Changing Patterns of Global Trade

The past few decades have seen important shifts that have reshaped the global trade landscape. As a share of global output, trade is now at almost three times the level in the early 1950s, in large part driven by the integration of rapidly growing emerging market economies (EMEs). The expansion in trade is mostly accounted for by growth in noncommodity exports, especially of high-technology products such as computers and electronics. It is also characterized by a growing role of global supply chains and an ongoing shift of technology content toward EMEs. These developments in global trade have been associated with growing trade interconnectedness and carry important implications for trade patterns, in particular in response to relative price changes. The aim of this paper is to outline the factors underlying these changes and analyze their implications for the outlook for global trade patterns.

Abstract

The past few decades have seen important shifts that have reshaped the global trade landscape. As a share of global output, trade is now at almost three times the level in the early 1950s, in large part driven by the integration of rapidly growing emerging market economies (EMEs). The expansion in trade is mostly accounted for by growth in noncommodity exports, especially of high-technology products such as computers and electronics. It is also characterized by a growing role of global supply chains and an ongoing shift of technology content toward EMEs. These developments in global trade have been associated with growing trade interconnectedness and carry important implications for trade patterns, in particular in response to relative price changes. The aim of this paper is to outline the factors underlying these changes and analyze their implications for the outlook for global trade patterns.

Executive Summary

The past few decades have seen important shifts that have reshaped the global trade landscape. As a share of global output, trade is now at almost three times the level in the early 1950s, in large part driven by the integration of rapidly growing emerging market economies (EMEs). The expansion in trade is mostly accounted for by growth in noncommodity exports, especially of high-technology products such as computers and electronics. It is also characterized by growing regional concentration and an ongoing shift of technology content toward EMEs. These developments in global trade have important implications for trade patterns, in particular in response to relative price changes. The aim of this paper is to outline the factors underlying these changes and analyze their implications for the outlook for global trade patterns.

The expansion of global and regional trade was driven by trade liberalization and subsequently by vertical specialization and income convergence. Multilateral and bilateral liberalization since early 1950s has led to significantly lower trade barriers in advanced economies followed more recently by developing countries. Along with lower trade barriers, technology-led declines in transportation and communication costs also facilitated the fragmentation of production stages beyond national borders, allowing supply chains to become regional or even global. A convergence in income levels and factor endowments across countries also played a role in the growth of trade (relative to output), especially that of intraindustry trade.

Advanced countries and EMEs play different roles in global supply chains. Advanced economies tend to be upstream in the supply chain. This position is reflected in relatively small foreign contents in their exports and relatively large contributions towards other downstream countries’ exports. In contrast, EMEs tend to be downstream in the supply chain, with relatively large shares of imported content in their exports. The extent of foreign content in exports of advanced countries and EMEs has important and contrasting implications for the sensitivity of trade patterns to relative price changes.

The Asian supply chain is more dispersed compared to those in North America or Europe. In the Asian supply chain, goods-in-process cross borders several times, including through the hub (Japan), before reaching their final destination. In contrast, in other regions, almost all foreign input is imported directly from the hub—the United States in NAFTA and EU15 in Europe. The greater dispersion of production in the Asian supply chain renders it potentially more vulnerable to disruptions of trade flows, whether policy induced, such as preferential/regional trade agreements, or naturally caused, such as the recent earthquake in Japan.

The emergence of global supply chains has allowed EMEs to enhance the technology content of their exports, including as inputs embedded in high-technology exports of advanced countries. The share of high-technology exports has increased remarkably in China since 1995, boosted by processing trade and with significant imported contributions from Japan and other Asian countries. China is also moving upstream in the value added chain, with imports from China contributing significantly to advanced countries’ high-technology exports. Moreover, with China and other EMEs increasing their presence in sectors traditionally dominated by advanced economies, the similarity in export structures has increased over time and so has competitive pressure.

In addition to rebalancing effects, changes in relative prices result in important adjustments in sectoral trade patterns. A partial equilibrium approach is used to examine the impact of relative price changes on trade structures of four key players in global trade, namely China (downstream country), the Euro Area, Japan, and the United States (upstream countries). First, a downstream (as opposed to upstream) position in a supply chain cushions the impact of a relative price change on both exports and imports. This reflects the higher foreign content in the downstream country’s exports which mitigates the impact of exchange rate changes. Second, sectors that respond the most to the exchange rate changes are different for different countries: an appreciation induces an increase in the share of high-technology exports in China and (to a lesser extent) the Euro Area; while a depreciation results in an increase in the share of medium-high technology exports in Japan and the United States, largely driven by changes in the auto sector. Finally, adjustment in the trade balance takes place mainly outside of the supply chain, as exports to supply chain partners are more resilient to relative price changes.

The growing role of global supply chains is associated with increased trade interconnectedness. Network-based analysis illustrates several trends taking place over the past decade, most notably the emergence of China, along with the United States, as major systemically important trading hubs. This not only reflects the size of trade but also the increase in the number of its significant trading partners. Importantly, there is almost a perfect overlap between countries hosting both a systemically important trade and financial centers. These countries could constitute a natural focus for risk-based surveillance on cross-border spillovers and contagion.

I. Introduction1

1. The global trade landscape has witnessed dramatic shifts over the past several decades. World trade has grown steadily since World War II, with the expansion accelerating over the past decade. Despite a post-crisis dip, the current level of world gross exports is almost three times that prevailing in the 1950s (Figure 1). With the exception of commodity-price booms in the 1970s and more recently in 2004–2008, commodity trade accounted for a declining share of this growth, with the share of noncommodity trade rising to more than 20 percent of global GDP in 2008. The expansion in global trade was characterized by three important trends: the rise of emerging market economies (EMEs) as systemically important trading partners; the growing importance of regional trade; and the shift of higher technology exports toward dynamic EMEs.

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

World Exports Relative to Production (Percent of GDP)

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: DOTS, WEO and UN Comtrade. The ratio for 194–9-61 is calcuated based on 15 major exporters.

2. Trade expansion was further associated with growing trade interconnectedness. Not only has the number of systemically important trading nations increased over time, their trade links have also multiplied. A chief contributor is the growing role of global supply chains in overall trade, facilitated by lower tariffs and technology-led declines in transportation and communication costs. With vertical specialization, production of certain goods is fragmented into several stages, with each stage produced in the most cost-effective location or country. As a result, goods cross borders several times before being transformed into final products, further increasing trade interconnectedness. Outsourcing of production stages from advanced “upstream” countries to neighboring EMEs has also supported a shift in the technology content of exports towards the latter.

3. The aim of this paper is to examine the evolution of these trade patterns and explore the implications of sectoral linkages for the outlook for global trade. Three approaches are used to investigate trade interconnectedness and the evolution of sectoral trade patterns: network analysis to determine systemically important trading countries; input-output-based analysis to examine the growth of global supply chains at the aggregate and sectoral levels; and finally, a partial equilibrium approach to analyze the implications of sectoral trade patterns on global rebalancing and the outlook for global trade. The analysis complements ongoing work within the Fund that looks at the adjustment of trade and global balances at the aggregate level.

4. The paper is structured as follows. Section II presents a historical analysis of the evolution of global trade patterns over the past several decades and their implications for trade patterns going forward. 2 It examines the change in key players in global trade, the increase in trade interconnectedness, the growing role of global supply chains, and the change in technology content and export structures across countries.3 The likely impact of rebalancing by key players on trade patterns at the sectoral level is explored in Section III through the use of a partial equilibrium approach based on highly disaggregated trade data and sectoral elasticities. The exercise considers a hypothetical change in relative prices in four systemically important trading partners: China, the United States, Japan, and the Euro Area, without explicitly modeling the specific drivers that could induce such relative price changes. Section IV concludes with policy implications.

II. The Evolving Structure of Global Trade

A. The Diffusion of Key Players in Global Trade

5. Emerging market economies have moved from peripheral players to major centers of global trade. Figure 2 shows the evolution of key players in global trade, defined as countries whose trade (exports plus imports) represented at least 2 percent of world trade. In the early 1970s, trade was largely confined to a handful of advanced economies, notably the United States, Germany, and Japan, which together accounted for more than a third of global trade. By 1990, the global trading landscape had become more diversified to include several EMEs, especially in East Asia. By 2010, China became the second largest trading partner after the United States, overtaking Germany and Japan. China’s emergence reflects its rapid industrialization process and growing trade openness; trade was 57 percent of GDP in 2008 in China— almost triple the ratio of the United States.

Figure 2.
Figure 2.

Exports of Key Players in International Trade

(Percent of World Trade)

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: DOTS.

6. Growth in trade was strongest for Europe and Asia. The expansion in global trade took place against growing regional concentration. Figure 3 plots the evolution of intraregional trade measured in terms of exports as well as interregional trade, which includes trade among countries in the rest of the world. Whereas interregional trade was virtually unchanged at about 12 percent of world GDP between 1980 and 2009, growth in intraregional trade was particularly strong in Europe and Asia.

Figure 3.
Figure 3.

Inler-vs. Intra-Regional Connectedness of Major Exporters

(Percent of World GDP)

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: DOTS, WEO, Fund staff estimates

7. The structure of trade has been characterized by a rising share of higher technology goods (Figure 4). The contribution of high-technology and medium-high-technology exports such as machinery and transport equipment increased, whereas that of lower technology products such as textiles declined. Technology intensive export structures generally offer better prospects for future economic growth. Trade in high-technology products tends to grow faster than average, and has larger spillover effects on skills and knowledge-intensive activities. The process of technological absorption is not passive but rather “capability” driven and depends more on the national ability to harness and adapt technologies rather than on factor endowments. In this setting, country-specific policies for technology learning and technology import, including those aimed at attracting foreign direct investment (FDI), can create a comparative advantage between countries with otherwise similar endowments of labor, capital, or skills (Lall, 2000).

Figure 4.
Figure 4.

World Manufacturing Exports and Their Composition

(Percent of total world exports)

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: UN Comtrade.

8. The changes in global and regional trade patterns were driven first by trade liberalization, then by vertical specialization and income convergence.

  • Trade liberalization. A key factor has been the multilateral and bilateral trade liberalization since World War II, which resulted in a significant decline in trade barriers (Krugman, 1995). Among major Western European and North American countries, average tariffs fell from 15 percent to 4 percent during 1952–2005, with the bulk of this decline occurring during the 1950s and 1960s (WTO, 2007). Tariffs increased or remained very high until the 1980s in many major developing countries but have since come down sharply as well.

  • Increase in vertical specialization in production. Along with lower trade barriers, technology-led declines in transportation and communication costs also allowed fragmentation of production processes along vertical trading networks that stretch across several countries. Technological advancement in communications reduces the cost of oversight and coordination, making it easier to separate different stages of production across countries. In addition, lower tariffs and transportation costs facilitate the flow of intermediate goods across countries in the global supply chain, as each country specializes in particular stages of a good’s production sequence. Work by Hummels and others (2001) and staff estimates show that the foreign content imbedded in gross exports, also referred to as foreign value-added (FVA) exports as opposed to domestic value added (DVA) exports, has almost doubled since 1970, to 33 percent in 2005 (Table 1). Growth in vertical specialization has accelerated more recently, increasing by more than 20 percent in the ten-year period up to 2005.

  • Convergence in income levels. As countries converged in income levels and in the composition of their factor endowments, the volume of trade in relation to GDP increased (Helpman, 1987; Hummels and Levinsohn, 1995), and took the form of intraindustry trade, as firms produced differentiated goods with increasing-returns-to-scale technology. As shown in Figure 5A, intraindustry trade as a share of overall trade has increased steadily over time and is highest for products such as machinery, chemicals, and manufactures.4 Countries that experienced higher changes in intraindustry trade between 1985 and 2009 are those integrated in a supply chain, such as China, Thailand, and Mexico (Figure 5B).

Table 1.

Share of Foreign Value Added (FVA) in Gross Exports

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Source: Fund staff estimates using OECD input-output tables.

Hummels, Ishii, and Yi (2001). 28 countries are included in HIY: Australia, Canada, China, EU15, Hong Kong SAR, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Taiwan Province of China, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and the United States.

34 countries included in the update are: EU-15, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Switzerland, China, Czech Republic, Hungary, Indonesia, India, Israel, Norway, New Zealand, Poland, Russian Federation, Slovak Republic, Taiwan Province of China, Turkey, and the United States.

Figure 5.
Figure 5.

Grub el Lloyd Index

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: Fund staff estimates using UN Comtrade data at the 2-digit HS classification. The index takes the value zero when no products in the same category are both imported and exported, and 100 if all trade is intra-industry trade. World Index is calculated based on a limited sample of 32 countries [incl. G7) reporting data for all years.

9. With rising vertical specialization and intraindustry trade, gross exports may not appropriately capture the extent of domestic value added exports. Official trade statistics are measured in gross terms, which include both intermediate inputs and final goods. Given the rising import content in exports, aggregate trade data are increasingly affected by intermediate goods trade flows that cross borders several times. Tracking the extent of FVA in a country’s exports has thus become common in the trade literature to gauge the extent of trade and policy spillovers across countries (Chen and others, 2005; Yi, 2003; Daudin and others, 2010; Johnson and Noguera, 2010; and Wang and others, 2009). For instance, for countries that engage heavily in assembly and processing trade such as Singapore, gross exports can be more than twice as high as DVA exports (Koopman and others, 2010) (Figure 6).

Figure 6
Figure 6

Gross and Value Added Exports to the World: 2004

(Percent of GDP)

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: Koopman and others (2010).

B. Growing Trade Interconnectedness5

10. Growth in trade interconnectedness has increased the cross-border transmission of shocks through the trade channel. Table 2 presents countries with systemically important trade sectors identified using network analysis.6 Findings suggest several important trends underlying the global trade network over the past decade. First, there has been a marked shift in the relative rankings of individual jurisdictions, with China moving to first place in 2009 up from ninth in 1999. Second, China has emerged as a major systemically important trading center along with the United States, gaining prominence not only in terms of size but also by increasing the number of its significant trading partners. Third, there has been a marked shift in the roles of China and Japan as strategic export destinations, with China surpassing Japan as a more significant regional and global consumer (Figure 7). Finally, European countries have retained their importance as “central” in the global trade network, owing more to their interconnectedness than size. Box 1 provides details.

Table 2

Jurisdictions with Systemically Important Trade Sectors: 1999–2009

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Source: Fund staff estimates.

Weighted average of the size and interconnectedness rankings using a 0.7/0.3 weight breakdown, respectively

Excludes links representing less than 0 1% of each jurisdiction’s GDP.

Figure 7.
Figure 7.

Top Ten Import Origins into China and Japan: 1999 and 2009

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

The above figure presents the top ten jurisdictions from which China and Japan imported goods in 1999 and 2009. The size of the nodes represents the relative size of each jurisdiction’s nominal GDP; the width of the lines indicates the volume of exports as a percentage of the exporting jurisdiction’s nominal GDP. This percentage is also indicated on the lab-els of each line.Source: DOTS and Fund staff estimates.

11 There is strong overlap between countries with trade and financial sectors of systemic importance. Comparing the findings on trade interconnectedness with those on financial interconnectedness using the same methodology suggests an almost perfect overlap between the top 25 jurisdictions with systemic financial sectors and the top 25 jurisdictions with systemic trade sectors in 2009 (Figure 8).7 The only exceptions are: Luxembourg and Ireland whose systemic importance is limited only to the financial sector; and Malaysia and Thailand whose systemic importance is limited only to the trade sector.

Figure 8.
Figure 8.

Jurisdictions with Systemic Trade and Financial Sectors

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: Fund staff estimates,* As identified in SM/10/235, Supplement 1,8/27/2010

12 Jurisdictions hosting both systemic trade and financial sectors would seem to be the natural focus of risk-based surveillance on cross-border spillovers and contagion.8 The analysis underscores that these jurisdictions display the strongest inter-sectoral interconnectedness to the global economy. As such, they have the highest potential for transmitting disturbances to other jurisdictions or to systemic stability via either the trade or financial channel or indeed both channels simultaneously. These jurisdictions would thus seem to warrant particular attention and further analysis on the risks associated with their activities, especially when carried out through systemically important financial institutions and non-financial corporations.

Assessing Systemic Trade Interconnectedness1

A methodology leveraging the IMF’s Direction of Trade Statistics (DOTS) database is used to identify jurisdictions of systemic importance to global trade.2 Sorting through data for the entire Fund membership, 169 jurisdictions representing almost 100 percent of total world trade in both 1999 and 2009 have been considered for a two-stage process. First, separate ordinal rankings for size and interconnectedness were created using four indicators for each ranking. Then, the indicators were combined into a single size indicator and a single interconnectedness indicator for each jurisdiction.3 Second, a composite index was developed by combining the single size and interconnectedness indicators using a 0.7/0.3 weight split to reflect the greater relative importance of size.4 Appendix I provides details on the methodology.

The findings are illustrated in the Box Figure 1.1 showing the global trade network based on the 2009 rankings of the top 10 jurisdictions.5 Straight lines between jurisdictions reflect the connections (links) between the trade centers of two jurisdictions (nodes). The interconnectedness of each jurisdiction is reflected by each node’s distance from the center of the network; the size of each node reflects the size ranking of each jurisdiction. The findings reveal several underlying trends:

  • While the composition of the top jurisdictions as a group has remained virtually unchanged, relative rankings of individual jurisdictions have moved markedly, with dynamic EMEs rising in importance. With the exception of Canada, the composition of the top 10 jurisdictions in 2009 mirrored that of 1999; only two countries appear on the 2009 list that did not appear in 1999 (Russia and Turkey). At the same time, China and India rose by eight and seven positions, respectively.

  • Europe and Asia have maintained their dominance at the top of the list. Europe has maintained its position mainly on account of its interconnectedness, whereas in Asia size was a more important factor. This suggests that while Asian countries are of importance to the absolute size of global trade, they are not (yet) “as central” in the global trade network as European jurisdictions.

  • China has become more central, along with the United States, while Japan appears to be losing ground. Over a decade, China has increased its prominence in the global trade network not only in terms of size, by substantially raising its share in total world exports and imports, but also in terms of interconnectedness, by almost doubling the number of its significant trading partners, whereas Japan’s rank has declined on both counts.

  • The roles of China and Japan as strategic export destinations have changed considerably over the past ten years. In 1999, Japan was of greater strategic importance to its largest trading partners as an importer of their products. Since then, Chinese real household consumption has more than doubled and gross fixed capital formation has increased nearly five-fold. Such rapid growth has led to a reversal in their roles as import jurisdictions. China has surpassed Japan not only as the more significant regional importer, but as a global importer as well. In addition, China’s growing use of raw materials has enabled it to become a major destination for emerging market and developing economies’ exports over the past decade.

Box Figure 1.1.
Box Figure 1.1.

The Global Trade Network, 2009

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: DOTS and Fund staff estimates.
1 Prepared by Luca Errico and Alexander Massara (STA).2 As defined in DOTS, trade refers to merchandise flows only.3 A materiality threshold focused the interconnectedness analysis on economically meaningful bilateral trade relationships (either exports or imports), defined as trade relationships representing 0.1 percent or more of a jurisdiction’s GDP.4 The same 0.7/0.3 weight split was used in assessing financial sector interconnectedness (See IMF, 2010). Sensitivity analysis carried out on various weight combinations suggests the results are robust to different weightings.5 The global trade network captures all active trade relationships, either exports or imports, across the top ten jurisdictions representing 0.1 percent or more of a jurisdiction’s GDP.

C. The Growing Role of Global Supply Chains

13. Vertical specialization has increased since the mid-1990s.9 The increase has been particularly pronounced for China (where the share of imported content increased by 12 percentage points) and for Germany and Japan (7 percentage points), with the emergence of global supply chains contributing significantly to their rise as major exporting countries (Figure 9). In comparison, the increase in imported content has been smaller for the United States. Among the group of advanced economies, the share of foreign content in gross exports is lowest for the United States, even if foreign content in Germany’s exports from Euro Area is treated as part of DVA.10

Figure 9.
Figure 9.

Foreign Contents in Gross Exports

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: Fund staff estimates using OECD Input-Output Tables, UN Comtrade and OECD STAN data.

14. Vertical specialization has been associated with regional concentration of trade. The significant increase in FVA content of exports between 1995 and 2005 suggests that both China and Germany’s exports have gained from integration within their regional supply chains. Both countries play very different roles though; the former as a downstream assembly center and the latter as an upstream hub. China’s exports have high content of FVA that is from Asia: more than half of FVA is from the region including other East Asian (OEA) economies.11 In Germany, most of the FVA is coming from other EU countries, including EU accession countries. About 70 percent of FVA in exports of EU accession countries is from the advanced Euro Area countries, Russia, or European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries.

15. Advanced economies tend to be upstream in the global supply chain, while EMEs tend to be further downstream. Estimates from Koopman and others (2010) provide a comprehensive picture of global supply chains at the aggregate level and highlight two interesting features.12 First, compared to advanced economies, EMEs have relatively large imported contents in their exports (Table 3). Second, EMEs tend to have a smaller share of indirect exports that are sent to third countries. The ratio of these two measures provides a useful summary of a country’s position in the global supply chain, confirming the downstream position of EMEs in supply chains.

Table 3.

Measures of Vertical Specialization across Borders: 2004

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Source: Koopman and others (2010).

Includes indirect exports that return to home country.

16 The relative downstream position of some EMEs, including China, reflects an important role of processing trade. Exports of many EMEs stem from lower value added production processes that largely use imported intermediates to assemble final goods for exports. Such processing trade accounts for a significant share of exports from China, which together with many other Asian EMEs, serves as a downstream hub in the Asian supply chain (see Box 2). Mexico has a somewhat similar role, owing to specialized duty free assembly plants that use imported intermediates and re-export final goods back to the United States. The accession of Eastern European countries with lower production costs in the European Union has also resulted in increased outsourcing of production away from the advanced EU countries.

17. Regional supply chains in Asia, NAFTA, and Europe can be distinguished along two key features. The first is the extent of dependence on a regional power house. The Asian supply chain extends across several countries, with goods-in-process crossing borders several times, including through the hub (Japan), before reaching their final destination (Table 4). For instance, about 15 percent of Japanese value added embodied in Chinese products goes through other countries in Asia before reaching China.13 In contrast, almost all the FVA in other regions is imported directly from the hub—the United States in NAFTA and EU15 in Europe. The second feature relates to the extent of processed value added flowing back to the hub. A significant amount of U.S. value-added (EU15’s value added to a lesser extent) returns home after further processing abroad, which is not necessarily the case for Japan. Processing trade in Asia therefore relies heavily on the region as a whole. This finding is consistent with unique features outlined in Box 2 on Asian regional integration.

Table 4.

Hub's VA Contained in Gross Exports

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Source: Fund staff estimates using Koopman and others (2010).

For China, Australia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thai I and, Vietnam, and the rest of E.Asia are included; for Mexico, Canada, Brazil, and Latin America are included; and for EU accession countries, EFTA, and Russia are included.

For China, Mexico, and EU accession countries, hubs are Japan, the United States, and the EU respectively.

“Factory Asia”

Prior to the mid-1980s, East Asian trade was suppressed by the widely adopted “dual track” development strategies that blocked the imports of manufactured goods to protect infant industries while simultaneously fostering export-oriented industries (Baldwin, 2008; Ando and Kimura, 2005). Starting in the mid-1980s, however, rapid trade liberalization and a surge in intra-regional trade emerged in East Asia. In response to the strong appreciation of the yen in mid-1980s, Japanese firms first shifted labor-intensive assembly operations to newly industrialized economies (NIEs). As their own currencies started to appreciate (Korean won, Singaporean dollar, etc.), NIEs relocated lower-end labor-intensive assembly processes to countries such as China and ASEAN (Thorbecke, 2011). The off-shoring trend led to competition for investments and jobs in the East Asia. This competition resulted in unilateral tariff-cutting in the region and ultimately the development of what is known as “Factory Asia.”

These successive relocations have allowed NIEs and then China and ASEAN countries to develop a comparative advantage in manufacturing exports and progressively upgrade their industrial capacity, thus contributing to a “recycling of comparative advantage” that is characteristic of the Asian supply chain (Gaulier and others, 2005). In the 1990s, China’s emergence heightened the competition among East Asian countries for jobs and investment linked to the ever growing “Factory Asia.” As a result, unilateral liberalization accelerated in the region. Regionalism (i.e., preferential or discriminatory trade liberalization), on the other hand, was delayed. ASEAN FTA (AFTA) and Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) were established, but neither created much discrimination nor had much effect on trade flows.

In sum, Factory Asia was established without “real” regionalism. In fact, regionalism in East Asia only began in 2000 when China expressed interest in a FTA with ASEAN. It is argued that the ASEAN-Japan FTA, the Korea-ASEAN FTA, and the Japan-Korea FTA were all direct reactions to the ASEAN-China FTA (ACFTA) (Baldwin, 2008). This development of regionalism in East Asia can be a potential source of tension in the region, especially since there is neither WTO discipline locking in the unilateral tariff cutting that created “Factory Asia” nor “top-level management” to substitute for WTO discipline in East Asia.

Sectoral Evidence of Global Supply Chains

18. The role of global supply chains for trade in high technology goods has increased over time, especially in China. As Figure 10 illustrates, the share of imported content in exports of high technology goods has increased for China, Japan, the United States, and the European advanced economies since the mid-1990s (see Box 3 on OECD technology classification). The increase is particularly pronounced for China—imported content of Chinese high-technology exports increased by close to 30 percentage points from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s.14 This result confirms that the emergence of China as a major exporter of high technology goods has been boosted by processing trade, with significant imported contributions from Japan and other countries in the Asian supply chain. By the mid-2000s, China has by far the largest imported content in its high technology exports. Japan and the United States make significantly less use of imported intermediates in their production of high technology exports.15 In Germany, if imports from Euro Area countries are considered part of DVA, the share of FVA in high technology exports becomes comparable to that of Japan and the United States (about 19 percent).

Figure 10.
Figure 10.

Foreign Contents in Gross Exports: High-Technology Sectors

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

19. Notwithstanding China’s downstream position in the supply chain, its exports of intermediate products in the high technology sector are increasingly contributing to advanced countries’ high technology exports. Together with other Asian countries, China increasingly plays a dual role in the global supply chain for high technology products, as an assembly country and exporter of intermediate inputs to other countries’ high technology exports. Figure 11 decomposes the contribution of domestic and foreign value added by sector to the export growth of Germany, Japan, and the United States and underscores three interesting results: (i) overall, the increase in FVA contributed about 37 percent to the growth in advanced countries’ gross manufacturing exports between 1995 and 2005; (ii) growth in high technology exports was almost entirely driven by growth in FVA; and (iii) China’s contribution to advanced countries’ manufacturing exports growth is significant and concentrated in high and medium-high technology sectors. This suggests that China may be rapidly catching up in terms of contribution to advanced countries’ exports of high-technology goods.

Figure 11.
Figure 11.

Source of Change in Exports of Advanced Countries 1995–2005

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: Fund staff estimates using OECD Input-Output Tables, UN Comtrade and OECD STAN data.Note: LT = Low technology, MLT = Medium-Low technology, MHT = Medium-High technology, HT = High technology, and EA = EU accession countries.

OECD Measure of Trade by Technology Intensity

Using the OECD methodology to classify countries’ industrial sectors and manufactures by level of technology, Hatzichronoglou (1997) provides four categories of technological intensity: high medium-high, medium-low and low technology. The technological intensity reflects to some degree a “technology-producer” aspect, measured by the ratio of R&D expenditure to value added, and a “technology-user” aspect, measured by purchases of intermediate and capital goods.

To analyze international trade flows by technological intensity requires attributing each product to a specific industry. However, products which belong to a high-technology industry do not necessarily have only high-technology content. Likewise, some products in industries of lower technological intensity may incorporate a high degree of technological sophistication. The mapping of technological intensity from industries to trade sectors may therefore in some instances be imperfect.

Box Table 3.1.

Manufacturing Industries Classified According Their Global Technological Intensity

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Source: Hatzichronoglou (1995”), OECD (2005).Note: List updated in 2001.

20. Imports of services also contribute to advanced countries’ exports growth. Though the focus of this paper has been on trade in manufactured goods, it is worth noting that trade in services has become an important contributor of advanced countries’ exports growth. Services imports are not decomposed by country of origin due to lack of data on bilateral trade in services. Evidence on service imports by advanced countries shows that they contribute about 12 percent of the contribution of FVA in advanced countries’ manufacturing exports in 2005.

21. The greater regional dispersion in the Asian supply chain has important policy implications. Any disruption of trade flows, particularly in intraregional trade flows in Asia, could have large negative spillover effects on domestic production in partner countries. Protecting the free flow of inputs and outputs should therefore be a top priority. This could be done by binding the region’s unilateral tariff cuts under the Doha Round or including all the key players in regional FTAs such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). An exclusion of a key player such as China in regional FTAs could create bilateral tensions that could prove potentially disruptive to supply-chain trade flows.

D. The Diffusion of High-Technology Exporters

22. Changes in the technology composition of exports confirm the rise of emerging markets in global trade in high-technology products. Between 1995 and 2008, the contribution of high-technology exports to overall export growth was more than 30 percent for China, against 26 percent for the United States, 17 percent for Germany, and only 11 percent for Japan (Figure 12, top panel). Adjusting exports, however, to exclude foreign content and show more clearly the domestic content of exports yields a somewhat different picture: the contribution of high-technology exports to overall export growth is now much lower in China (24 percent), whereas that of the United States rises to 29 percent and Germany to 20 percent (Figure 12, lower panel). Of note is the increase in Mexico’s contribution of high-technology exports when only DVA is considered, suggesting a more broad-based upgrading of the technology content of its export basket.

Figure 12.
Figure 12.

High-Technology Export Growth1

(Percent of growth)

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: UN Comtrade.1 The chart reflects the contribution of high-technology exports to the change in overall exports between 1995 and 2008 across countries.

23. FDI has an important role in the diffusion of technology, especially across global supply chains. Evidence suggests that, whereas U.S. FDI is generally driven by market access considerations, FDI by Japanese multinationals is motivated by factor-price differentials across borders arising from relative abundance of unskilled labor in Asia (Tanaka, 2009; Wakasugi and others, 2008). In this setting, labor-intensive stages of production such as final assembly are moved to a host country with lower cost of unskilled labor, while activities that are relatively intensive in skilled labor, such as marketing, patenting and innovation, are retained in headquarters. Even though the share of Japan’s high technology exports has declined due to outsourcing to other countries, it has retained those aspects of production with the highest value added (See Box 4).

Why Has the Share of High-Technology Sectors in Japanese Exports Fallen Since the 1990s?

The share of Japanese exports that are attributed to high-technology sectors has fallen from 34 percent in 1995 to 23 percent in 2005. There are three potential explanations.

A rise in exports of other sectors. The share of exports of high-technology sectors has fallen because those exports have been stagnant since the mid-1990s while those of other sectors have increased rapidly (Box Figures 4.1, 4.2). Both the medium-high and medium-low-technology sectors have increased by about 10 percentage points between 1995 and 2010, driven by a rapid increase in exports of motor vehicles, machinery and equipment, and basic metals. The rapid expansion of these exports may reflect the progressive liberalization of global trade in motor vehicles since the 1990s and strong demand growth in emerging Asia, including China, more recently.

Box Figure 4.1.
Box Figure 4.1.

Japanese Exports in Millions of US Dollars

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: WITS.
Box Figure 4.2:
Box Figure 4.2:

Japanese Exports in Percent of Total Exports

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: WITS.

A rise in outsourcing. As part of “Factory Asia” (see Box 2), Japanese firms in high-technology sectors have transferred production sites to countries in the region. While research and development (R&D) still takes place in headquarters, trade flows have shifted from Japan to other Asian countries. Data on R&D expenditures and on royalties and license fees seem to support this explanation (Box Figures 4.3, 4.4). R&D expenditures have been rising since the mid-1990s and are high by international standards. Inflows of royalties and license fees in the balance of payments have also been rising steadily during the same period.

Box Figure 4.3
Box Figure 4.3

R&D Spending on the High-Tech Sector

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: WEO, STAN R&D expenditure in industry, OECD.
Box Figure 4.4
Box Figure 4.4

Royalties and License Fees

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: IFS.

Detailed trade data also show that outsourcing is indeed part of the explanation (Box Figures 4.5, 4.6). For instance, the decline in exports of the computers and office equipment sector is driven by a decline in exports of final products while those of parts and accessories continue to increase. Outsourcing, however, does not fully explain why exports of high-technology sectors have fallen relative to those of other sectors, where incentives for outsourcing may have been equally strong.

Box Figure 4.5.
Box Figure 4.5.

Japanese Exports: High Technology Sector

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: WITS.
Box Figure 4.6.
Box Figure 4.6.

ISIC-30: Computers and Office Equipment

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: WITS.

Information lost in sectoral aggregation. Products which belong to a high technology industry do not necessarily have only high technology content; the relative fall in exports of high-technology exports may have been concentrated in products with a lower technology content. Trade data on the electronics and communication sector seem to confirm this hypothesis: exports of relatively simple products such as telephones have declined, while products with a high technology content such as integrated circuits have risen (Box Figure 4.7).

Box Figure 4.7
Box Figure 4.7

ISIC-32: Electronics and Communication

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: WITS.

24. Several factors have allowed EMEs to upgrade the technology content of their exports. These include geographical proximity to advanced countries, the existence of an educated workforce, and a favorable business environment. Indeed, countries that gained most in exports of high-technology products over the last decade were those whose initial conditions in 1995 featured an intermediate level of development and some presence in high-technology exports (Figure 13). These include countries such as China, Thailand, Malaysia in Asia, and Poland, the Czech Republic, and Turkey in Europe.

Figure 13.
Figure 13.

Technology Content of Exports

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

25. While many low-income countries have not yet fulfilled these conditions, there has been some upgrade in the technology content of their exports as well. As shown in Box 5, exports of medium-high and high technology products have increased for low-income countries (LICs) in all major regions, albeit from a very low level. Increased trade with dynamic EMEs such as China has provided an important impetus, although traditional partners such as the United States and Japan remain important destinations for higher technology exports. This suggests that LICs in Asia and the Western Hemisphere could be benefiting from greater integration in global supply chains.

Structure of Export Baskets in LICs

Many LICs have seen an upgrade in their export baskets in recent years, albeit from a low level. While still lagging behind strong performing EMEs, the incidence of medium-high and high technology products in LIC non-oil exports has increased notably.1 Box Figure 5.1 shows that for LICs in all major regions the share of these products in non-oil exports increased from about 3–4 percent in 1995 to about 7 percent in African LICs and 12–16 percent for LICs in Asia and Middle East and Central Europe in 2008.

Box Figure 5.1
Box Figure 5.1

High and Medium-High Technology Exports

(Share in total exports, non-oil)

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: UN Comtrade.

Decomposition of LIC exports by technology intensity and destination reveals several interesting trends (Box Figures 5.2 and 5.3). First, a significant share of trade in medium-high and high technology exports takes place between African LICs in 2008, as opposed to other destinations. Second, EMEs are important destinations for LIC exports of medium-high and high technology exports. These include China, Thailand, and Singapore for Asian LICs, South Africa for African LICs, and Mexico for LICs in the Western Hemisphere. Finally, advanced economies are important destinations for LIC exports, albeit more for lower technology than for higher technology products. Nonetheless, the increase in exports of medium-high and high technology products to Japan for Asian LICs and to the United States for LICs in the Western Hemisphere could be indicative of greater integration in the respective regional supply chains.

Box Figure 5.2.
Box Figure 5.2.

High and medium-high technology exports by destination (non-oil)

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: UN Comtrade.
Box Figure 5.3.
Box Figure 5.3.

Low and medium-low technology exports by destination (non-oil)

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: UN Comtrade.
1 In 2008, the share of non-oil exports in overall exports was 28 percent for LICs in Africa, 35 percent in the Middle East and Central Asia, 81 percent in the Western Hemisphere, and 83 percent in Asia.

E. Rising Export Similarity

26. Export structures of EMEs are becoming increasingly similar to those of advanced economies, in part reflecting the growth of global supply chains. With China and other EMEs increasing their presence in sectors traditionally dominated by advanced countries, the similarity in export structures has increased and so did competitive pressure. A common indicator to gauge export competitiveness is the export similarity index (ESI), which takes higher values for country pairs with similar shares of each product (6-digit) category in overall exports.16 As shown in (Table 5), Japan competes most with Korea, the United States, and European countries, whereas the U.S. export structure continues to be similar to other advanced economies. China has traditionally competed with other Asian countries, and although large differences still remain, its export structure has been converging with that of advanced economies such as Germany and the United States.17

Table 5:

Overall Export Similarity Index, 1995 and 2008

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Source: UN Comtrade and Fund staff estimates.

27. Rising export similarity between advanced countries and EMEs could reflect increased complementarity, as well as competition. The observed shift in technology content and corresponding convergence in export structures may reflect higher complementarity arising from the increased outsourcing of labor-intensive production to low wage countries in the region. For instance, whereas transport-equipment exports go directly to advanced countries and have held their share over time, a growing proportion of Japanese machinery exports are now assembled in China, showing up as increased Japanese exports to Asia (and in turn, higher exports from China to the United States). This has more to do with Japan’s upstream role in the Asian production chain, rather than a sign of growing competitive pressure. Similarly, in Europe, technological intensity of exports has shifted from Western to Eastern Europe and particularly Poland, Hungary, and Czech. In North America, the United States has outsourced some high-technology activities to its NAFTA partners, especially Mexico, and to Central America.

28. Gross exports data would not adequately capture quality differences within the same product category. Whereas EMEs could be exporting products in categories similar to those of advanced countries, these can still be differentiated along quality and price dimensions. 18 In the particular case of China, the important role of processing trade in high-technology exports may affect aggregate indicators of export similarity. To take this into account, we further modify the ESI to distinguish products by destination market, assuming that high-income countries are likely to demand higher quality varieties of the same product.19 The increase in overlap in export structures of emerging market economies, notably China, Vietnam, Indonesia in Asia, and Poland and Turkey in Europe and those of advanced countries persists (Figure 14), albeit to a lesser extent compared to the unadjusted ESI presented in Table 5.

Figure 14.
Figure 14.

Export Similarity Index (ESI) by Destination in 1995 and 200S: China, Euro Area, Japan, and the United States

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: UN Comtrade.

29. Advanced countries’ exports are still differentiated by price and quality characteristics. An alternative indicator due to Hausmann and others (2007) measuring the income level embodied in a country’s exports (EXPY) is useful in gauging the extent of export sophistication. The EXPY assigns to each 6-digit product category a (weighted) average income level of those countries producing the same product. Thus, a product exclusively produced by industrialized countries, and likely embodying high quality/value added, would be assigned a higher value. Based on this indicator, Japan has consistently outperformed the G-7 countries in increasing the value of its exports (Figure 15). Despite their substantial catch-up, the income level embodied in EMEs exports still remains below those for advanced countries. In other words, EMEs exports are still skewed towards lower-income product categories. This is true even for China which has strongly outperformed other large emerging markets according to this metric.

30. Export structures suggest that dynamic EMEs can expect another growth push. In a given year a country’s EXPY can deviate considerably from the value that may be predicted based on its income level. Given ongoing product and quality upgrading, the quality level of exports in several EMEs is higher than expected based on GDP per capita. As shown in Figure 16, countries with higher-than-expected EXPYs tend to grow more in subsequent years (see also Hausmann and others, 2007). The growth push is expected to be most pronounced for some Asian countries such as India, China, and Thailand, and somewhat less pronounced but still positive for most Eastern European countries (Figure 17).20

Figure 16
Figure 16

Growth in GDP per capita 1995 to 2000

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: WEO and Fund staff estimates.
Figure 17
Figure 17

Income Level of Exports 200S vs GDP per capita 2000

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: WEO and Fund staff estimates.

F. Past Trends and Implications for Trade Outlook

31. The integration of rapidly growing EMEs is likely to induce a gradual shift in the sources of global demand away from advanced economies. With China overtaking Japan as the second largest economy in the world already in 2010, East Asian countries are likely to emerge as the largest trading bloc by 2015, surpassing NAFTA and the Euro Area (Figure 18). Global supply chains have been an important factor in this trend and a country’s position along the supply chain could have important implications for trading patterns going forward.

Figure 18.
Figure 18.

Three Trading Blocks and Top Export Markets by 2015 (Share of world nominal GDP)

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: WEO.East Asia = ABEAM + Taiwan Province of China + Hong Kong SAR.

32. The emergence of global supply chains may have also changed the way trade responds to relative price changes. Higher imported content in exports is likely to lower the sensitivity of trade to changes in the exchange rate. For instance, an appreciation of the domestic currency against all trading partners implies that while exports become more expensive, imported intermediates also become cheaper, mitigating the impact of relative price changes on trade flows (see Koopman and others, 2008 and Bems and Johnson, 2011).21 Advanced countries whose exports tend to be concentrated in medium-high technology goods are therefore likely to be more sensitive to relative price changes because of higher DVA, whereas those of EMEs are likely to be less sensitive given higher FVA in their exports.22 The simulation results in the next section are consistent with these predictions.

33. Global supply chains may also result in closer relationships between producers in different countries and higher adjustment costs. While this may further dampen the impact of (small) relative price changes on trade flows, it may also represent a source of vulnerability. The recent earthquake in Japan provides for a real life test of the resilience of supply chains to disruptions in production, especially in an upstream country (see Box 6 for details). And although the disruption is likely to prove temporary, it may nonetheless lead to a rethink of the ‘just-in-time’ production framework underlying global supply chains, especially the Asian one.

Supply Chain Implications of the Pacific Earthquake in Japan 1

While the implications of the disruptions are likely to be temporary, the March 11, 2011 Pacific earthquake in Japan is likely to test the resilience of the Asian supply chain. This box elaborates on the relevant factors which are important in analyzing the possible spillover implications of a disruption in Japanese production. The analysis focuses on the semiconductor and automobile industries, which seem to be most vulnerable to a supply-chain disruption.

Although its weight in global trade has been declining, Japan continues to play an important role in Asian regional trade. Asian intraregional trade has expanded rapidly since 1990, largely driven by dynamic economies such as China (Box Figure 6.1). Nonetheless, Japan’s intraregional exports as a share of global GDP has remained remarkably stable—even during the crisis—and accounts for more than two-thirds of industrial countries’ intra-regional trade. Japanese exports to the region accounted for almost 60 percent of overall exports in 2010, mostly concentrated in machinery, chemicals, and transport equipment. Japan’s deepening regional integration was in large part driven by increased outsourcing of production processes by Japanese firms to neighboring countries.

Box Figure 6.1.
Box Figure 6.1.

Intraregional Trade

(Exports in percent of world GDP)

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: DOTS, WEO.Note: Industrial Asia: Australia and New Zealand; NIEs: Hong Kong SAR, Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan Province of China; Emerging Asia: Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam.

Japan’s trade structure is shifting from export of high-technology final products toward export of sophisticated intermediate inputs. Whereas exports of high-technology final goods may have declined, those of sophisticated intermediate inputs have been rising (see Box 4). Japan has thus established itself as an important supplier of sophisticated manufacturing inputs at the global and regional levels, particularly in the transport and electrical machinery sectors. Even though they may not constitute an important share in its overall exports, Japan accounts for a significant share of global exports in the semiconductor and auto subsectors, and is an important source of these intermediates not only for countries in Asia but also for the United States and the European Union (Box Table 6.1).

Box Table 6.1:

Japan’s share in global export markets and partner imports, 2010

article image
Notes:8486: boilers and reactors: mach & appl for mnf semiconductors8408: boliers and reactors: compression-lgnition for combustion engines8541: electrical machinery: semiconductor devices8703: vehicles excl railways: autos Source: GTA.

Japan is an important source of foreign value added (FVA) in gross exports of other Asian countries Japan is clearly upstream in the Asian supply chain and its share of FVA in gross exports is particularly high for Asian countries engaged in assembly or processing activities (Box Figure 6.2). The chart illustrates two important points: (i) foreign content in gross exports of these products of most Asian countries is relatively high (more than 80 percent in electronic equipment in Singapore); and (ii) a significant proportion of FVA comes from Japan, especially for Hong Kong and China (electronic equipment), and Thailand and Taiwan (motor vehicles). A disruption in the production of key intermediate inputs in Japan due to the earthquake, therefore, has the potential to spillover to production in other countries in the supply chain.

Box Figure 6.2.
Box Figure 6.2.

Japanese contribution to FVA in countries’ gross exports (%), 2004 Eletronic Equipment

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: Koopman and others (2010).

The extent of disruption from the earthquake is gradually manifesting in the high frequency Japanese trade data. Exports plunged in April and for the first time in 31 years Japan recorded a trade deficit for the month (Box figure 6.3). Part of this decline, however, is a correction from the sharp increase in growth rates as Japanese exports bounced back from the crisis; a similar correction in growth rates was observed after the dotcom bubble burst in 2001. Nonetheless, there is significant variation in impact across sectors, with exports of vehicles being hit particularly hard compared to those of machinery, and between upstream and downstream countries, as exports to the United States are harder hit compared to China. This differential impact is partly attributed to the relative weights of final versus intermediate goods exports to each country. Within the vehicles sector, the decline was most pronounced for exports of the final goods (cars subsector) compared to those of intermediates (parts and accessories for vehicles subsector), possibly reflecting an inventory effect. The overall impact on the United States reflects the predominance of exports of cars (final product) under the vehicles sector compared to car accessories (intermediate product) for China.

Box Figure 6.3.
Box Figure 6.3.

Japanese Exports by Sector and Partner

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: GTA

Overall, so far, equity prices and supply projections by industry analysts suggest that the overall impact of the disruption along the supply chain is likely to be short-lived. However, many of the affected Japanese firms’ returns remain significantly below expectations.2 Staff micro analysis of firms’ equity returns data in the semiconductor industry for key upstream (input suppliers), midstream (memory makers), and downstream companies (PC and handset makers) suggests an initial impact on the market’s outlook, especially during the immediate period of elevated concern regarding a potential nuclear meltdown. However, these effects did not persist for all firms in the ensuing month; in part this reflects a previous buildup in global semiconductor inventory, which may provide some cushion possibly until 2011 :Q3. In the automobile sector, concerns have focused on disruptions to the supply of microcontroller units (MCUs), which are small, high-value components used in a variety of automotive applications and parts. Equity returns for Japanese MCU manufacturers have experienced significantly negative ARs since March coinciding with weak returns for Japanese auto manufacturers, suggesting markets expect them to bear the brunt of any parts bottlenecks. Indeed, these manufacturers have scaled back their production across the globe. Equity markets also suggest that some of their competitors are expected to substitute for lost production.

The supply chain implications of the Pacific earthquake are likely to be transitory, although downside risks remain. In the short run, substitution may be harder in sub-sectors in which Japanese exporters have a high market share. Firms may be initially willing to endure some losses as Japanese production recovers, either through inventory adjustment or temporary shutdown of facilities. Moreover, exports of sophisticated sub-products may be protected by patent rights, making substitution of Japanese suppliers difficult in the short run.3 However, if the supply of key products from Japan is disrupted for a prolonged period and inventories run out, firms may be forced to replace Japanese exports from other sources.

1 With contributions from Phil de Imus (SPR).2 A firm’s performance is measured against its expected return derived from a standard capital asset pricing model (CAPM) to calculate abnormal return (AR). Returns on the MSCI World Free index represent the market return and the 3-month U.S. Treasury bills the risk free rate. ARs are summed up since March 11 to derive a cumulative abnormal return.3 As suggested by the analysis on R&D spending and royalties in Box 4.

III. Global Trade and Relative Prices: a Sectoral Elasticities Approach

34. A highly disaggregated sectoral level approach is used to examine the impact of relative price changes on trade flows and structures. The impact of such macroeconomic policies is often analyzed at the level of the overall economy or for highly aggregated sectors, using multi-country CGE models that rely on modeling complex interactions among a large number of variables in various economies. As a complement to such analysis, a simple model that combines a partial equilibrium approach with input-output table analysis is used here to analyze the response of sectoral trade flows to changes in relative prices.23 The framework models the impact of a hypothetical change in relative prices in two steps. The first step focuses on the import market of each economy. Changes in relative prices result in demand responses and shifts in the structure of trade at the product level, reflecting differences in import demand and substitution elasticities as well as the amount of imported intermediate inputs used in the production of exports. 24 The second step of the analysis uses input-output tables to determine the change in the composition of import demand as a result of the shift in the structure of exports (as determined in the first step). Appendices V and VI provide details on the methodology.25

35. The greater product detail and transparency of this modeling approach comes with a cost. Our approach offers two key advantages. First, by allowing for a high level of product detail, the aggregation bias implicit in CGE models using aggregate trade flows is avoided. The high level of sectoral detail allows reactions to relative price changes to vary across goods and countries. The model thus provides a useful framework for analyzing sectoral and supply chain linkages in international trade. Second, the model is simple and transparent in its assumptions allowing the flexibility to adjust the key parameters, including accounting for the effect of global supply chains on the response of trade flows. On the downside, each product is modeled as a separate market and in isolation from other markets, and inter and intrasectoral linkages or economy-wide impacts of changes in relative prices that are likely to take place are not fully captured. These limitations need to be kept in mind when examining the model’s predictions at the aggregate level.

36. The simulations focus on the four key players in global trade. The analysis essentially focuses on the impact of a change in relative prices in China and the United States on their trade structures, by assuming an exogenous 10-percent increase in relative prices in the former and a similar decline in the latter. The increase (decrease) in relative prices can be interpreted as a real appreciation (depreciation) against all trading partner currencies. The direction of change in relative prices in each country is consistent with policy recommendations to reduce global imbalances through a lower current account surplus in China and deficit in the United States (Blanchard and Milesi-Ferretti, 2009). For purely illustrative purposes, we also assume a 10-percent relative price increase in the Euro Area and a similar decline in Japan. The baseline for the analysis is 2008, being a largely pre-crisis year.26

A. Aggregate Results

37. Changes in relative prices result in sizable long-run responses in trade flows and rebalancing effects. Table 6 presents a summary of the results under different assumptions of pass-through of exchange rates to import prices. Assuming full pass-through in the long-run, the results suggest that a 10-percent depreciation for the United States would result in a 14-percent expansion in exports and a 7-percent contraction in imports. Together these translate into a 40 percent improvement in the trade balance and roughly a halving of the U.S. current account deficit to GDP ratio. These results are broadly consistent with findings by Obstfeld and Rogoff (2005) and Dekle, Eaton and Kortum (2007), among others, suggesting that a 20-percent fall in relative prices in the United States would be sufficient to close the current account deficit. The results for China suggest that a 10-percent real exchange appreciation would lead to a 50-percent reduction in its merchandise trade surplus.27

Table 6.

Simulated Long-run Impacts of Relative Price Shocks on External Balances Based on 2008 Trade

(Percent of national GDP, unless otherwise noted)

article image
Sources: WEO, DOTS, and Fund staff estimates.

Trade levels implied in the long run by simulated relative international price shocks are in absence of other shocks.

Calculated using exchange rate to domestic price pass-through elasticities estimated by Goldberg and Campa (2005) and restricted to range from 0 to 1. The elasticity for simulation countries on the export side is calculated as a weighted average of import partners’in dividual elasticities.

Euro Area trade data was obtained from the IMF Direction of Trade Statistics.

Post-shock GDPs reflect changes due to changes in exports under perfect pass-through (see Appendix VI for more detail).

38 A downstream position in a supply chain is likely to cushion the impact of a relative price change on both exports and imports The response of Chinese exports to a 10-percent exchange rate appreciation is smaller in absolute magnitude compared to that of Japanese exports to a 10-percent exchange rate depreciation. To a large extent, this result reflects China’s downstream position in the Asian supply chain and the relatively high share of foreign intermediates which mitigate the impact of exchange rate changes on its exports. The large foreign share in Chinese final exports also implies that import growth is relatively small: a given decline in exports leads to a larger decline in intermediate imports. On the other hand, the relatively large impact on Japanese exports is driven not only by Japan’s upstream position in the supply chain but also by its strength in exports of consumer discretionary goods such as vehicles and transport equipment with low foreign content and high price sensitivity.

39. Imperfect exchange rate pass-through to import prices and pricing-to-market are likely to mitigate the adjustment in trade flows to exchange rate changes. 28 In reality, trading firms absorb part of the exchange rate changes rather than pass them on to importing consumers. In particular, in trading relationships with flexible exchange rate regimes, exporters may delay price adjustments given the possibility of an unwinding of the initial exchange rate shock. Exporters may also be pricing-to-market in which case the change in relative prices would not be (fully) reflected in import prices. As shown in Table 6, accounting for less than perfect pass-through reduces the exchange rate impact on both exports and imports in all simulations significantly.29 Overall, the results for advanced economies are in line with historical responses of trade flows to exchange rate changes (Box 7).

40. Adjustment in trade flows is also likely to be gradual given high fixed costs in production and trade relationships. Fixed production costs and constraints to factor mobility make it burdensome and often unprofitable to move production facilities across countries once they are established. Furthermore, there is a large and growing literature outlining the high fixed costs of establishing export relationships, such as costs of establishing distribution networks or adapting to local regulations (Freund, 2000). On average, the analysis suggests that about half of the long-run adjustment in trade balances in response to exchange rate shifts would materialize within the first 2 years, and 80 percent within 6 years.30

Impact of Exchange Rate Changes and Trade Flows—A Historical Perspective

The simulation results are broadly consistent with responses observed during historical episodes of exchange rate changes. A dynamically adjusted REER (DAREER) is used to account for the gradual realization of the impact on trade flows of changes in the real exchange rate. There are several reasons why trade flows would only respond gradually to exchange rate changes. Export relationships are costly to establish and production facilities are hard to redeploy in the short-run. In the case of an appreciation, exporting firms may initially attempt to maintain market share at the cost of profits until cost savings can be realized, or a hoped-for offsetting exchange rate movement takes place.

Box Figure 7.1
Box Figure 7.1

Pass-through of 10 Percent Shock in REER per year

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: Fund staff estimates. Chart assumes a rratio of long-run to short-run pass-through of 3 in a first-order autoregressive model.

A simple autoregressive model is used to trace the dynamic adjustment of trade flows to exchange rate shifts, based on the relationship between short-run and long-run elasticities. Following Goldstein and Khan (1985) and Senhadji and Montenegro (1999), the ratio of long-run to short-run impact is in the range of 2 to 5. A midpoint of 3 as the key parameter determining the speed of adjustment is thus used as a reasonable ratio for likely outcomes. This implies that a third of the impact of 10-percent change in the REER would manifest in the first year of the shock, with the remaining impact (6.5 percent) unfolding asymptotically (Box Figure 7.1). The DAREER is thus a weighted average of realized REER shocks, with weights obtained as shown in Box Figure 7.1 and more recent shocks given higher weights.

The DAREER has historically been less volatile compared to the unadjusted REER, given that exchange rate fluctuations in proximate years often offset each other (Box Figure 7.2). The analysis focuses on the United States and Japan, given their flexible exchange rate regimes and availability of long time series, but for expositional brevity, only the results of the United States are discussed.

Box Figure 7.2.
Box Figure 7.2.

United States

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: INS and Fund staff estimates.

The historical analysis confirms the negative relationship between external balances and movements in the DAREER (Box Figure 7.3). For the United States swings of 10 percent or more in the DAREER were relatively infrequent; the DAREER exhibited only two long waves of appreciation and depreciation since the 1980s, with attendant worsening and improvement in trade and current account balances.

Box Figure 7.3.
Box Figure 7.3.

US DAREER and External Balances

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: WEO: INS and Fund staff estimates.

The historical response of external balances to changes in the DAREER is closely aligned with the simulation results. Box Table 7.1 presents results based on peak-to-trough analysis of changes in external balances and the DAREER. Peak-to-trough analysis is based on two-year averages since the DAREER for the United States moved only gradually. On average, the trade balance improved (deteriorated) by 0.17 percent of GDP for every percentage point depreciation (appreciation) of the DAREER. These values are close to the simulation results suggesting a 1.4 percentage point of GDP improvement in the trade balance in the United States in response to a 10 percent real depreciation (assuming partial pass-through).

Box Table 7.1:

Response of external balances to exchange rate changes: historical and simulation

article image
Sources: IMF World Economic Outlook, IMF staff estimates.

We use the current account and trade balance adjustments resulting under the assumption of imperfect exchange rate pass-through (Table 6). This ensures the consistency of the analysis given that changes in the DAREER are inherently exchange rate changes (derived from the REER), not changes in relative prices in destination markets.

B. Sectoral Effects

41. An appreciation results in an increase in the share of high-technology exports in China and to a lesser extent in the Euro Area. In China, the share of machinery and electronics (a high-technology sector) in overall exports increases in response to the appreciation, while that of textiles (a low-technology sector) falls. This result reflects both limited price sensitivity of high-technology goods, which are typically more differentiated (Rauch, 1999), and the larger contribution of imported intermediate inputs (Figures 19 and 20).31 It suggests that an appreciation would support a continued upgrading of Chinese exports in terms of technology content and reduce the reliance on low-skill manufacturing. This may also lead to increasing convergence with advanced countries’ exports in terms of quality (Schott, 2004). Box 8 further illustrates the impact on the Chinese export structure under an alternative assumption that other supply chain countries also allow their currencies to appreciate. The qualitative results remain broadly unchanged. On the other hand, the response in the Euro Area is more muted reflecting the lower contribution of FVA in high technology exports.

Figure 19.
Figure 19.

Exports by Section: Percent Change and Share

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: UN Comtrade and Fund staff estimates.
Figure 20.
Figure 20.

Responses of Exports by Technology Content

(Percentage point change in share)

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: UN Comtrade and Fund staff estimates.

Appreciation Within the Asian Supply Chain

Alternative simulation. Regional integration in Asia suggests that an appreciation of the Chinese nominal exchange rate is likely to result in revaluations of other regional currencies. An appreciation along the Asian supply chain would result in a further increase in prices of Chinese exports through higher costs of imported intermediate inputs, potentially contributing to lower exports and further global rebalancing.1 The alternative simulation therefore reflects the trade impact of changes in relative prices stemming from a 10 percent appreciation in the Chinese nominal exchange rate and a concurrent 5 percent appreciation of the nominal exchange rates of countries in the Asian supply chain.2 The aggregate results are presented in the Box Table 8.1.

Box Table 8.1.

China: Baseline and Alternative Simulations1

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Source: UN Comtrade and Fund staff estimates.

Assumes perfect pass-through.

Additional effects on Chinese exports. There are three additional effects on Chinese exports compared to the baseline simulation. First, imported intermediate inputs from upstream supply chain partners become more expensive, making Chinese exports based on processing trade more expensive and contributing to lower exports. Second, Chinese exports to countries in the Asian supply chain become less expensive and therefore exports to these countries decline less. Finally, higher import prices from countries in the Asian supply chain lowers overall imports in third markets through the income effect, leading to a larger decline in exports from China, while substitution between importing countries results in a smaller decline in exports from China.3

Supply chain effects on Chinese exports. The additional appreciation amplifies the role of the region as a destination for Chinese exports (see Box Figure 8.1). Exports to the Asian supply chain countries – including Hong Kong SAR and Korea among the top ten largest export destinations – decline substantially less compared to the baseline scenario. Despite higher export prices, the decline in Chinese exports to the rest of the world, including to Japan, is not significantly higher compared to the baseline simulation.

Box Figure 8.1.
Box Figure 8.1.

Exports to Supply Chain Countries

(Percent change)

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: UN Comtrade and Fund staff estimates.

Sectoral effects. Despite the larger share of imported intermediate inputs in Chinese exports of high-technology sectors, the alternative simulation does not fundamentally change the picture of an upgrading in Chinese exports in terms of their technology content (see Box Figure 8.2;. As in the baseline simulation, exports of high-technology goods decline the least, resulting in a further increase in their share in total exports (especially for machinery and electronics exports).

Box Figure 8.2.
Box Figure 8.2.

Exports by Technology Content

(Percent change)

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: UN Comtrade and Fund staff estimates.

Aggregate effects and rebalancing. The aggregate effects on Chinese trade are somewhat smaller than in the baseline simulation (Box Table 8.1). For exports, the gain from more exports to Asian countries and relative competitiveness gains in third markets outweigh the loss from higher export prices resulting from higher prices of imported intermediate inputs. Overall, the alternative simulation suggests a 3.6 percentage point fall in the Chinese current account surplus (compared to 3.8 percent in the baseline). The smaller decline reflects less rebalancing vis-à-vis the supply chain countries, with limited additional rebalancing impact with the rest of the world. Exports to Euro Area countries fall somewhat more (by 12.4 percent instead of 12 percent in the baseline), while the impacts on Chinese exports to Japan and the United States are similar to the baseline simulation.

1Thorbecke and Smith (2010) estimate that an appreciation of the renminbi and other East Asian currencies by 10 percent would result in a decline in processed exports by 10 percent (compared to a fall of only 4 percent if the renminbi appreciates alone).2 Countries in the Asian supply chain are: Hong Kong SAR, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan Province of China, Thailand, and Vietnam.3 Although this box focuses on exports, imports to China can also change. First, imports from Asian supply chain countries become more expensive, resulting in a smaller increase in Chinese imports. Second, a smaller decline in Chinese exports has a smaller dampening impact on imports of both intermediate and final goods.

42. A depreciation results in important shifts in the share of medium-high-technology exports in Japan and the United States, largely driven by the auto sector. Medium-high-technology exports are generally more sensitive to relative price changes, reflecting both higher DVA and the largely discretionary consumer character of this sector, which is subject to higher income elasticities. In Japan, where the transport sector accounts for a sizable share of overall exports (23 percent in 2008), a depreciation would reinforce its comparative advantage in medium-high technology exports. In fact, Japan’s relative specialization in the motor vehicles sub-sector would exceed that of France, Germany, and Spain, who had overtaken Japan after 1995 (Box 9). The response in the United States is relatively more muted given the higher FVA in its auto sector compared to Japan—26 percent versus 13 percent, respectively.

Revealed Comparative Advantage (RCA) Analysis in Japan

The impact of the depreciation on the transport sector can be further gauged through the RCA index. The revealed comparative advantage index is a complementary construct to the ESI and measures the extent to which a country specializes in a certain product relative to other countries exporting the same product. The RCA therefore gives an indication of the products/sectors in which a given country has comparative advantage (to the extent that trade patterns internalize inter-country differences in relative costs as well as non-cost factors). As shown, Japan regains part of its comparative advantage after the exchange rate change, driven by changes in motor cars sub-sector.

Box Figure 9.1.
Box Figure 9.1.

Impact of a 10 percent Japanese depreciation on the country’s Revealed Comaparative Advantage (RCA) in…

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: UN Comtrade and Fund staff estimates.

43. Imports of intermediate goods in the four economies are affected differently by a relative change in prices (Figure 21).32 In China, intermediate goods imports fall by more than 6 percent in response to the appreciation, reflecting the overall decline in exports and its downstream position in the Asian supply chain.33 Similarly, a depreciation of the yen would lead to an increase of more than 3 percent in Japan’s intermediate goods imports, reflecting the significant expansion on the export side. In the United States, however, a depreciation of the dollar would lead to a drop in imports of intermediates because exports would not react as much as in Japan. A similar effect is visible in Europe: the assumed appreciation of the euro would result in a net increase in import of intermediates because exports do not react as much as in China or Japan.

Figure 21.
Figure 21.

Import Responses by Type of Good (Percent)

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: UN Comtrade and Fund staff estimates.

44. Exports to supply chain partners are resilient to relative price changes but suppliers of intermediates can be impacted severely when exports fall in response to exchange rate appreciation. Figure 22 presents simulated export changes by destination as well as import changes by origin for each simulation, highlighting supply chain partners. For all four simulations, exports to supply chain partners are affected less by relative price shocks.34 This could reflect two inter-related factors. First, the cost of breaking up a trade relationship may be particularly large in a supply chain, which would express itself in lower substitution elasticities in supply chain countries.35 Second, our simulation countries are dominant players in their regional supply chains in terms of both the volume and the value of their exports going to these destinations. This makes substitution for their trading partners more difficult. It is important to bear in mind, however, that supply chain partners are more strongly affected than other trading partners to the extent that they export a high share of intermediates to the hub country. A large exchange rate shift will not only result in a significant response of exports but also of the intermediate goods imports used in their production.

Figure 22.
Figure 22.

Responses of Exports and Imports: Supply Chain vs. Rest of World (Percent change)

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: UN Comtrade and Fund staff estimates.

45. Trade balance adjustment in response to exchange rate changes takes place mainly outside the supply chain. In response to an appreciation exports to supply chain partners fall by less than exports to the rest of the world. At the same time, imports from the supply chain countries increase less than imports from the rest of the world. Taken together, this implies that trade balance adjustment in response to a relative price change is weaker within the supply chain than outside it (Figure 23).

Figure 23.
Figure 23.

Contribution to Adjustment in Trade Balance (Percent)

Citation: Policy Papers 2011, 044; 10.5089/9781498338769.007.A001

Source: UN Comtrade and Fund staff estimates.

IV. Conclusion and Policy Implications

46. Shifts in the global trade landscape over the past few decades have resulted in increased interconnectedness and strengthened trade spillover channels. The expansion in global trade has been underpinned by a diffusion of key systemic players, both in size and in links. Not only has the number of key players increased, but there has been a shift in relative importance in global trade, from large advanced economies such as Japan and the United Kingdom to EMEs such China and India. Importantly, China is now on par with the United States ranking first in systemic importance not only in terms of size but also in terms of significant bilateral trade relations. This has important implications on trade spillovers as the sources of demand shift in the process of rebalancing.

47. There is a high correlation between trade and financial interconnectedness. There is a strong overlap between countries hosting both systemically important trade and financial sectors, implying a heightened potential for these countries to transmit disturbances via either the trade channel or the financial channel, or both channels simultaneously. These countries would constitute a natural focus of risk-based surveillance on cross-border spillovers and contagion.

48. Changes in relative prices result in substantial responses in trade flows in Japan, the Euro Area, and the United States, and less so in China. While still important, rebalancing effects are relatively small in China due to its downstream position in the production chain and greater content of imported intermediates in its exports. China’s role as an assembly hub for the region’s high-technology exports mitigates the impact emanating from relative price changes. The alternative simulation suggests the rebalancing impact on China is likely to be larger in the case where other countries in the supply chain also appreciate. Notwithstanding the stylized nature of the simulation exercise, the results for China are broadly consistent with findings of the April 2011 Regional Economic Outlook for the Asia and Pacific Region suggesting the impact in third markets to be more muted if only the currency of the final supplier appreciates as opposed to when other intermediate suppliers also appreciate. Exports of the three advanced economies—and in particular Japan—are significantly more sensitive to relative price changes given that these countries are located upstream in the production process.

49. Trade with supply chain partners is generally more resilient to exchange rate changes and rebalancing takes place predominantly outside the supply chain. The reason is not only the position of market power our simulation countries enjoy in their respective supply chain partners but also the perceived higher cost of breaking up a trading relationship. Imports from supply chain partners upstream in the production process also tend to increase less or even fall in response to an exchange rate appreciation in the simulation country. This is especially the case in China, a downstream country in the production process.

50. Real exchange rate shifts of the magnitude considered would not result in a substantial reorganization of trading networks and production chains. The simulations suggest that the magnitude of the trade response to exchange rate shifts differs by sector but the overall structure of export and import baskets remains broadly unchanged in the countries under consideration. Although sub-sectors react asymmetrically to exchange rate shifts, these differential impacts are not large enough to alter sectoral export shares significantly. This finding is generally consistent with the notion that export structures are path-dependent and reflect the outcome of long cumulative processes of learning, agglomeration, institution building and business culture. Moving from a low-technology structure to a high technology structure typically involves a broad and integrated set of economic policies conducive to technological absorption and adaptation.

51. Exchange rate appreciation may lead not only to an increase in a country’s share of high-technology exports but also to quality upgrading. The simulation results have shown that an exchange rate appreciation may lead to an increase in the share of a country’s high-technology exports. Although not captured in our model, this effect is likely to be further strengthened, namely via intra-product quality upgrading. Since high-quality goods are less sensitive to price shocks, exporting firms are more likely to be able to withstand competitive pressures emanating from shifts in relative prices. In the case of China and other EMEs with potential to appreciate in the near future, this effect may lead to increasing convergence not only in the types of products exported but also in terms of quality levels from the currently very disparate values.

52. The growing importance of global supply chains further increases the international transmission of shocks, including policy-induced ones. Compared to Europe or North America, global supply chains in Asia are more integrated regionally and their export structure is more intertwined. This makes them more vulnerable to country- or product-specific disruptions. Any disruption of trade flows, particularly in intra-regional trade flows in Asia, could jeopardize the positive development observed in the past two decades. Protecting the free flow of inputs as well as outputs should be a top priority. This could be done in terms of binding the region’s unilateral tariff cuts in the WTO by concluding Doha, but could also be done by including all the key players in regional FTAs such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). An exclusion of a key player such as China in regional FTAs could create bilateral tensions and potentially undermine the free flow of goods underpinning the Asian supply chain.

53. The resilience of supply chain relations may be tested by the recent earthquake in Japan, although substitution away from Japanese exporters may be difficult in the short run. A disruption in the supply of sophisticated intermediate manufacturing inputs by an upstream exporter as Japan is unprecedented and provides for a real life experiment of supply chain resilience. In the short run, substitution away from Japanese exporters may be difficult given their dominant market position in key sophisticated intermediate inputs and possibly patent-related constraints. Nonetheless, a prolonged disruption in supply and a rundown of inventories may force firms to replace Japanese exports from other sources. A rethinking of the “just-in-time” production model may result in a reorientation of production and sourcing networks in global supply chains.

54. To increase resilience to international price shocks, policy makers should create an environment enabling firms to undertake quality upgrading of products. The aggregate impact of an exchange rate shock on trade flows is shown to be large in the long run and domestic firms’ profits will begin to be compressed in the short run as they struggle to retain export market share. With sectors experiencing a symmetric relative price shock, the most promising strategy for policy makers may be enabling firms to respond to unfavorable exchange rate movements via quality upgrading. Apart from providing a reliable macroeconomic environment, policy makers should therefore aim to lower costs of doing business and those of establishing trade relationships.

Changing Patterns of Global Trade
Author: International Monetary Fund