Sunday, March 31, 2013

31/3/2013: World Trade Drivers: policy or simple innovation?

A very important issue of logistics and transport innovation effect on trade flows is tackled in the study by Bernhofen, Daniel M., El-Sahli, Zouheir and Kneller, Richard, titled "Estimating the Effects of the Container Revolution on World Trade" CESifo Working Paper Series No. 4136, February 2013.

[Note: Italics are mine]

From the abstract: "The introduction of containerization triggered complementary technological and organizational changes that revolutionized global freight transport. Despite numerous claims about the importance of containerization in stimulating international trade, econometric estimates on the effects of containerization on trade appear to be missing. Our paper fills this gap in the literature. Our key idea is to exploit time and cross-sectional variation in countries’ adoption of port or railway container facilities to construct a time-varying bilateral technology variable and estimate its effect on explaining variations in bilateral product level trade flows in a large panel for the period 1962-1990."

Per findings: "Our estimates suggest that containerization did not only stimulate trade in containerizable products (like auto parts) but also had complementary effects on non-containerizables (like automobiles). As expected, we find larger effects on North-North trade than on North-South or South-South trade and much smaller effects when ignoring railway containerization. Regarding North-North trade, the cumulative average treatment effects of containerization over a 20 year time period amount to about 700%, can be interpreted as causal, and are much larger than the effects of free trade agreements or the GATT. In a nutshell, we provide the first econometric evidence for containerization to be a driver of 20th century economic globalization."

Now, 700% over 20 years is a massive uplift in what was already a much-advanced trade system (North-North). With South-South and North-South trade flows now rapidly converging in terms of volumes and type of goods traded to those of North-North, I would suspect we will see an equally massive positive impact on these trade flows as well, and as a result on global trade.

The evidence presented in the study is of huge importance. It shows just how impactful can a simple, non-formal-R&D driven innovation can be and it also puts into the context the scope for policy intervention vs organic business-led innovation intervention in delivering market outcomes.

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