January 2021

Misallocation in Open Economy

Maria D. Tito and Ruoying Wang


This paper estimates the impact of reducing export and import tariffs on firm input choices. In presence of borrowing constraints, lower export tariffs facilitate the reallocation of capital and labor inputs across firms, while a decline in import tariffs either tightens import competition or increases the availability of imported inputs; all three mechanisms suggest that a higher degree of openness should be associated with lower misallocation. To analyze the empirical relationship between openness and input misallocation, we draw on the annual surveys conducted by the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) between 1998 and 2007. From the surveys, we con- struct firm-level measures of input misallocation that control for firm heterogeneity; we identify shocks to openness using industry tariff levels and firm trade shares. We find that firm facing higher tariffs in either import or export markets make less optimal input choices. We further decompose our analysis between input and output tariffs: our results suggest that the labor reallocation mainly occurs because of lower input tariffs, while the selection effect induced by changes in output tariffs does not necessarily cause more distorted firms to exit and, therefore, tends to have an insignificant effect on input allocation. Finally, we calculate the contribution of tariff changes towards aggregate misallocation and productivity: our results indicate that the impact of firm-level tariff reductions on aggregate misallocation and productivity was marginal in our sample period, but the presence of sizeable interactions between trade shocks and mis- allocation at the sector level suggests that our result should be interpreted as a lower bound of the overall effect.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17016/FEDS.2021.007

PDF: Full Paper

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Last Update: January 29, 2021