International Trade and Intertemporal Substitution

By Fernando Leibovici and Michael Waugh

This paper studies the dynamics of international trade flows at business cycle frequencies. We show that introducing dynamic considerations into an otherwise standard model of trade can account for several puzzling features of trade flows at business cycle frequencies. Our insight is that because international trade is time-intensive, variation in the rate at which agents are willing to substitute across time affects how trade volumes respond to changes in output and prices. We formalize this idea and calibrate our model to match key features of U.S. data. We find that, in contrast to standard static models of international trade, our model is quantitatively consistent with salient features of U.S. cyclical import fluctuations. We also find that our model accounts for two-thirds of the peak-to-trough decline in imports during the 2008-2009 recession.

There were lots of exciting papers to choose from in this week’s NEP-DGE report. I chose this one because it shows that international trade theory is finally awakening from its slumber to realize that dynamics and expectations matter. I think that is pretty big in itself.


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