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The Evolution of Comparative Advantage: Measurement and Welfare Implications

  • Andrei A. Levchenko
  • Jing Zhang

We estimate productivities at the sector level for 72 countries and 5 decades, and examine how they evolve over time in both developed and developing countries. In both country groups, comparative advantage has become weaker: productivity grew systematically faster in sectors that were initially at greater comparative disadvantage. These changes have had a significant impact on trade volumes and patterns, and a non-negligible welfare impact. In the counterfactual scenario in which each country's comparative advantage remained the same as in the 1960s, and technology in all sectors grew at the same country-specific average rate, trade volumes would be higher, cross-country export patterns more dissimilar, and intra-industry trade lower than in the data. In this counterfactual scenario, welfare is also 1.6% higher for the median country compared to the baseline. The welfare impact varies greatly across countries, ranging from -1.1% to +4.3% among OECD countries, and from -4.6% to +41.9% among non-OECD countries.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 16806.

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Date of creation: Feb 2011
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Publication status: published as Levchenko, Andrei A. & Zhang, Jing, 2016. "The evolution of comparative advantage: Measurement and welfare implications," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 78(C), pages 96-111.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16806
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