Lesson 1, Topic 1
In Progress

International Trade


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History of International Trade

We live in a global marketplace. The food on your table might include fresh fruit from Chile, cheese from France, and bottled water from Scotland. Your wireless phone might have been made in Taiwan or Korea. The clothes you wear might be designed in Italy and manufactured in China. The toys you give to a child might have come from India. The car you drive might come from Japan, Germany, or Korea. The gasoline in the tank might be refined from crude oil from Saudi Arabia, Mexico, or Nigeria. As a worker, if your job is involved with farming, machinery, airplanes, cars, scientific instruments, or many other technology-related industries, the odds are good that a hearty proportion of the sales of your employer—and hence the money that pays your salary—comes from export sales. We are all linked by international trade, and the volume of that trade has grown dramatically in the last few decades.

The first wave of globalization started in the nineteenth century and lasted up to the beginning of World War I. Over that time, global exports as a share of global GDP rose from less than 1% of GDP in 1820 to 9% of GDP in 1913. As the Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman of Princeton University wrote in 1995:

It is a late-twentieth-century conceit that we invented the global economy just yesterday. In fact, world markets achieved an impressive degree of integration during the second half of the nineteenth century. Indeed, if one wants a specific date for the beginning of a truly global economy, one might well choose 1869, the year in which both the Suez Canal and the Union Pacific railroad were completed. By the eve of the First World War steamships and railroads had created markets for standardized commodities, like wheat and wool, that were fully global in their reach. Even the global flow of information was better than modern observers, focused on electronic technology, tend to realize: the first submarine telegraph cable was laid under the Atlantic in 1858, and by 1900 all of the world’s major economic regions could effectively communicate instantaneously.

This first wave of globalization crashed to a halt in the beginning of the twentieth century. World War I severed many economic connections. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, many nations misguidedly tried to fix their own economies by reducing foreign trade with others.

World War II further hindered international trade. Global flows of goods and financial capital rebuilt themselves only slowly after World War II. It was not until the early 1980s that global economic forces again became as important, relative to the size of the world economy, as they were before World War I.

Theory of International Trade

International Trade takes place because of the variations in productive factors in different countries. The variations of productive factors cause differences in price in different countries and the price differences are the main cause of international trade. There are numerous advantages of international trade accruing to all the participants of such trade. A few of such advantages are mentioned below:

  • Efficient use of productive factors: The biggest advantage of international trade relates to the advantages accruing from territorial division of labour and international specialization. International trade enables a country to specialize in the production of those commodities in which it enjoys special advantages. All countries are not equally endowed with natural resources and other facilities for the production of goods and services of various kinds. Some countries are richly endowed with land and forest resources, which others happen to have abundant capital resources. Some others have abundant supplies of labour power. Without international trade, a country will have to produce all the goods it requires irrespective of the costs involved. But international trade enables a country to produce only those goods in which it has a comparative advantage or an absolute advantage and import the rest from other countries. This leads to international specialisation or division of labour, which, in turn, enables efficient use of the productive factors with minimum wastages. Specialisation would also lead to economies of scaleand which, in turn, would lead to reduction of cost of products andservices.
  • Equality in commodity and factor prices: International trade leads to an equality of the prices of internationally traded goods and productive factors in all the trading regions of the world. It should, however, be remembered that the gains arising from international trade shall be available to the participating countries only if trade is free and unfettered. If the trade is subjected to tariff and non-tariff restrictions by the trading countries, thegains of international trade get nullified in the process to a large extend.

International trade is the exchange of goods and services between countries. This type of trade gives rise to a world economy, in which prices, or supply and demand, affect and are affected by global events. Political change in Asia, for example, could result in an increase in the cost oflabor, thereby increasing the manufacturing costs for an American sneaker company based in Malaysia, which would then result in an increase in the price that you have to pay to buy the tennis shoes at your local mall. A decrease in the cost of labor, on the other hand, would result in you having to pay less for your new shoes.

Trading globally gives consumers and countries the opportunity to be exposed to goods and services not available in their own countries. Almost every kind of product can be found on the international market: food, clothes, spare parts, oil, jewelry, wine, stocks, currencies, and water. Services are also traded: tourism, banking, consulting and transportation. A product that is sold to the global market is an export, and a product that is bought from the global market is an import. Imports and exports are accounted for in a country’s current account in the balance ofpayments.

Increased Efficiency of Trading Globally

Global trade allows wealthy countries to use their resources—whether labor, technology or capital— more efficiently. Because countries are endowed with different assets and natural resources (land, labor, capital and technology), some countries may produce the same good more efficiently and therefore sell it more cheaply than other countries. If a country cannot efficiently produce an item, it can obtain the item by trading with another country that can. This is known as specialization in international trade.

Let’s take a simple example. Country A and Country B both produce cotton sweaters and wine. Country A produces ten sweaters and six bottles of wine a year while Country B produces six sweaters and ten bottles of wine a year. Both can produce a total of 16 units. Country A, however, takes three hours to produce the ten sweaters and two hours to produce the six bottles of wine (total of five hours). Country B, on the other hand, takes one hour to produce ten sweaters and three hours to produce six bottles of wine (total of four hours).

But these two countries realize that they could produce more by focusing on those products with which they have a comparative advantage. Country A then begins to produce only wine, and Country B produces only cotton sweaters. Each country can now create a specialized output of 20 units per year and trade equal proportions of both products. As such, each country now has access to 20 units of both products.

We can see then that for both countries, the opportunity cost of producing both products is greater than the cost of specializing. More specifically, for each country, the opportunity cost of producing 16 units of both sweaters and wine is 20 units of both products (after trading).

Specialization reduces their opportunity cost and therefore maximizes their efficiencyin acquiring the goods they need. With the greater supply, the price of each product would decrease, thus giving an advantage to the end consumer aswell.

Note that, in the example above, Country B could produce both wine and cotton more efficiently than Country A (less time). This is called an absolute advantage, and Country B may have it because of a higher level of technology. However, according to the international trade theory, even if a country has an absolute advantage over another, it can still benefit from specialization.

Other Possible Benefits of Trading Globally

International trade not only results in increased efficiency but also allows countries to participate in a global economy, encouraging the opportunity of foreign direct investment (FDI), which is the amount of money that individuals invest into foreign companies and other assets. In theory, economies can, therefore, grow more efficiently and can more easily become competitive economic participants.

For the receiving government, FDI is a means by which foreign currency and expertise can enter the country. These raise employment levels, and, theoretically, lead to a growth in the grossdomestic product. For the investor, FDI offers company expansion and growth, which means higher revenues.

Free Trade Vs. Protectionism

As with other theories, there are opposing views. International trade has two contrasting views regarding the level of control placed on trade: free trade and protectionism. Free trade is the simpler of the two theories: a laissez-faire approach, with no restrictions on trade. The main idea is that supply and demand factors, operating on a global scale, will ensure that production happens efficiently. Therefore, nothing needs to be done to protect or promote trade and growth, because market forces will do so automatically.

In contrast, protectionism holds that regulation of international trade is important to ensure that markets function properly. Advocates of this theory believe that market inefficiencies may hamper the benefits of international trade, and they aim to guide the market accordingly.

Protectionism exists in many different forms, but the most common are tariffs, subsidies, and quotas. These strategies attempt to correct any inefficiency in the international market.

The Bottom Line

As it opens up the opportunity for specialization, and therefore more efficient use of resources, international trade has the potential to maximize a country’s capacity to produce and acquire goods. Opponents of global free trade have argued, however, that international trade still allows for inefficiencies that leave developing nations compromised. What is certain is that the global economy is in a state of continual change, and, as it develops, so too must all of its participants.

ACTIVITY 11.4

  1. What is international trade? Discuss the history of global trade.
  2. Explain the theory of International trade and its advantages.
  3. What are the efficiencies of International trading?
  4. Write note on Free Trading.