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Comparative Advantage and Optimal Trade Policy

  • Arnaud Costinot
  • Dave Donaldson
  • Jonathan Vogel
  • Ivan Werning

The theory of comparative advantage is at the core of neoclassical trade theory. Yet we know little about its implications for how nations should conduct their trade policy. For example, should import sectors with weaker comparative advantage be protected more? Conversely, should export sectors with stronger comparative advantage be subsidized less? In this paper we take a first stab at exploring these issues. Our main results imply that in the context of a canonical Ricardian model, optimal import tariffs should be uniform, whereas optimal export subsidies should be weakly decreasing with respect to comparative advantage, reflecting the fact that countries have more room to manipulate prices in their comparative-advantage sectors. Quantitative exercises suggest substantial gains from such policies relative to simpler tax schedules.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 19689.

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Date of creation: Dec 2013
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19689
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  1. Krugman, Paul, 1980. "Scale Economies, Product Differentiation, and the Pattern of Trade," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 70(5), pages 950-59, December.
  2. Jonathan Eaton & Robert Dekle & Samuel Kortum, 2007. "Unbalanced Trade," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(2), pages 351-355, May.
  3. Costas Arkolakis & Arnaud Costinot & Andres Rodriguez-Clare, 2012. "New Trade Models, Same Old Gains?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(1), pages 94-130, February.
  4. Gros, Daniel, 1987. "A note on the optimal tariff, retaliation and the welfare loss from tariff wars in a framework with intra-industry trade," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(3-4), pages 357-367, November.
  5. Opp, Marcus M., 2010. "Tariff wars in the Ricardian Model with a continuum of goods," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 80(2), pages 212-225, March.
  6. Mill, John Stuart, 1874. "Essays on Some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy," History of Economic Thought Books, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, edition 2, number mill1874.
  7. Melitz, Marc J & Redding, Stephen J., 2013. "Firm Heterogeneity and Aggregate Welfare," CEPR Discussion Papers 9405, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  8. Svetlana Demidova & Andrés Rodríguez-Clare, 2007. "Trade Policy under Firm-Level Heterogeneity in a Small Economy," NBER Working Papers 13688, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Felbermayr, Gabriel & Jung, Benjamin & Larch, Mario, 2013. "Optimal tariffs, retaliation, and the welfare loss from tariff wars in the Melitz model," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(1), pages 13-25.
  10. Itoh, Motoshige & Kiyono, Kazuharu, 1987. "Welfare-Enhancing Export Subsidies," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 95(1), pages 115-37, February.
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