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Global Production and Trade in the Knowledge Economy

  • Wolfgang Keller
  • Stephen R. Yeaple

This paper presents and tests a new model of multinational firms to explain a rich array of multinational behavior. In contrast to most approaches, here the multinational faces costs to transferring its know-how that are increasing in technological complexity. Costly technology transfer gives rise to increasing marginal costs of serving foreign markets, which explains why multinational firms are often much more successful in their home market compared to foreign markets. The model has several key predictions. First, as transport costs between multinational parent and affiliate increase, firms with complex production technologies find it relatively difficult to substitute local production for imports from the parent, because complex technologies are relatively costly to transfer. Second, the activity of affiliates with complex technologies declines relatively strongly as transport costs from the home market increase, both at the intensive and the extensive margin. We also show that as transport costs from the home market increase, affiliates concentrate their imports from the parent on intermediates that are technologically more complex. We test these hypotheses by employing information on the activities of individual multinational firms, on the nature of intra-firm trade at the product level, and on the skills required for occupations with different complexity. The empirical analysis finds strong evidence in support of the model by confirming all four hypotheses. The analysis shows that accounting for costly technology transfer within multinational firms is important for explaining the structure of trade and multinational production.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 14626.

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Date of creation: Dec 2008
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14626
Note: ITI PR
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  18. Stephen Yeaple, 2008. "Firm Heterogeneity and the Structure of U.S. Multinational Activity: An Empirical Analysis," NBER Working Papers 14072, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  19. Gordon H. Hanson & Raymond J. Mataloni & Matthew J. Slaughter, 2001. "Expansion Strategies of U.S. Multinational Firms," BEA Papers 0012, Bureau of Economic Analysis.
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  22. Gene M. Grossman & Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, 2008. "Trading Tasks: A Simple Theory of Offshoring," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(5), pages 1978-97, December.
  23. Irarrazabal, Alfonso & Moxnes, Andreas & Opromolla, Luca David, 2009. "The Margins of Multinational Production and the Role of Intra-firm trade," CEPR Discussion Papers 7145, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  24. Jonathan Eaton & Samuel Kortum, 2002. "Technology, Geography, and Trade," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 70(5), pages 1741-1779, September.
  25. Kei-Mu Yi, 2003. "Can Vertical Specialization Explain the Growth of World Trade?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 111(1), pages 52-102, February.
  26. Teece, David J, 1977. "Technology Transfer by Multinational Firms: The Resource Cost of Transferring Technological Know-how," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 87(346), pages 242-61, June.
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