Global imbalances revisited: The transfer problem and transport costs in monopolistic competition

Authors: Paolo Epifani and Gino Gancia

Journal of International Economics, Vol. 108, 99–116, September, 2017

We study the welfare effects of trade imbalances in a two-sector model of monopolistic competition. As in perfect competition, a trade surplus involves an income transfer to the deficit country and possibly a terms-of-trade deterioration. Unlike the conventional wisdom, however, trade imbalances do not impose any double burden on surplus countries. This is because of a production-delocation effect, which leads to a reduction in the local price index. In the presence of intermediate goods, new results arise: A trade surplus may lead to an appreciation of the exchange rate, to a terms-of-trade improvement and even to a welfare increase. Numerical simulations show that, under realistic assumptions about preferences and technology, the beneficial price-index effect can significantly reduce the direct cost of the transfer.

This paper originally appeared as Barcelona School of Economics Working Paper 864