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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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  8. Helpman, Elhanan, 1984. "A Simple Theory of International Trade with Multinational Corporations," Scholarly Articles 3445092, Harvard University Department of Economics.
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  19. Markusen, James R., 1984. "Multinationals, multi-plant economies, and the gains from trade," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 16(3-4), pages 205-226, May.
  20. Natalia Ramondo & Andr�s Rodr�guez-Clare, 2013. "Trade, Multinational Production, and the Gains from Openness," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 121(2), pages 273 - 322.
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  23. Alfonso Irarrazabal & Andreas Moxnes & Luca David Opromolla, 2013. "The Margins of Multinational Production and the Role of Intrafirm Trade," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 121(1), pages 74 - 126.
  24. 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.
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