What goes around comes around: Export-enhancing effects of import-tariff reductions

In international trade, transportation requires a round trip for which a transport firm has to commit to shipping capacity that is sufficient to meet the maximum shipping volume. This may cause the “backhaul problem.” Trade theory suggests that, facing the problem, transport firms with market power adjust their freight rates strategically when import tariffs change. As a consequence, a country reducing its import tariffs may experience an increase in exports as well as imports. Using worldwide data covering 1995–2007, we find evidence that supports these predictions: a 1% reduction in an importer’s tariffs increases the import freight rates by around 0.8%; decreases the export freight rates by around 1.1%; and increases the export quantity by 0.6% to 1%. These findings indicate a new mechanism through which import-tariff reductions lead to export expansions.

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