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A Spatial-Filtering Zero-Inflated Approach to the Estimation of the Gravity Model of Trade


  • Rodolfo Metulini

    (Department of Economics and Management, University of Brescia, Italy)

  • Roberto Patuelli

    (Department of Economics, University of Bologna, Italy; The Rimini Centre for Economic Analysis, Italy)

  • Daniel A. Griffith

    (School of Economic, Political & Policy Sciences, The University of Texas at Dallas, USA)


Nonlinear estimation of the gravity model with Poisson-type regression methods has become popular to model international trade flows, because it permits a better accounting for zero flows and extreme values in the distribution tail. Nevertheless, as trade flows are not independent from each other due to spatial and network autocorrelation, these methods may lead to biased parameter estimates. To overcome this problem, eigenvector spatial filtering (ESF) variants of the Poisson/negative binomial specifications have been proposed in the literature on gravity modelling of trade. However, no specific treatment has been developed for cases in which many zero flows are present. This paper contributes to the literature in two ways. First, by employing a stepwise selection criterion for spatial filters that is based on robust (sandwich) p-values and does not require likelihood-based indicators. In this respect, we develop an ad hoc backward stepwise function in R. Second, using this function, we select a reduced set of spatial filters that properly accounts for importer-side and exporter-side specific spatial effects, as well as network effects, both at the count and the logit processes of zero-inflated methods. Applying this estimation strategy to a cross-section of bilateral trade flows between a set of 64 countries for the year 2000, we find that our specification outperforms the benchmark models in terms of model fitting, both considering the AIC and in predicting zero (and small) flows.

Suggested Citation

  • Rodolfo Metulini & Roberto Patuelli & Daniel A. Griffith, 2016. "A Spatial-Filtering Zero-Inflated Approach to the Estimation of the Gravity Model of Trade," Working Paper series 16-26, Rimini Centre for Economic Analysis, revised Feb 2018.
  • Handle: RePEc:rim:rimwps:16-26

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Robert C. Feenstra & Robert E. Lipsey & Haiyan Deng & Alyson C. Ma & Hengyong Mo, 2005. "World Trade Flows: 1962-2000," NBER Working Papers 11040, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. J. M. C. Santos Silva & Silvana Tenreyro, 2006. "The Log of Gravity," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 88(4), pages 641-658, November.
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    More about this item


    bilateral trade; unconstrained gravity model; eigenvector spatial filtering; zero flows; backward stepwise; zero-inflation;

    JEL classification:

    • C14 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods and Methodology: General - - - Semiparametric and Nonparametric Methods: General
    • C21 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Single Equation Models; Single Variables - - - Cross-Sectional Models; Spatial Models; Treatment Effect Models
    • F10 - International Economics - - Trade - - - General

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