop an extension of the Melitz (2003) model and use it to set up an analysis with model interpretations of ratios between large plant and small plant shipments that can be calculated with the data. We obtain a decomposition of the overall ratio into a term that varies with distance, holding fixed the border, and a term that varies with the border, holding fixed the distance. The distance term accounts for more than half of the overall difference.

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Paper provided by Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.) in its series Finance and Economics Discussion Series with number 2010-38.

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Date of creation: 2010
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgfe:2010-38
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  1. Andrew B. Bernard & Jonathan Eaton & J. Bradford Jensen & Samuel Kortum, 2000. "Plants and Productivity in International Trade," Boston University - Institute for Economic Development 105, Boston University, Institute for Economic Development.
  2. Thomas J. Holmes & John J. Stevens, 2010. "An alternative theory of the plant size distribution with an application to trade," Staff Report 445, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  3. John F. Helliwell, 1995. "Do National Borders Matter for Quebec's Trade?," NBER Working Papers 5215, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Costas Arkolakis, 2008. "Market Penetration Costs and the New Consumers Margin in International Trade," NBER Working Papers 14214, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Timothy Dunne & J. Bradford Jensen & Mark J. Roberts, 2009. "Producer Dynamics: New Evidence from Micro Data," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number dunn05-1, October.
  6. Bernard, Andrew B. & Jensen, J Bradford & Redding, Stephen J. & Schott, Peter K., 2007. "Firms in International Trade," CEPR Discussion Papers 6277, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. Andrew B. Bernard & J. Bradford Jensen & Peter K. Schott, 2009. "Importers, Exporters and Multinationals: A Portrait of Firms in the U.S. that Trade Goods," NBER Chapters, in: Producer Dynamics: New Evidence from Micro Data, pages 513-552 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. James E. Anderson & Eric van Wincoop, 2000. "Gravity with Gravitas: A Solution to the Border Puzzle," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 485, Boston College Department of Economics.
  9. Hillberry, Russell & Hummels, David, 2008. "Trade responses to geographic frictions: A decomposition using micro-data," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 52(3), pages 527-550, April.
  10. Milgrom, Paul & Shannon, Chris, 1994. "Monotone Comparative Statics," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 62(1), pages 157-80, January.
  11. Baldwin, Richard & Harrigan, James, 2007. "Zeros, Quality and Space: Trade Theory and Trade Evidence," CEPR Discussion Papers 6368, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  12. James E. Anderson & Eric van Wincoop, 2004. "Trade Costs," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 42(3), pages 691-751, September.
  13. Charles Engel & John H. Rogers, 1994. "How Wide is the Border?," NBER Working Papers 4829, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. 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.
  15. Russell Hillberry & David Hummels, 2003. "Intranational Home Bias: Some Explanations," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 85(4), pages 1089-1092, November.
  16. Thomas J. Holmes & John J. Stevens, 2002. "Geographic Concentration and Establishment Scale," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 84(4), pages 682-690, November.
  17. McCallum, John, 1995. "National Borders Matter: Canada-U.S. Regional Trade Patterns," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(3), pages 615-23, June.
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