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The Tradability of Services: Geographic Concentration and Trade Costs

Working Papers 15-12


To date, empirical studies have focused almost exclusively on the trade exposure of the manufacturing sector, implicitly assuming that services are not tradable. However, because service trade has grown over time and now accounts for about 20 percent of global international transactions (and 30 percent of US exports), the traditional assumption that goods are tradable and services are not is increasingly inadequate. Gervais and Jensen use a unique dataset on the distribution of producers and consumers across regions of the United States to estimate the share of economic activity exposed to international competition. Their estimation method is a natural extension of the gravity model of trade and identifies trade costs in the absence of trade data. The estimated trade costs are higher on average for service industries, but there is considerable variation across industries within sectors. Using the trade cost estimates, they classify industries into tradable and nontradable categories. They find that accounting for tradable service industries nearly doubles the international exposure of the US economy, tradable services value added is unevenly distributed across geographical regions, labor productivity and wages are higher on average for tradable industries, and potential welfare gains from trade liberalization in the service sector are sizable.

Data disclosure: The publicly available data used in this working paper are available from the US Census Bureau County Business Patterns program. The confidential data used in the paper are available through the Center for Economic Studies Research Data Center program.

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