A country has an absolute advantage in those products in which it has a productivity edge over other countries; it takes fewer resources to produce a product. A country has a comparative advantage when it can produce a good at a lower cost in terms of other goods. Countries that specialize based on comparative advantage gain from trade.
Even when a country has high levels of productivity in all goods, it can still benefit from trade. Gains from trade come about as a result of comparative advantage. By specializing in a good that it gives up the least to produce, a country can produce more and offer that additional output for sale. If other countries specialize in the area of their comparative advantage as well and trade, the highly productive country is able to benefit from a lower opportunity cost of production in other countries.
A large share of global trade happens between high-income economies that are quite similar in having well-educated workers and advanced technology. These countries practice intra-industry trade, in which they import and export the same products at the same time, like cars, machinery, and computers. In the case of intra-industry trade between economies with similar income levels, the gains from trade come from specialized learning in very particular tasks and from economies of scale. Splitting up the value chain means that several stages of producing a good take place in different countries around the world.
Tariffs are placed on imported goods as a way of protecting sensitive industries, for humanitarian reasons, and for protection against dumping. Traditionally, tariffs were used as a political tool to protect certain vested economic, social, and cultural interests. The WTO has been, and continues to be, a way for nations to meet and negotiate in order to reduce barriers to trade. The gains of international trade are very large, especially for smaller countries, but are beneficial to all.
1. True or False: The source of comparative advantage must be natural elements like climate and mineral deposits. Explain.
2. Brazil can produce 100 pounds of beef or 10 autos. In contrast the United States can produce 40 pounds of beef or 30 autos. Which country has the absolute advantage in beef? Which country has the absolute advantage in producing autos? What is the opportunity cost of producing one pound of beef in Brazil? What is the opportunity cost of producing one pound of beef in the United States?
- Who has the absolute advantage in the production of televisions? Who has the absolute advantage in the production of video cameras? How can you tell?
- Calculate the opportunity cost of producing one additional television set in Germany and in Poland. (Your calculation may involve fractions, which is fine.) Which country has a comparative advantage in the production of televisions?
- Calculate the opportunity cost of producing one video camera in Germany and in Poland. Which country has a comparative advantage in the production of video cameras?
- In this example, is absolute advantage the same as comparative advantage, or not?
- In what product should Germany specialize? In what product should Poland specialize?
- Based on these data, sketch a curve with quantity produced on the horizontal axis and average cost of production on the vertical axis. How does the curve illustrate economies of scale?
- If the equilibrium quantity of semiconductors demanded is 90,000, can this economy take full advantage of economies of scale? What about if quantity demanded is 70,000 semiconductors? 50,000 semiconductors? 30,000 semiconductors?
- Explain how international trade could make it possible for even a small economy to take full advantage of economies of scale, while also benefiting from competition and the variety offered by several producers.
|Quantity of Semiconductors||Average Total Cost|
7. If the removal of trade barriers is so beneficial to international economic growth, why would a nation continue to restrict trade on some imported or exported products?
8. What is absolute advantage? What is comparative advantage?
9. Under what conditions does comparative advantage lead to gains from trade?
- Draw a production possibilities frontier for each country. Hint: Remember the production possibility frontier is the maximum that all workers can produce at a unit of time which, in this problem, is a week.
- Identify which country has the absolute advantage in green beans and which country has the absolute advantage in tomatoes.
- Identify which country has the comparative advantage.
- How much would France have to give up in terms of tomatoes to gain from trade? How much would it have to give up in terms of green beans?
- Who has the absolute advantage in the production of rubber or radios? How can you tell?
- Calculate the opportunity cost of producing 80 additional radios in Japan and in Malaysia. (Your calculation may involve fractions, which is fine.) Which country has a comparative advantage in the production of radios?
- Calculate the opportunity cost of producing 10 additional tons of rubber in Japan and in Malaysia. Which country has a comparative advantage in producing rubber?
- In this example, does each country have an absolute advantage and a comparative advantage in the same good?
- In what product should Japan specialize? In what product should Malaysia specialize?
- Draw a production possibilities frontier for each country. Assume there are 100 workers in each country. Canadians and Venezuelans desire both oil and lumber. Canadians want at least 2,000 tons of lumber. Mark a point on their production possibilities where they can get at least 3,000 tons.
- Assume that the Canadians specialize completely because they figured out they have a comparative advantage in lumber. They are willing to give up 1,000 tons of lumber. How much oil should they ask for in return for this lumber to be as well off as they were with no trade? How much should they ask for if they want to gain from trading with Venezuela? Note: We can think of this “ask” as the relative price or trade price of lumber.
- Is the Canadian “ask” you identified in (b) also beneficial for Venezuelans? Use the production possibilities frontier graph for Venezuela to show that Venezuelans can gain from trade.