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Unfair trade? Empirical evidence in world commodity markets over te past 25 years


  • Morisset, Jacques


Since the 1970s, commodity prices have fallen in international markets at the same time that consumer pries have risen. The price of coffee declined 18 percent on world markets between 1975 and 1993, for example, but the consumer price for it increased 240 percent in the United States. Explanations for such diverging patterns remain largely unexplored in current economic literature. The author examines the spreads between international and domestic commodity prices, explains why they have increased, and analyzes their implications for commodity-exporting countries. He finds that the spreads have increased dramatically because of the asymmetric response of domestic consumer prices to movements in world prices. In all major consumer markets, decreases in world commodity prices have systematically been transmitted to domestic consumer prices much less than have increases. This may have cost commodity-exporting countries more than $100 billion a year because it has limited the expansion of demand for commodities in these markets. The asymmetric response, which has been attributed to trade restrictions and rising processing costs, appears to be caused largely by the behavior of international trading companies. Many of these companies are large enough to dominate most commodity markets. Surprisingly, although mainstream economists have suggested imperfect competition in international trade at both the producer and the consumer levels, they have not yet pointed it out at the intermediary level. Free trade requires that all players sing the same tune : competition. The author recommends a special effort to understand the determinants of consumer prices and the role of intermediaries at both wholesale and retail levels -starting with the collection of information about the activities of international trading companies. This effort would require the involvement of the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, because they have the resources to undertake such an operation worldwide. Only a better understanding of how these companies operate will remove the suspicion of unfair trade in international commodity markets.

Suggested Citation

  • Morisset, Jacques, 1997. "Unfair trade? Empirical evidence in world commodity markets over te past 25 years," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1815, The World Bank.
  • Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:1815

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jaime de Melo & Marcelo Olarreaga & Wendy Takacs, 2015. "Pricing Policy Under Double Market Power: Madagascar and the International Vanilla Market," World Scientific Book Chapters,in: Developing Countries in the World Economy, chapter 8, pages 199-218 World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd..
    2. Tyers,Rod & Anderson,Kym, 2011. "Disarray in World Food Markets," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521172318, April.
    3. Daniel F. Spulber, 1996. "Market Microstructure and Intermediation," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 10(3), pages 135-152, Summer.
    4. Michael M. Knetter, 1992. "Is Price Adjustment Asymmetric?: Evaluating the Market Share and Marketing Bottlenecks Hypothesis," NBER Working Papers 4170, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. repec:fth:geneec:96.08 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. repec:cdl:agrebk:440237 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Balassa, Bela, 1989. "Outward orientation," Handbook of Development Economics,in: Hollis Chenery & T.N. Srinivasan (ed.), Handbook of Development Economics, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 31, pages 1645-1689 Elsevier.
    8. Theodosios B. Palaskas, 1995. "Statistical Analysis Of Price Transmission In The European Union," Journal of Agricultural Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 46(1), pages 61-69.
    9. Mundlak, Yair & Larson, Donald F, 1992. "On the Transmission of World Agricultural Prices," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 6(3), pages 399-422, September.
    10. Mitchell, Donald O & Duncan, Ronald C, 1987. "Market Behavior of Grains Exporters," World Bank Research Observer, World Bank Group, vol. 2(1), pages 3-21, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ben Shepherd, 2005. "Market Power in International Commodity Processing Chains: Preliminary Results from the Coffee Market," International Trade 0511013, EconWPA.
    2. Kang, Hyunsoo & Kennedy, P. Lynn, 2009. "Empirical Evidences from a Coffee Paradox: An Export Supply/Price Asymmetry Approach," Journal of Rural Development/Nongchon-Gyeongje, Korea Rural Economic Institute, vol. 32(3), July.
    3. repec:taf:rjapxx:v:17:y:2012:i:1:p:113-126 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Durevall, Dick, 2007. "Demand for coffee in Sweden: The role of prices, preferences and market power," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 32(5-6), pages 566-584.


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