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Revealing Comparative Advantage: Chaotic or Coherent Patterns Across Time and Sector and U.S. Trading Partner?


  • J. David Richardson
  • Chi Zhang


We map United States comparative advantage between 1980 and 1995, by trading partner and region, using Balassa's export-based index of Revealed Comparative Advantage (RCA). We find: temporally stable and ubiquitous US comparative advantage in differentiated producer goods (except disadvantage in Japan); somewhat less stable and less sweeping US disadvantage in standardized producer goods; chaotic and diverse patterns of US RCA in consumer goods (especially in the Chinese market). Our most significant findings are surprisingly sharp geographical differences in patterns of US RCA and surprisingly small differences across sub-sectors of 1, 2, and 3-digit SITC classifications - regional, but not sectoral, niche' specialization. The high overall variability across regions in RCA indexes seems unrelated to obvious explanations such as proximity or lingual/historical ties to the US. In producer goods, RCA variability across regions correlates somewhat better with accounts of trade diversion and of regional preferences for and discrimination against US exports. We find only scant evidence of high or increasing variability across disaggregated commodity sub-groups in US RCA indexes. Such variability is often the prediction of theories of comparative advantage that are based on vertical specialization, product differentiation, or scale and agglomeration economies.

Suggested Citation

  • J. David Richardson & Chi Zhang, 1999. "Revealing Comparative Advantage: Chaotic or Coherent Patterns Across Time and Sector and U.S. Trading Partner?," NBER Working Papers 7212, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7212
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    Cited by:

    1. Munir, Kashif & Sultan, Maryam, 2016. "Export Performance with Border Sharing Countries: An Assessment of Pakistan," MPRA Paper 69535, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Ardelean, Adina & Lugovskyy, Volodymyr, 2010. "Domestic productivity and variety gains from trade," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 80(2), pages 280-291, March.
    3. Henri de Groot & Jessie Bakens, 2007. "Globalisation and the Dutch economy; a case study to the influence of the emergence of China and Eastern Europe on Dutch international trade," CPB Discussion Paper 89, CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis.
    4. Vinokurov, Evgeny, 2007. "Kaliningrad: Enclaves and Economic Integration," MPRA Paper 20937, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. Dudley, Leonard & Moenius, Johannes, 2007. "The great realignment: How factor-biased innovation reshaped comparative advantage in the U.S. and Japan, 1970-1992," Japan and the World Economy, Elsevier, vol. 19(1), pages 112-132, January.
    6. João Amador & Sónia Cabral & José R. Maria, 2007. "International Trade Patterns over the Last Four Decades: How does Portugal Compare with other Cohesion Countries?," Working Papers w200714, Banco de Portugal, Economics and Research Department.
    7. Colin Carter & Xianghong Li, 2004. "Changing trade patterns in major OECD countries," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 36(14), pages 1501-1511.
    8. Elsa Leromain & Gianluca Orefice, 2014. "New revealed comparative advantage index: Dataset and empirical distribution," International Economics, CEPII research center, issue 139, pages 48-70.
    9. Vinokurov, Evgeny, 2007. "L’enclave russe de Kaliningrad : spécificité territoriale et intégration à l’économie mondiale
      [The Russian Enclave of Kaliningrad: Territorial Specificity and Integration with the World Economy]
      ," MPRA Paper 20939, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    10. DUDLEY, Leonard & MOENIUS, Johannes, 2003. "Directed Technical Change and International Trade," Cahiers de recherche 2003-18, Universite de Montreal, Departement de sciences economiques.
    11. Lorde Troy & Alleyne Antonio & Francis Brian, 2010. "An Assessment of Barbados' Competitiveness within the EU Market 1992-2006," Global Economy Journal, De Gruyter, vol. 10(2), pages 1-24, May.

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    JEL classification:

    • F17 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Trade Forecasting and Simulation
    • F1 - International Economics - - Trade

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