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Firms in International Trade

Andrew Bernard (), J. Jensen (), Stephen Redding and Peter Schott ()

Working Papers from U.S. Census Bureau, Center for Economic Studies

Abstract: Standard models of international trade devote little attention to firms. Yet of the 5.5 million firms operating in the United States in 2000, just 4 percent engaged in exporting, and the top 10 percent of these exporting firms accounted for 96 percent of U.S. exports. Since the mid 1990s, a large number of empirical studies have provided a wealth of information about the important role that firms play in mediating countries’ imports and exports. This research, based on micro datasets that track countries’ production and trade at the firm level, demonstrates that trading firms differ substantially from firms that solely serve the domestic market. Across a wide range of countries and industries, exporters have been shown to be larger, more productive, more skill- and capital-intensive, and to pay higher wages than non-trading firms.2 Furthermore, these differences exist even before exporting begins. The ex ante “superiority” of exporters suggests self-selection: exporters are more productive, not as a result of exporting, but because only the most productive firms are able to overcome the costs of entering export markets. It is precisely this sort of microeconomic heterogeneity that grants firms the ability to influence macroeconomic outcomes. When trade policy barriers fall or transportation costs decline, high-productivity exporting firms survive and grow while lower-productivity non-exporting firms are more likely to fail. This reallocation of economic activity across firms raises aggregate productivity and provides a new source of welfare gains from trade. Confronting the challenges posed by the analysis of micro data has shifted the focus of the international trade field from countries and industries towards firms and products. We highlight these challenges with a detailed analysis of how trading firms differ from non-trading firms in the United States. We show how these differences serve as the foundation of a series of recent heterogeneous-firm models that offer new insights into the causes and consequences of international trade. We then introduce a new set of stylized facts that emerge from analysis of recently available U.S. customs data. These transaction-level trade data track all of the products imported and exported by the U.S. firms to all of its trading partners from 1992 to 2000. They show that the extensive margins of trade – that is, the number of products firms trade as well as the number of countries they trade with – are central to understanding the well-known role of distance in dampening aggregate trade flows. We conclude with suggestions for further theoretical and empirical research.

New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-int
Date: 2007-04
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https://www2.census.gov/ces/wp/2007/CES-WP-07-14.pdf First version, 2007 (application/pdf)

Related works:
Journal Article: Firms in International Trade (2007) Downloads
Working Paper: Firms in International Trade (2007) Downloads
Working Paper: Firms in International Trade (2007) Downloads
Working Paper: Firms in international trade (2007) Downloads
Working Paper: Firms in International Trade (2007) Downloads
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