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Geography, Trade, and Power-Law Phenomena  

Pao-Li Chang and Wen-Tai Hsu

This article reviews interrelated power-law phenomena in geography and trade. Given the empirical evidence on the gravity equation in trade flows across countries and regions, its theoretical underpinnings are reviewed. The gravity equation amounts to saying that trade flows follow a power law in distance (or geographic barriers). It is concluded that in the environment with firm heterogeneity, the power law in firm size is the key condition for the gravity equation to arise. A distribution is said to follow a power law if its tail probability follows a power function in the distribution’s right tail. The second part of this article reviews the literature that provides the microfoundation for the power law in firm size and reviews how this power law (in firm size) may be related to the power laws in other distributions (in incomes, firm productivity and city size).


Preferential Trade Agreements: Recent Theoretical and Empirical Developments  

James Lake and Pravin Krishna

In recent decades, there has been a dramatic proliferation of preferential trade agreements (PTAs) between countries that, while legal, contradict the non-discrimination principle of the world trade system. This raises various issues, both theoretical and empirical, regarding the evolution of trade policy within the world trade system and the welfare implications for PTA members and non-members. The survey starts with the Kemp-Wan-Ohyama and Panagariya-Krishna analyses in the literature that theoretically show PTAs can always be constructed so that they (weakly) increase the welfare of members and non-members. Considerable attention is then devoted to recent developments on the interaction between PTAs and multilateral trade liberalization, focusing on two key incentives: an “exclusion incentive” of PTA members and a “free riding incentive” of PTA non-members. While the baseline presumption one should have in mind is that these incentives lead PTAs to inhibit the ultimate degree of global trade liberalization, this presumption can be overturned when dynamic considerations are taken into account or when countries can negotiate the degree of multilateral liberalization rather than facing a binary choice over global free trade. Promising areas for pushing this theoretical literature forward include the growing use of quantitative trade models, incorporating rules of origin and global value chains, modeling the issues surrounding “mega-regional” agreements, and modelling the possibility of exit from PTAs. Empirical evidence in the literature is mixed regarding whether PTAs lead to trade diversion or trade creation, whether PTAs have significant adverse effects on non-member terms-of-trade, whether PTAs lead members to lower external tariffs on non-members, and the role of PTAs in facilitating deep integration among members.


Sparse Grids for Dynamic Economic Models  

Johannes Brumm, Christopher Krause, Andreas Schaab, and Simon Scheidegger

Solving dynamic economic models that capture salient real-world heterogeneity and nonlinearity requires the approximation of high-dimensional functions. As their dimensionality increases, compute time and storage requirements grow exponentially. Sparse grids alleviate this curse of dimensionality by substantially reducing the number of interpolation nodes, that is, grid points needed to achieve a desired level of accuracy. The construction principle of sparse grids is to extend univariate interpolation formulae to the multivariate case by choosing linear combinations of tensor products in a way that reduces the number of grid points by orders of magnitude relative to a full tensor-product grid and doing so without substantially increasing interpolation errors. The most popular versions of sparse grids used in economics are (dimension-adaptive) Smolyak sparse grids that use global polynomial basis functions, and (spatially adaptive) sparse grids with local basis functions. The former can economize on the number of interpolation nodes for sufficiently smooth functions, while the latter can also handle non-smooth functions with locally distinct behavior such as kinks. In economics, sparse grids are particularly useful for interpolating the policy and value functions of dynamic models with state spaces between two and several dozen dimensions, depending on the application. In discrete-time models, sparse grid interpolation can be embedded in standard time iteration or value function iteration algorithms. In continuous-time models, sparse grids can be embedded in finite-difference methods for solving partial differential equations like Hamilton-Jacobi-Bellman equations. In both cases, local adaptivity, as well as spatial adaptivity, can add a second layer of sparsity to the fundamental sparse-grid construction. Beyond these salient use-cases in economics, sparse grids can also accelerate other computational tasks that arise in high-dimensional settings, including regression, classification, density estimation, quadrature, and uncertainty quantification.


Trade Agreements: Theoretical Foundations  

Mostafa Beshkar and Eric Bond

International trade agreements have played a significant role in the reduction of trade barriers that has taken place since the end of World War II. One objective of the theoretical literature on trade agreements is to address the question of why bilateral and multilateral trade agreements, rather than simple unilateral actions by individual countries, have been required to reduce trade barriers. The predominant explanation has been the terms of trade theory, which argues that unilateral tariff policies lead to a prisoner’s dilemma due to the negative effect of a country’s tariffs on its trading partners. Reciprocal tariff reductions through a trade agreement are required to obtain tariff reductions that improve on the noncooperative equilibrium. An alternative explanation, the commitment theory of trade agreements, focuses on the use of external enforcement under a trade agreement to discipline domestic politics. A second objective of the theoretical literature has been to understand the design of trade agreements. Insights from contract theory are used to study various flexibility mechanisms that are embodied in trade agreements. These mechanisms include contingent protection measures such as safeguards and antidumping, and unilateral flexibility through tariff overhang. The literature also addresses the enforcement of agreements in the absence of an external enforcement mechanism. The theories of the dispute settlement process of the WTO portray it as an institution with an informational role that facilitates the coordination among parties with incomplete information about the states of the world and the nature of the actions taken by each signatory. Finally, the literature examines whether the ability to form preferential trade agreements serves as a stumbling block or a building block to multilateral liberalization.