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From Theory to Policy with Gravitas: A Solution to the Mystery of the Excess Trade Balances

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  • Felbermayr , Gabriel

    (Kiel Institute & Kiel University)

  • Yotov, Yoto

    (School of Economics Drexel University LeBow College of Business)

Abstract

Bilateral trade balances often play an important role in the international trade policy debate. Academic economists understand that they are misleading indicators of competitiveness and of the gains from trade. However, they also recognize their political relevance, calling for accurate statistical measurement and for more scholarly work. Disturbingly, Davis and Weinstein (2002) argue that the canonical gravity model of trade fails when confronted with bilateral trade balances data, dubbing this ``The Mystery of the Excess Trade Balances''. Capitalizing on the latest developments in the theoretical and empirical gravity literature, we demonstrate that the workhorse international trade model actually performs well in explaining bilateral trade balances. Moreover, in our data, only 11 to 13% of the variance in bilateral balances is due to asymmetric bilateral trade costs, belying beliefs that bilateral imbalances are driven by `unfair' manipulation of terms-of-trade. We also perform several general equilibrium experiments within the same structural gravity framework to show that free trade agreements tend to exacerbate bilateral imbalances and that macroeconomic rebalancing leads to adjustment with all trade partners.

Suggested Citation

  • Felbermayr , Gabriel & Yotov, Yoto, 2019. "From Theory to Policy with Gravitas: A Solution to the Mystery of the Excess Trade Balances," School of Economics Working Paper Series 2019-5, LeBow College of Business, Drexel University.
  • Handle: RePEc:ris:drxlwp:2019_005
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    2. Mario Larch & Jeff Luckstead & Yoto V. Yotov, 2021. "Economic Sanctions and Agricultural Trade," CESifo Working Paper Series 9410, CESifo.
    3. Theresa M. Greaney & Kozo Kiyota, 2020. "Japan’s Outward FDI Potential," Working Papers 202005, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Department of Economics.
    4. Greaney, Theresa M. & Kiyota, Kozo, 2020. "Japan's outward FDI potential," Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, Elsevier, vol. 57(C).
    5. Virginia Di Nino & Anna Ekstam, 2020. "What value added in the trade balances of euro area financial centres?," IFC Bulletins chapters, in: Bank for International Settlements (ed.), Bridging measurement challenges and analytical needs of external statistics: evolution or revolution?, volume 52, Bank for International Settlements.
    6. Martin T Braml & Gabriel J Felbermayr, 2019. "What Do We Really Know about the Transatlantic Current Account?," CESifo Economic Studies, CESifo, vol. 65(3), pages 255-274.
    7. Jonathan R. McFadden, 2022. "International trade and standards harmonization: The case of tractors and the OECD Tractor Codes," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 104(4), pages 1512-1539, August.
    8. Céline Carrère & Monika Mrázová & J Peter Neary, 2020. "Gravity Without Apology: the Science of Elasticities, Distance and Trade," The Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 130(628), pages 880-910.
    9. Felbermayr, Gabriel & Stamern, Vincent, 2021. "Transatlantischer Neustart: Vorschläge zur handelspolitischen Zusammenarbeit zwischen EU und USA," Studien, Stiftung Familienunternehmen / Foundation for Family Businesses, number 250014, November.
    10. Carrère, Céline & Mrázová, Monika & Neary, J Peter, 2020. "Gravity without Apologies: The Science of Elasticities, Distance, and Trade," CEPR Discussion Papers 14473, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    11. Yoto V. Yotov, 2022. "On the role of domestic trade flows for estimating the gravity model of trade," Contemporary Economic Policy, Western Economic Association International, vol. 40(3), pages 526-540, July.
    12. Yilmazkuday, Hakan, 2021. "Accounting for trade deficits," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 115(C).
    13. Felbermayr, Gabriel & Stamern, Vincent, 2021. "Transatlantic restart: Proposals for trade cooperation between the EU and the United States," Studien, Stiftung Familienunternehmen / Foundation for Family Businesses, number 250017, November.

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    Keywords

    Trade Imbalances; Structural Gravity Estimation;

    JEL classification:

    • F13 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Trade Policy; International Trade Organizations
    • F14 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Empirical Studies of Trade

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