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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
  • Yotov, Yoto V.

Abstract

Bilateral trade balances often play an important role in the international trade policy debate. Disturbingly, several studies argue that the gravity model of trade fails when confronted with bilateral trade balances data, dubbing this "The Mystery of the Excess Trade Balances". Capitalizing on developments in the related literature, we solve the mystery and show that the gravity model explains bilateral trade balances well. We also uncover a new property of the structural multilateral resistances as asymmetric trade costs. This is exactly what solves the mystery. Our analysis suggests that, on average, there is little room for trade cost asymmetries due to 'unfair' policies to lead to bilateral trade imbalances. However, we also identify sectors (e.g., Mining and Services), where the modeling of the direct bilateral trade costs in the gravity model can be improved, including the possibility for 'unfair'/asymmetric policies to play a more significant role.

Suggested Citation

  • Felbermayr, Gabriel & Yotov, Yoto V., 2021. "From Theory to Policy with Gravitas: A Solution to the Mystery of the Excess Trade Balances," Kiel Working Papers 2138, Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW).
  • Handle: RePEc:zbw:ifwkwp:2138
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Robert Zymek, 2018. "Bilateral Trade Imbalances," 2018 Meeting Papers 1117, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    2. Cosimo Beverelli & Alexander Keck & Mario Larch & Yoto V. Yotov, 2018. "Institutions, Trade and Development: A Quantitative Analysis," CESifo Working Paper Series 6920, CESifo.
    3. Benedikt Heid & Mario Larch & Yoto V. Yotov, 2021. "Estimating the effects of non‐discriminatory trade policies within structural gravity models," Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue canadienne d'économique, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 54(1), pages 376-409, February.
    4. Yotov, Yoto V., 2012. "A simple solution to the distance puzzle in international trade," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 117(3), pages 794-798.
    5. Dai, Mian & Yotov, Yoto & Zylkin, Thomas, 2013. "On the Trade-diversion Effects of Free Trade Agreements," School of Economics Working Paper Series 2013-3, LeBow College of Business, Drexel University, revised 15 Sep 2014.
    6. Baier, Scott L. & Yotov, Yoto V. & Zylkin, Thomas, 2019. "On the widely differing effects of free trade agreements: Lessons from twenty years of trade integration," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 116(C), pages 206-226.
    7. 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.
    8. Donald R. Davis & David E. Weinstein, 2002. "The Mystery of the Excess Trade (Balances)," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(2), pages 170-174, May.
    9. Natalia Ramondo & Andrés Rodríguez-Clare & Milagro Saborío-Rodríguez, 2016. "Trade, Domestic Frictions, and Scale Effects," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 106(10), pages 3159-3184, October.
    10. Ricardo Reyes-Heroles, 2017. "The Role of Trade Costs in the Surge of Trade Imbalances," 2017 Meeting Papers 212, Society for Economic Dynamics.
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    Cited by:

    1. Theresa M. Greaney & Kozo Kiyota, 2020. "Japan’s Outward FDI Potential," Working Papers 202005, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Department of Economics.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. Greaney, Theresa M. & Kiyota, Kozo, 2020. "Japan's outward FDI potential," Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, Elsevier, vol. 57(C).
    5. Yilmazkuday, Hakan, 2021. "Accounting for trade deficits," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 115(C).

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Trade Imbalances; Structural Gravity Estimation;

    JEL classification:

    • F1 - International Economics - - Trade
    • F13 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Trade Policy; International Trade Organizations
    • F14 - International Economics - - Trade - - - Empirical Studies of Trade

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