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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
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    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.

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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w7212.pdf
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    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 7212.

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    Date of creation: Jul 1999
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    Publication status: published as J. David Richardson & Chi Zhang, 2001. "Revealing Comparative Advantage: Chaotic or Coherent Patterns across Time and Sector and U.S. Trading Partner?," NBER Chapters, in: Topics in Empirical International Economics: A Festschrift in Honor of Robert E. Lipsey, pages 195-232 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7212
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    1. Milka S. Kirova & Robert S. Lipsey, 1998. "Measuring Real Investment: Trends in the United States and International Comparisons," NBER Working Papers 6404, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Bernard, Andrew B. & Jensen, J Bradford & Redding, Stephen J. & Schott, Peter K., 2007. "Firms in International Trade," CEPR Discussion Papers 6277, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    3. Balassa, Bela & Noland, Marcus, 1989. "The changing comparative advantage of Japan and the United States," Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, Elsevier, vol. 3(2), pages 174-188, June.
    4. Marcus Noland & Bela Balassa, 1988. "Japan in the World Economy," Peterson Institute Press: All Books, Peterson Institute for International Economics, number 0412, May.
    5. Alan Heston & Robert E. Lipsey, 1999. "International and Interarea Comparisons of Income, Output, and Prices," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number hest99-1, October.
    6. Hoekman, Bernard & Djankov, Simeon, 1997. "Determinants of the Export Structure of Countries in Central and Eastern Europe," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 11(3), pages 471-87, September.
    7. Rombouts, Jeroen V. K. & Bauwens, Luc, 2004. "Econometrics," Papers 2004,33, Humboldt-Universität Berlin, Center for Applied Statistics and Economics (CASE).
    8. Irving B. Kravis & Robert E. Lipsey, 1971. "Price Competitiveness in World Trade," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number krav71-1, October.
    9. Arye Hillman, 1980. "Observations on the relation between “revealed comparative advantage” and comparative advantage as indicated by pre-trade relative prices," Review of World Economics (Weltwirtschaftliches Archiv), Springer, vol. 116(2), pages 315-321, June.
    10. David Hummels & Dana Rapoport & Kei-Mu Yi, 1998. "Vertical specialization and the changing nature of world trade," Economic Policy Review, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, issue Jun, pages 79-99.
    11. Proudman, James & Redding, Stephen J., 1998. "Persistence and Mobility in International Trade," CEPR Discussion Papers 1802, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
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