Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Productivity and firm selection: Quantifying the ‘new’ gains from trade

by Gregory Corcos, Massimo Del Gatto, Giordano Mion and Gianmarco I.P. Ottaviano


July 10, 2012

As protectionist pressures mount worldwide, it is important to continue to shore up the case for open trade policy. This column presents new evidence from Europe on an old gain from trade – the weeding out effect – namely the way increased cross-border competition selects and favours the most productive firms. It argues that this mechanism brings about large gains.

Since the 1988 Cecchini report, there have been many attempts at quantifying gains from trade in the EU. Compared with the state of the art in international trade theory, the main limitation of that literature is its neglect of firm heterogeneity, which implies that only scale economies drive endogenous changes in productivity within sectors. In recent models with heterogeneous firms trade liberalisation has, instead, an additional positive impact on sectoral productivity through the selection of the most efficient firms (Bernard et al. 2003, Melitz 2003).

The reason is a combination of import competition and export market access. On the one hand, as lower trade costs allow foreign producers to target the domestic markets, the operating profits of domestic firms in those markets shrink whatever their productivities. On the other hand, some domestic firms gain access to foreign markets and get additional profits from their foreign ventures. These are the firms that are productive enough to cope with the additional costs of foreign activity (such as those due to transportation and remaining administrative duties or institutional and cultural barriers).

The result is the partition of the initially active domestic firms in three groups. As they start making losses in their home markets without gaining access to foreign markets, the least productive firms are forced to exit. The most productive firms, meanwhile, are able to compensate lost profits on home sales with new profits on foreign sales and so can survive and expand their market shares. Finally, firms with intermediate levels of productivity also survive but, not being productive enough to access foreign markets, are relegated to home sales only and their market shares fall. Since international trade integration eliminates the least productive firms, average productivity grows through the reallocation of productive resources from less to more efficient producers.


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