Tag: Trade barriers

Russian Wheat Policies and Georgia’s Strategic Trade Policies

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Russia is known for periodically halting its grain exports to impact global wheat prices. This has become a significant policy concern in recent years, most notably during the Covid-19 pandemic and in the wake of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Georgia heavily depends on wheat imports, and over 95 percent of its wheat has historically been sourced from Russia. Despite Russia’s periodic bans and restrictions on wheat exports occurring every 2-3 years, Georgia is yet to effectively diversify its sources of wheat imports. This policy brief analyses the impact of Russia’s most recent wheat policies on Georgia’s wheat market, examines Georgia’s response, and provides policy recommendations in this regard.

In June 2023, the Georgian government introduced a temporary import duty on wheat flour imported from Russia in response to requests from the Georgian Flour Producers Association. The association began advocating for an import duty after Russia, in 2021, imposed a so-called “floating tariff” on wheat which made it relatively more expensive to import wheat in comparison to wheat flour. As a result of the “floating tariff” on wheat, wheat flour imports skyrocketed and almost fully substituted wheat imports. Eventually, many Georgian mills shut down and local wheat producers struggled to sell domestically produced wheat. Such an increase in flour imports raises the risk of completely replacing domestically produced flour with flour imported from Russia.

To address the above, the government has implemented a temporary import duty of 200 GEL (75 USD) per ton on wheat flour imported from Russia (the average import price ranges between 225 USD/ton and 435 USD/ton). In turn, millers have agreed to purchase 1 kilogram of wheat from Georgian farmers for 0.7 GEL (0.3 USD). This policy measure is in effect until March 1, 2024.

The Georgian Flour Producers Association advocates for an extension of the temporary import duty beyond March 1, 2024, to uphold fair competition in the wheat and flour market. According to the Georgian Flour Producers Association, an extension is desirable due to the following (Resonance daily, 2024):

  • Under the import duty, fair competition between wheat flour and wheat has been restored, and Georgian mills have resumed their operations.
  • Following the government intervention, farmers have successfully sold over 50,000 tons (on average half of the annual production) of domestically produced wheat. The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture has reported a 60 percent increase in local wheat production over the past two years, with expectations of sustained growth.
  • Wheat imports have resumed, with Georgia importing 20,000 to 25,000 tons of wheat monthly, while prior to the government intervention, the average monthly wheat imports amounted to 15,337 tons (in 2022). Additionally, 8,000 to 12,000 tons of wheat flour, on average, are also imported monthly, while in the absence of government intervention, wheat flour imports surged to over 15,000 tons (in 2022).
  • Post-intervention, the price of 100 kilograms of first-quality flour has remained stable, ranging from 45 to 49 GEL. Consequently, the price of bread has not increased but remains steady.
  • The import duty has generated an additional 20 million GEL in government revenue.
  • Through the efforts of the mills, the country now enjoys a steady and strategically managed supply of wheat, in accordance with UN recommendations. Coupled with the seasonal harvest of Georgian wheat, this ensures complete food security in any unforeseen critical scenario.

While many arguments support the decision to preserve the import duty on wheat flour, in order to make an informed decision on that matter, it is essential to thoroughly assess production, trade and price dynamics in the wheat market in Georgia. Additionally, to design adequate trade policy measures, one has also to consider the issue in a broader perspective and assess the risks associated with a high dependency on Russian wheat, especially given Russia’s history of imposing wheat export restrictions.

Russian Policy on the Wheat Market

Russia has long been one of the dominant players on the global wheat market, and its periodic decisions to halt grain exports have heavily affected international wheat prices (see Table 1). This concern became especially stringent in recent years, during the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Table 1. Russia’s policy interventions in the wheat market and their estimated impact on wheat prices, 2007-2023.

Source: United States Department of Agriculture, 2022.
The Government of the Russian Federation.
The Kansas City Wheat Futures, The U.S. Wheat Associates.

One of Russia’s most recent interventions in the wheat market is its withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative – an agreement between Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, and the United Nations (UN) during the Russian invasion of Ukraine on the Safe Transportation of Grain and Foodstuffs from Ukrainian ports. While Georgia doesn’t directly import wheat from Ukraine and isn’t immediately threatened by famine, Russia’s export policies regarding wheat have raised significant food security concerns in the country. Georgia heavily depends on wheat imports from Russia, with over 95 percent of its wheat historically being sourced from there. Despite Russia’s recurrent bans and restrictions on wheat exports every 2-3 years, Georgia is yet to successfully diversify its import sources.

The Georgian Wheat Market in Figures

Domestic Production

Historically, Georgia’s agricultural sector has struggled to achieve a large-scale and sufficient wheat production due to the prevalence of small-sized farms. However, over the past decade, Georgian domestic wheat production has shown significant growth (see Figure 1). This growth has been particularly sizeable in recent years, with production increasing by 32 and 53 percent in 2021 and 2022, respectively, as compared to 2020.

Figure 1. Wheat production in Georgia, 2014-2022.

Source: Geostat, 2024.

Such increase in local production positively contributes to the self-sufficiency ratio, which increased from 7 percent in 2014 to 22 percent in 2022, in turn implying higher food security levels.

Wheat Imports

Before the introduction of Russia’s floating tariff on wheat, wheat flour imports to Georgia were almost non-existent. However, after the floating tariff was imposed on wheat, imports of wheat flour increased more than 20 times – from 743 tons in January 2021 to 15,086 tons in May 2023 – peaking at 23,651 tons in August 2022 (see Figure 2). At the same time wheat imports declined by almost 60 percent, from 29,397 tons in January 2021 to 12,133 tons in May 2023, with the smallest import quantity being 2,743 tons in May 2022 (as depicted in Figure 2).

Figure 2. Georgian wheat and wheat flour imports, 2021-2023.

Source: Geostat, 2024. Note: Imports include meslin (a mixture of wheat and rye grains).

After the introduction of the temporary import duty on wheat flour in June 2023, wheat imports have picked up, although not reaching the levels seen in 2021. Similarly, wheat flour imports have declined while remaining at higher levels than in 2021. This indicates a change in Georgia’s wheat market dynamics. Historically, Georgia predominantly imported wheat; now it imports both wheat and wheat flour. This shift must be considered in future policy design, as it has implications for domestic wheat farmers and mills.

The continued wheat flour imports, despite the temporary import duty imposed by the Georgian Government can likely be attributed to a smaller price gap between wheat and wheat flour import prices (see Table 2).

Table 2. Average import prices of wheat and wheat flour in Georgia, 2021-2023.

Source: Geostat, 2024.

In 2021, prior to Russia’s introduction of a floating tariff on wheat, the import price of wheat flour in Georgia was 24 percent higher than the import price of wheat. After the introduction of the floating tariff, importing wheat became more expensive, and the import price gap between wheat flour and wheat decreased to 22 percent by the end of 2021. Subsequently, in 2022, this gap further narrowed, and by the first half of 2023, the import price of wheat flour was 5 percent lower than the import price of wheat. This significant decrease in the price gap resulted in nearly full substitution of wheat imports with wheat flour imports. After the introduction of the import duty on wheat flour and as international wheat prices declined, a marginal positive price gap has reappeared, amounting to just 1 percent. As it stands, importing wheat flour remains more advantageous than importing wheat.

Price Effects

Russia’s floating tariff on wheat led to increased bread and wheat flour prices in 2021-2022. In June 2022, bread prices experienced the most significant surge, increasing by 36 percent, while wheat flour prices reached their peak in September 2022 with a year-on-year increase of 41 percent (see Figure 3). The primary reason for this was the record increase in wheat prices, leading to a corresponding surge in wheat flour prices in 2022. This spike occurred as the world price of wheat reached its highest point in five years.

Figure 3. Annual change in bread and wheat flour prices, 2021-2023.

Source: Geostat, 2024.

Nevertheless, in 2023 bread and wheat flour prices decreased, indicating that the import duty on wheat flour did not lead to increased prices. This could partially be explained by the fact that mills pay farmers 0.5 GEL/kg, which is lower than agreed price of 0.7 GEL/kg. Another and more crucial factor is the decline in global wheat prices. They began their descent in June 2022 and have since maintained a downward trajectory. This decrease, combined with increased local production, has so far acted as a barrier to any new bread and wheat flour price increases.

The Way Forward

The question that must be addressed is whether the import duty on wheat flour imported from Russia should be extended.

The import duty may have contributed to increased local production as higher import duties can incentivize local businesses to invest in expanding their production capacity or improving their technology to meet an increased demand. It is however essential to note that the impact of import duties on local production varies depending on the level of domestic competition, the availability of inputs (high quality seed, fertilizer etc.), technological capabilities, and government policies beyond import duties (such as investment incentives, infrastructure development, and regulatory environment). Additionally, import duties can also lead to retaliatory measures from trading partners, affecting overall trade dynamics – potentially incurring unintended consequences. Therefore, while import duties can contribute to an increased local production under certain conditions, it is just one of many factors influencing production dynamics.

Secondly, as previously detailed, the import duty has so far not resulted in increased bread prices. However, the effect of an import tariff on retail prices depends on various factors, including elasticity of demand and supply, market, competitiveness, and the extent to which the tariff is passed on to consumers by importers and retailers. Since demand for bread is inelastic, one has to keep in mind that the importers and retailers can fully pass on the increased cost from an import tariff to consumers.

Given that the floating tariff and the import duty make wheat and wheat flour imports to Georgia more expensive, one should expect future bread price increases. This unless international wheat prices continue to decline and/or producers agree to reduce their profit margins or make supply chain changes. Therefore, an extension of the import duty might be a suitable solution in the short and medium-term, but it should not be seen as a permanent solution.

To limit the risks of food scarcity in Georgia in the long run, it is essential to design strategies helping the country to reduce its dependency on Russian wheat and wheat flour. Some measures to achieve this objective may include:

Further supporting local production. Encourage investment in domestic agriculture to increase the productivity and quality of wheat production in Georgia. This can be achieved through subsidies, incentives for modern farming techniques, and access to credit for farmers.

Improving the quality of local production. Currently, most of the domestically produced wheat is unsuitable for milling into wheat flour. A significant portion of domestically produced wheat is of poor quality and instead used for feeding livestock. It is essential to invest in research and development to improve the quality of domestically produced wheat. This includes developing wheat varieties that are resistant to diseases and better suited for local growing conditions.

Seeking alternative markets for import diversification. One alternative for Georgia may be to focus on the Kazakh and Ukrainian markets (once the war is over) and negotiate possible ways to decrease the cost of transporting wheat to Georgia with state and private sector representatives.

Reducing the Georgian dependence on Russian wheat imports requires a multifaceted approach that addresses various aspects of agricultural policy, trade diversification, and domestic production capacity.


Resonance daily. (2024). The Association of Wheat and Flour Producers of Georgia requests an extension of the import tax on imported flour. https://www.resonancedaily.com/index.php?id_rub=4&id_artc=197847

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

US-China Trade War of 2018 and Its Consequences

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The trade war between the United States and China has become one of the main events in the global economy this year. What could be its consequences for the US and China, and how might it affect other countries – for example, Russia? 

Chronology of the trade war

Donald Trump started the war, raising import tariffs on solar panels in January 2018, of which the main supplier is China. In response, on April 2nd, China raised import duties on 128 commodities originating from the United States. On July 6th, the US increased tariffs on Chinese goods by 25 pp., imports worth $34 billion. China responded symmetrically. In August, the United States increased the tariffs on another $16 billion of imported goods from China, to which a symmetrical response again followed. In September, the United States again applied higher tariffs for $200 billion of Chinese exports, and China for $60 billion of US exports. At each stage of the conflict escalation, China appealed to the WTO with complaints about the actions of the United States, pointing to the inconsistency of their actions with the obligations and principles of the WTO. There were several meetings of official representatives from the United States and China – without any significant results.

What are the main reasons for this unprecedented escalation?

Imbalance and intellectual property

The economies of the US and China today are by far the largest in the world, and the trade turnover between the two countries is one of the most important. A remarkable feature of these trade flows over last decades is their imbalance. In 2017, the United States imported $526 billion worth of goods from China, while China’s imports from the United States amounted to $154 billion. Part of this imbalance is offset by trade in services, but it is not enough to even it out: in the same the year the United States delivered $57 billion worth of services to China while importing services of $17 billion from China.

Experts have different views on this imbalance. On the one hand, there is a perception that it is a source of world economy vulnerability, a source of potential crisis. Therefore, it is necessary to reduce the trade deficit. Another point of view is that this imbalance merely reflects the fact that the US economy and its assets are very attractive to investors from all over the world, including Chinese – and that, in turn, requires that the surplus of capital flows biased to US side, was compensated by the corresponding deficit of trade in goods and services. One such investor is the Chinese state itself, which for many years has been pursuing a policy of exchange rate undervaluation in order to promote foreign trade. It led to an enormous accumulation of foreign exchange reserves and as of January 2018, China held $1.17 trillion of US bonds and was the largest creditor of US government.

US President Donald Trump referred to this trade imbalance as one of the reasons for the outbreak of this trade war against China. Trump aims at reducing the deficit by $100 billion from the current $375 billion. The unilateral increase in import tariffs applied to Chinese goods was the first action of the US administration in this direction.

The second, no less important, formal reason for the trade war is the inadequate protection of intellectual property rights in China. China’s production of counterfeit products, the lack of adequate practices and laws to protect foreign technologies from illegal dissemination in the country, is not news to anyone. And although the almost two decades since China’s WTO accession have meant a largely modernized legal framework in this regard, a number of important provisions are still inconsistent with international practices, and the implementation of existing intellectual property rights leaves much to be desired. Established in 2012, The Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property identifies China as the most malicious violator of US rights. The exact damage is not known, but the commission assessment of the losses to the American economy due to the forced transfer of technology to Chinese partners – which is an unspoken condition of foreign manufacturers access to the Chinese market – industrial espionage, contradictions in legislation, requirements for the storage of sensitive data in China are in the range from $225 to $600 billion per year (Office of US Trade Representative, 2018).

While both the trade deficit and the intellectual property rights issue were recognized for many years, it was in 2018 that Trump started acting on them. Therefore, in order to discuss the potential impact of the conflict between the world’s largest economies on themselves and other economies, such as Russia, it is important to understand what drives the actions undertaken by Trump’s administration.


Trump won the elections in 2016 with a minimum margin against the Democratic rival. To provide support for his decisions and to increase the chances of being reelected for the next term in 2020, it is crucial to maximize the pool of his supporters. Trade policy measures aimed at import substitution are very effective populist policies in any country. One of the first steps made by the US toward trade war was the increase in import tariffs on steel and aluminum – for all countries. Metallurgy and coal industries are among the most organized and strong lobbyists in any country. The European Union as an economic organization started with the European Coal and Steel Association. By aligning interests with these sectors much can be achieved in relation to trade liberalization, and vice versa – by increasing the level of protectionism, a significant popularity increase can be among voters whose incomes depend on the success of companies in these industries.


China works hard raising the technological level of its economy. In recent years the Chinese government and Communist party launched a number of ambitious programs aimed at achieving a technological breakthrough, lessening the dependence on imported technologies by substituting them with ones produced by domestic innovation centers. These programs specify the priority sectors, in which state subsidies are provided for the acquisition of foreign technologies by Chinese companies and their adaptation. One of the common arguments was that the United States believes that powerful state support for technology sectors in China, along with the existing problems in protecting intellectual property rights, increases the risks and potential losses of American companies.

However, while these concerns seem reasonable at first, they should not be taken at the face value.

China’s ability to push out American companies in the high-tech sector on the world market seems rather limited. So far, China has only succeeded in increasing its share in the middle and low technology segments. Instead, in recent years, China is rapidly increasing its defense spending, which in 2017, for the first time, reached a level of 1 trillion yuan (about $150 billion). China’s defense spending is the second highest in the world after the United States. Moreover, it’s growing very fast. While in 2005 the Chinese nominal defense expenses were only 10% of American expenses, in 2018 they are already around 40%. The dominance of state enterprises in the defense industry in China implies that the real purchasing value of these expenditures is quite comparable. New and existing Chinese industrial policy programs target military and dual-use industries among others. Therefore whilst addressing the intellectual property rights problem in China now, Trump’s administration also aims at preserving US leadership position in the military sector, which finds widespread support in Trump’s main voter groups among Republicans.

Obsolete weapon

Historically, trade wars implied tariff escalations to protect domestic industries from foreign competition. Today, the Trump administration behaves in a similar manner. However, the circumstances now are fundamentally different from those in the first half of 20th century and earlier. Firms not only trade in final goods, but more and more they trade in intermediate products and within firms themselves (Baldwin, 2012). The distribution of the production process to many companies across different countries of the world leads to two important effects, which were not observed in previous trade wars.

First, it is the effect of the escalation of tariff protection in the framework of the value chains. The import tariff is applied to the gross value of the product crossing the customs border. However, the exporting firm’s contribution to the gross value might be quite small. So the effective level of the tariff will be higher than the nominal level of the tariff, known as a so called amplification effect  (World Bank, 2017, page 98). It means that the effective growth of the tariff by 25 percentage points in relation to Chinese imports will significantly exceed 25 % and in some cases can even become prohibitive. So, the tariff warfare will result in significantly greater losses for the sectors involved in the value chains, compared to the sectors less exposed to them. It means that foreign investors and multinational companies in China will suffer bigger losses compared to purely domestic Chinese companies. The Peterson Institute for International Economics made an assessment and confirmed these observations (Lovely and Yang, 2018).

Second, China’s participation in international multinational companies most often occurs in the assembly segments, while developed countries’ companies contribute at other stages, such as with innovation, design, financial and consulting services, marketing, and after-sales services. Then, the protectionist measures against goods produced in China by multinational companies will hit an American economy, generating losses in the service segments. A similar episode happened, for example, in 2006, when the European Union introduced anti-dumping duties on imported footwear from China and Vietnam, which in turn lead to a decline in the services sector in Europe – imported footwear contained a significant share of the value added created by European designers and distributors (World Bank, 2017). Obviously, we will observe the same consequences in the United States now, since the role of the American services sector in creating and promoting Chinese goods on the American market is significant and according to World Bank estimates in 2011, the contribution of value added generated by foreign services in China’s gross exports amounted to about 15% (World Bank, 2017).

Thus, not only the economy of China, but also the US economy itself will suffer from the growth of import tariffs in the USA. The USA is not an exception here – the governments of most countries continue to live in the paradigm of trade policy, which suits the structure of the world trade as at the beginning of the 20th century, while trade has gone far ahead and requires much more elaborate effective regulatory tools than tariffs on imported goods.

Consequences for Russia

The consequences of the US trade war with China for the Russian economy depend on what the main goals of the war are. If the motive is primarily electoral – to secure enough support in 2020, one can expect that the protective measures will be short-lived, and the geographical distribution of investment flows will remain almost intact and that China will remain an important location for global value chains transactions.  The trade war will in this case lead to some economic slowdown in the short term. The main effects will be related to the redistribution of income within economies, where protected sectors will benefit on the expense of all other sectors. In these circumstances, Russia would suffer direct losses from the growth of tariffs on their exports to US (now it is predominantly steel and aluminum), but for the economy as a whole, the losses will not be significant, especially relative to the losses Russia bears because of sanctions.

However, if the main reason for the trade war has a long-term perspective, the investors will be forced to adjust the geography of their investment plans and China will face a significant outflow of foreign investments, which will significantly affect Chinese – and global – economic growth. In this case, both for Russia and for the whole world, the indirect effect of the US-Chinese trade conflict will be quite noticeable and it will take years to create new trade links and restore world trade and global value chains.


  • Baldwin, Richard, 2012. “Global supply chains: why they emerged, why they matter, and where they are going”, CTEI Working papers 2012-13, The Graduate Institute, Geneve
  • Lovely, Mary E., and Liang Yang, 2018. “Revised Tariffs Against China Hit Chinese Non-Supply Chains Even Harder.” PIIE Policy brief, Peterson Institute
  • Office of the US Trade Representative. March 22, 2018. “Executive office of the President findings of the investigation into China’s acts, policies, and practices related to technology transfer, intellectual property, and innovation under section 301 of the trade act of 1974.”  https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/Section%20301%20FINAL.PDF
  • World Bank, 2017. “Measuring and analyzing the impact of GVCs on economic development”. World Bank, Washington DC.


A longer version of this brief has been published in Russian by Republic: https://republic.ru/posts/92217

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

The Economics of Russian Import Substitution

FREE Network Policy Brief Image | The Economics of Russian Import Substitution

This policy brief discusses the economic mechanisms triggered by import substitution policies, associated losses and conditions that ensure positive economic effects. Numerical estimations of potential effects of Russian import substitution policies indicate a decline in GDP, decrease in output of unprotected sectors and consumers’ welfare losses. We conclude with a discussion of the role imports play in economic efficiency.

Import substitution: pro and contra

Two years after joining the WTO, in the new political reality, Russia began implementing a series of import substitution policies. Supported sectors range from agriculture and production of metal products, to computer equipment and special purpose vehicles. The potential economic effects of these policies are of substantial interest and importance both for researchers, policymakers and the general public. However, they have not yet been quantitatively assessed. This policy brief summarizes the results of a study of these effects conducted at CEFIR in 2016 (Volchkova and Turdyeva, 2016).

Import substitution can be implemented by a range of instruments aimed at creating preferential conditions for domestic producers of imported goods compared to foreign competitors. Barriers to trade are the most common and easily available policy tools. Trade barriers lead to price increase on domestic market relative to the world price of the good.

Domestic manufacturers in the protected industry enjoy higher prices on domestic market, thereby securing higher revenues at the same costs. The protected sector also is able to put into operation those capacities that were generating losses in the absence of protective measures. However, if the economy works at full employment in absence of import substitution, then in order to increase production in the protected sectors, factors should be reallocated there from the other sectors. As a result of the import-substituting policy, producers in unprotected sectors will decrease the scale of production, and some will exit the industry. That is, producers that were efficient enough before import substitution policies will be forced out by those that cannot compete at international prices. From the point of view of welfare economics, this maneuver is accompanied by a loss of economic efficiency.

Economic literature discusses several cases when import substitution can be justified, such as a presence of positive external effects from protected sectors to the economy; learning-by-doing effects in protected sectors; and an infant industry argument. All of these cases imply market failures in the absence of government intervention, leading to lower than socially optimal output of the sector in question. Then, government interventions aiming to increase output – such as import substitution – might bring additional welfare improvement to the economy. If any of these effects do take place then the gain brought by protected sectors may compensate for the loss by the unprotected. To validate any of these cases one needs to perform a thorough and independent analysis of the economy based on very detailed information.

Estimates of static and dynamic effects of import substitution

In order to illustrate the potential effects of import substitution policies in the current Russian situation, we use a static CGE model of the Russian Federation constructed at CEFIR.

Based on publicly available documents (Russian Government’s Decrees №2744-Р 29.12.2015 and № 2781-р 31.12.2015), we identify the sectors that are targeted by the import substitution policy: agriculture and four manufacturing sectors (metal production; machinery and equipment; cars; sea crafts, airplanes and spaceships).

To model the effects of import substitution, we calculate an ad valorem tariff equivalent, which ensures a 10% decline of the volume of import in each of five industries. In order to simulate proposed policy measures, we conduct six experiments: increase in import tariffs in each of five industries individually, and a comprehensive policy change with an increase in all five tariffs simultaneously.

If import substitution policy is implemented not by trade policy instruments but only through producer support measures then it will be accompanied only by changes in relative prices for producers while consumer prices will not be affected and will be determined solely by international prices. In this case, our estimates will represent an upper bound of possible consumers’ losses. Since the distortion of relative prices for producers do not depend on a particular instrument chosen to implement import substitution policy then the consequences for other sectors and for efficiency of the overall production will be the same under trade or domestic policy interventions.

Table 1 shows the results of our calculations. Columns (1) – (5) present the estimates of the effects of the import-substitution measures in the relevant sectors. Column (6) reports the results of the comprehensive policy reform.

Table 1. Consequences of the decline in imports by 10% in the protected sector (s).

  Agriculture Metals Machinery, and equipment Cars Sea crafts, airplanes and space ships Tariff change in all industries
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)
Ad valorem tariff equivalent, % 2.9 3.9 6.1 6.7 5.6
Change in
CPI, % 0.04 0.09 0.39 0.3 0.3 1.0
Protected sectors’ output, % 0.7 2.5 9.8 10.3 8.3 3.8
All other production, % -0.2 -0.4 -0.5 -0.2 -0.5 -2.3
GDP, % -0.002 -0.011 -0.023 -0.005 -0.018 -0.049
Welfare, % -0.015 -0.020 -0.074 -0.041 -0.080 -0.215

Source: Authors’ own estimation.

Our results illustrate the anticipated effect of import substitution policy in economy with full employment. The protected industries increase their output at the expense of other industries. An increase in economic inefficiency is reflected by a fall in GDP.

In order to capture dynamic effects of the proposed import substitution policy, we simulate an import tariff increase in a Solow-type growth model calibrated for the Russian economy. The proposed policies result in a deeper economic decline in 2016 than in the baseline scenario (-0.76% in the baseline scenario and -0.79% in the import substitution scenario), followed by somewhat faster growth in subsequent years due to a lower base. The aftermath of the import substitution policy is still visible in 2020: GDP growth in 2020 relative to 2015 in the baseline equals 2.4365%, while the import restriction in all targeted industries will reduce economic growth in a five-year term by 0.007 percentage points, to 2.4295%. The numbers correspond to the expected reduction in economic efficiency as a result of the import substitution measures.

While numbers in terms of GDP do not look particularly large, the annual losses in GDP in nominal figures correspond to $650 million in value added, which is roughly equivalent to 30,000 jobs lost in Russia due to import substitution. Besides, effect on growth adds to 5,000 more jobs lost over 5 years.

As we mentioned above these losses might potentially be justified by the positive external effect from an increased output of the protected industries on the rest of economy. To ensure this, the selection of industries for protection should have been done through independent expertise based on a thorough analysis of sectoral interaction over time. However, the way the economic policy is formulated in modern Russia, with heavy influence of lobbying groups and very little contribution from independent economic research, we can hardly expect that the industries targeted for import substitution satisfy the objective criteria of positive external effects.

Imports as drivers of competitiveness

Classical trade theory shows that imports are a major cause of gains from trade integration. Modern trade theory complements the classical mechanism by selection effects among heterogeneous firms when only the most productive firms are able to sell in foreign markets (Melitz , 2003).

Keeping in mind that a substantial part of manufacturing trade flows consists of intermediate products that are used as inputs in subsequent production (in the case of Russia, the share of intermediates in imports is more than 60%) then the above reasoning implies that the competitiveness of domestic production is determined, among other things, by the availability of cheap imports.

Numerous empirical studies for many countries confirmed that industries with a higher share of imported intermediate goods are more productive than industries with a lower share (Feenstra, Markusen, and Zeile, 1992). Recent studies, analyzing data at the level of individual firms (Bernard at al., 2012; Castro, Fernandes, and Farolec, 2015; Feng, Li, and Swenson, 2016), confirm that the effect takes place at firm level: firms importing more intermediate goods have higher productivity than firms importing less, other things being equal, which suggests that imports of intermediate goods is an important source for the growth of firms’ competitiveness.

A study conducted for Russian firms showed that labor productivity in Russian companies which import intermediate goods is 20% higher compared to similar firms not importing intermediates (Volchkova, 2016).

On this basis, we have every reason to believe that import is one of the sources of economic competitiveness that enhances effectiveness of the economy. Thus import substitution policies in the absence of objective information and a profound selection procedure for protected sectors, are harmful to the economy. In an open economy, the effect of the firms’ selection and the availability of cheap imports ensure growth of sectoral productivity, but productivity declines in “protected” sectors. That is, while our estimates above assess the direct negative impact on Russian economic output and welfare from inefficient reallocation of factors of production, the implementation of import substitution policies also puts the Russian economy in a disadvantaged position relative to more liberal economies on the international markets due to forgone competitiveness. This creates additional obstacles for Russia on its way to export diversification and sustainable growth.


  • Feenstra, Robert C, James R Markusen, and William Zeile. 1992. “Accounting for Growth with New Inputs: Theory and Evidence.” The American Economic Review 82 (2). American Economic Association: 415–21. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2117437.
  • Feng, Ling, Zhiyuan Li, and Deborah L. Swenson. 2016. “The Connection between Imported Intermediate Inputs and Exports: Evidence from Chinese Firms.” Journal of International Economics 101: 86–101. doi:10.1016/j.jinteco.2016.03.004.
  • Melitz, Marc J. 2003. “The Impact of Trade on Intra-Industry Reallocations and Aggregate Industry Productivity.” Econometrica 71 (6). Blackwell Publishing Ltd: 1695–1725. doi:10.1111/1468-0262.004
  • Pierola Castro, Martha D., Ana Margarida Fernandes, and Thomas Farolec. 2015. “The Role of Imports for Exporter Performance in Peru.”
  • Volchkova, Natalya A. 2016. “Prospects of the export diversification:” Dutch Disease “or the failures of economic policy?” in “Seven lean years: the Russian economy on the verge of structural changes: the round table materials” / ed. Rogov. -Moscow: Foundation “Liberal Mission” (in Russian)
  • Volchkova, Natalya A., and Natalia A. Turdyeva 2016, “Microeconomics of Russian import substitution”, Journal of New Economic Association, forthcoming (in Russian)

Effects of Trade Wars on Belarus

20160620 FREE Policy Brief

The trade wars following the 2014 events in Ukraine affected not only the directly involved participants, but also countries like Belarus that were affected through international trade linkages. According to my estimations based on a model outlined in Ossa (2014), these trade wars led to an increase in the trade flow through Belarus and thereby an increase of its tariff revenue. At the same time, because of a ban on imports in the sectors of meat and dairy products, the tariff revenue of Russia declined. As a member of the Eurasian Customs Union (EACU), Belarus can only claim a fixed portion of its total tariff revenue. Since the decline in the tariff revenue of Russia led to a decline in the total tariff revenue of the EACU, there was a decrease in the after-redistribution tariff revenue of Belarus. As a result, Belarusian welfare decreased. To avoid further welfare declines, Belarus should argue for a modification of the redistribution schedule. Alternatively, Belarus could increase its welfare during trade wars by shifting from being a part of the EACU to only being a part of the CIS Free Trade Area (FTA). If Belarus was only part of the CIS FTA, the optimal tariffs during trade wars should be higher than the optimal tariffs without trade wars. The optimal response to the increased trade flow through Belarus is higher tariffs.

Following the political protests in 2014, Ukraine terminated its membership in the CIS Free Trade Area (FTA) and moved towards becoming a part of the EU. The political protests evolved into an armed conflict and a partial loss of Ukrainian territory. These events led to Western countries introducing sanctions against some Russian citizens and enterprises. In response, Russia introduced a ban on imports from EU countries, Australia, Norway, and USA in the sectors of meat products, dairy products, and vegetables, fruits and nut products. In addition, both Ukraine and Russia increased the tariffs on imports from each other in the above-mentioned sectors.

Clearly, the trade wars affected directly involved participants such as the EU countries, Russia, and Ukraine. At the same time, countries like Belarus that were not directly involved in the trade wars, were also affected because of international trade linkages. It is important to understand the influence of trade wars on none-participating countries. To address this question, a framework with many countries and international trade linkages will be utilized and I will in this policy brief present some of my key findings.

Framework and Data

To evaluate the effects of the trade wars, I use the methodology outlined in Ossa (2014). This framework is based on the monopolistic competition market structure that was introduced into international trade by Krugman (1979, 1981). The framework in Ossa (2014) allows for many countries and sectors, and for a prediction of the outcome if one or several countries changes their tariffs. Perroni and Whallye (2000) and Caliendo and Parro (2012) present alternative frameworks with many countries that can also be used to estimate the welfare effects of tariff changes. The important advantage of the framework introduced in Ossa (2014) is that only data on trade flows, domestic production, and tariffs are needed to evaluate the outcomes of a change in tariffs, though the model itself contains other variables like transportation costs, the number of firms, and productivities.

It should also be pointed out that the framework in Ossa (2014) is not an example of a CGE model as it does not contain features such as investment, savings, and taxes. Since the framework in Ossa (2014) is simpler than CGE models, the effects of a tariff change can more easily be tracked and interpreted. On the other hand, this framework does not take into account spillover effects of tariff changes on for example capital formation and trade in assets.

The data on trade flows and domestic production come from the seventh version of the Global Trade Analysis Project database (GTAP 7). The data on tariffs come from the Trade Analysis Information System Data Base (TRAINS). The estimation of the model is done for 47 countries/regions and the sectors of meat and dairy products.


According to my estimations, because of the ban on imports by Russia, the trade flow through Belarus increased. Belarusian imports of meat products are estimated to have increased by 28%, and imports of dairy products by 47%. Such increases in imports mean an increase in the tariff revenue of Belarus. It should be pointed out, however, that the model only tracks the effects of the ban on imports in the sectors of meat and dairy products. An alternative way would be to construct an econometric model that takes into account different factors influencing the trade between the countries. The effects of the decrease in the price of oil and the introduced ban on imports, which happened close in time, could then have been evaluated.

The estimated model further predicts that, because of the ban on imports, the tariff revenue collected by Russia in these two sectors has decreased by 53%. This means that since Belarus can only claim a fixed portion (4.55%) of the total tariff revenue of the EACU, its after-redistribution tariff revenue collected in the meat and dairy product sectors declined by 44.86%, in spite of its increase in before-redistribution tariff revenue by 35%. The decline in Belarus’ after-redistribution tariff revenue is thus estimated to have led to a decrease in welfare by 0.03%. To prevent such a decrease in the future, Belarus should argue for an increase in its share of the total tariff revenue of the EACU.

Furthermore, in addition to the decrease in the tariff revenue, the estimated model predicts that the real wage in Russia decreased by 0.39%, and its welfare by 0.49%.

The introduced ban on imports also affected the European countries that used to export to Russia. The model predicts that the welfare of Latvia declined by 0.38% and that the welfare of Lithuania declined by 0.27%. A substantial portion of the decline in welfare of these countries can be explained by a decrease in their terms of trade. The introduced ban on imports by Russia led to a decline in prices in the countries that exported meat and dairy products to Russia. Lower prices led to a decrease in the proceeds from exports collected by EU countries, and lower proceeds from exports buy less import, implying a decrease in their welfare.

In spite of the increase in tariffs between Russia and Ukraine, the model predicts an increase in the welfare of Ukraine by 0.23% following the formation of the EU-Ukraine Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). An increase in real wages by 0.34% is the main factor contributing to this welfare increase. This is because it is associated with a redirection of Ukrainian exports from Russia towards the EU. The predicted increase in real wages in Ukraine have not materialized so far, presumably because of the ongoing military conflict and because time is needed to redirect the trade flows in response to the changes in the tariffs.

While bearing in mind that the analysis is only based on the sectors of meat and dairy products, Belarus could have increased its welfare during the trade wars if it had shifted from EACU status back to CIS FTA status with tariffs set at before-EACU levels. In this case, Belarus would not have needed to share its tariff revenue with other countries, and would then have increased its tariff revenue by 47.93% instead of the now predicted decline by 44.86%. Similarly, the welfare during trade wars could then have increased by 0.05%, instead of the now predicted decline by 0.03%. Another advantage of moving to CIS FTA status during trade wars is that the real wage could have increased by 0.04% instead of the 0.003% in the case of continued EACU status. Belarus could further have benefitted from moving to CIS FTA status by choosing optimal tariffs. This study suggests that the optimal tariffs of Belarus under CIS FTA status with trade wars are higher than the optimal tariffs under CIS FTA status without trade wars. Higher tariffs is the optimal response to the increased trade flows through Belarus resulting from trade wars.


Although it is optimal to move to CIS FTA status during trade wars, it is optimal to move back to EACU status after the trade wars are over. Therefore, such a policy should be adopted with caution, since the shift back to EACU status will likely not be possible. If it is expected that the trade wars will continue for a long period of time, or if the other members of the EACU will often deviate from the common tariffs, a transition to CIS FTA should be adopted. At the same time, asking for an increase in its share of total tariff revenue of EACU is a feasible strategy for Belarus to follow.

While estimating the effect of a transition from EACU status to CIS FTA status for Belarus during trade wars, the evaluation was done using two sectors affected by counter-sanctions. To evaluate the full welfare effect of this transition, its effect on the other sectors of Belarus should also be estimated, which is a question for the further research.

Non-Tariff Barriers and Trade Integration in the EAEU

It is a commonly held view that the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) is a political enterprise (Popescu, 2014) that has little economic meaning other than redistribution of oil rents (Knobel, 2015). With a new reality of low oil prices and reduced rents, a legitimate question is how stable this Union is, or whether there is any hope for mutual economic benefits that can provide incentives to all the participants to maintain their membership in the Union? Our answer is yes, there is hope, but only if countries, especially Russia, make progress on deep integration such as services liberalization, trade facilitation, free movement of labor and especially in the reduction of the substantial non-tariff barriers (NTBs). NTBs are hampering trade both within the Union (World Bank, 2012; Vinokurov, 2015), as well as against third country imports. Our research shows (see Knobel et al., 2016) that all the EAEU members will reap benefits from a reduction of NTBs against each other, but they will obtain considerably more substantial gains from a reduction in NTBs against imports from the EU and China.

Since the early stages of creation of the Customs Union (CU) between Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia back in 2010, the economic benefits of the CU have been questionable. The main reason for this in Kazakhstan was the increase in its import tariffs in order to implement the common external tariff of the CU, which initially was Russia’s external tariff (Tarr, 2015). Kazakhstan almost doubled its average tariff from 5.3% to 9.5% (Shepoltylo, 2011; Jondosov and Sabyrova, 2011) in the first year of its CU accession. Belarus did not increase its average tariff, but the structure of its tariffs shifted toward a protection of Russian industry.

In 2015, the CU was transformed into the EAEU, and Armenia and Kyrgyz Republic have joined the EAEU. These two countries are WTO members; Kyrgyzstan entered the WTO in 1998, and Armenia in 2001. In 2014, the simple average most-favored nation (MFN) applied tariff rate in Armenia was 3.7%, and 4.6% in the Kyrgyz Republic. Due to differences between Armenia and Kyrgyzstan’s WTO commitments and the EAEU tariff schedule, the new members of the EAEU are not implementing the full EAEU tariff schedule. That is, they have numerous exemptions. However, they have started a WTO commitments modification procedure.

Despite adverse impacts from the higher import prices from implementing the common external tariff of the EAEU in Armenia and the Kyrgyz Republic, there are potentially offsetting gains. Given the importance of remittances to the Kyrgyz Republic, the benefits coming from the right of workers to freely move and legally work inside EAEU likely dominate the tariff issues. Armenia also benefits from the free movement of labor, receives Russian gas free of export duties, and wants to preserve the military guarantee granted by Russia through the six-country Collective Security Treaty Organization.

In the case of Belarus, it receives Russian oil and natural gas free of export-duties, which, when oil prices were high, tended to dominate their calculus. Kazakhstan hopes for more FDI as a platform for selling to the EAEU market; but President Nazarbaev has expressed concerns that the EAEU is not providing net benefits to his country.

To date, the members have judged participation to be in their interest, but with the plunge in the price of oil and gas, the calculus could swing against participation in the EAEU. That is why it is so important to achieve progress with deep integration in the EAEU. One of the most important areas of deep integration for the EAEU is the substantial reduction of non-tariff barriers in goods trade, both between the EAEU members and against third countries. Estimates by the Eurasian Development Bank (Vinokurov et al., 2015) reveal that NTBs account are 15% of the value of intra-union trade flows.

In our paper, Knobel et al (2016), we estimate substantial gains to all the EAEU members from a reduction of NTBs. We employ a global computable general equilibrium model with monopolistic competition in the Helpman-Krugman style based on Balisteri, Yonezawa, Tarr (2014). Estimates of the ad-valorem equivalents of NTBs were based on Vinokurov et al (2015) for the EAEU member countries and Kee, Nicita, Olarreaga (2009) for non-members.

We find that the effects of deep integration are positive for all countries of the EAEU. Armenia’s accession to the EAEU will have a strong positive effect only if coupled with a decrease of non-tariff barriers. Armenian accession is associated with an increase in external tariffs, which causes a negative economic impact and decrease in output.

The effect of deep integration in the EAEU will be even greater if any spillovers effect reducing NTBs for EAEU’s major trading partners are present. Knobel et al. (2016) simulate a 50% decrease in “technical” NTBs inside the EAEU and a 20% spillover effect of reduction NTBs toward either the EU and USA or China. Reduction of NTBs in trade with the EU and the USA dominates the comparable reduction of NTBs with China for all countries of the EAEU in terms of the welfare gain. Armenia’s welfare gain with a spillover effect towards the EU is 1.1% of real consumption compared to 1.02% with a spillover effect towards China. Growth in welfare in Belarus will be 2.7% with a EU spillover versus 2.5% with a spillover effect towards China. Kazakhstan’s gain in real consumption is also greater in the first (EU+USA) case: 0.86% versus 0.66% (with spillover towards China). Russia’s gain in real consumption in the case of a spillover effect with the EU is 2.01% versus 0.63% in the case of China.

Summing up, our findings suggest an answer to the recent concern about stability of the EAEU. We think that eliminating NTB, hampering mutual trade, and decreasing NTBs in either European or Chinese direction could provide mutual economic benefits that could tie countries of the EAEU together, thereby giving a much needed solid economic ground for the Union.


Non-Tariff Measures in the Context of Export Promotion Policies

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This brief focuses on the role of non-tariff measures (NTMs) in international trade. While multilateral and bilateral trade negotiations have resulted in worldwide reductions in tariffs, we observe an increasing trend in the application of non-tariff measures. In this brief, we will discuss the evidence of the effect of such measures on exports. The brief also contributes to the discussion of export promotion policies: whether governments, especially in developing countries, should concentrate their efforts to remove only external barriers since there is empirical evidence that internal barriers are no less important for exports.

Economists, policy makers and international organizations are increasingly recognizing the importance of non-tariff measures (NTMs) as substantial impediments to international trade. A survey conducted by UNCTAD among exporters in several developing countries ranks SPS and TBT measures the top trade barriers with on average 73 percent of the respondents viewing them as the primary trade barrier (UNCTAD 2010). The World Bank published a book on NTBs where different authors contributed chapters addressing many aspects of the NTMs (World Bank, 2012). The World Trade Organization (WTO) itself devoted its entire 2012 World Trade Report to such measures with a particular focus on technical barriers to trade (TBT) and sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures. Availability of the new datasets on NTBs allowed researchers to study the effect of these measures on intensive (changes for existing exports) and extensive margins (changes due to entry and exit into exporting) of trade.

Even though trade theory does not specifically address the question of non-tariff barriers that include (but are not limited to) technical regulations, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, the logic of traditional models can easily be extended to these measures. In particular, they can be thought of as part of the fixed/additive costs for exporting firms as they impose compliance costs on exporters. These compliance costs are related to potential adjustments of production processes, and certification procedures needed to meet the requirements of countries imposing such regulations and standards (Schlueter et al., 2009). In a Melitz-type model, these costs are expected to have a negative impact on volumes of trade, number of exporters and number of goods exported. At the same time, average exports per firm may actually increase as the export market-shares are reallocated towards firms that are more efficient.

The existing empirical evidence of the impact of NTMs is mixed; researchers have found both positive and negative effects. The differences in results depend largely on the sector, country and type of NTM imposed. While the effect may overall be negative or null, for some sectors the effect is found to be positive (Moenius, 2004; Fontagné et al., 2005; Chen et al., 2006; Disdier et al., 2008; Medin and Melchior, 2015).

In a recent working paper, Besedina (2015) investigates the effect of introducing an NTM (either SPS or TBT) on export dynamics (in particular, exports concentration and entry and exit into exporting) using the World Bank Exporters database, with a special focus on trade in foodstuff. In particular, we examine how TBT and SPS measures affect export concentration and diversification (both at product and destination level) as well as entry and exit of firms into exporting. If introduction of an NTM increases costs of exporting, the ‘new’ trade theory started by Melitz (2003) predicts that some exporters will stop to export and thus the number of exported product varieties will fall as well (change in extensive margin).

The most important result from our analysis is that the introduction of a TBT or an SPS measure does not seem to affect sectoral export dynamics. Given the above discussion, this result may appear surprising at first. What can possibly explain this zero effect?

First, one may argue that the sector dynamic variables we use in our analysis may not capture changes in the behavior of economic agents (firms) well: while marginal firms may be affected by technical barriers and SPS, averaging across firms may actually conceal this. However, in our analysis we investigate exports at a relatively disaggregated level (4-digit product lines). So while averaging might be a concern, we believe it is not likely to be driving the zero effect.

Second, the concern is that the effect of introducing an NTM measure may not be felt immediately (within one year). In order to verify this, we include lagged trade-barrier variables two periods, but the results were unchanged. Third, it may be the case that it is the number of NTMs rather than the introduction of them that matters. In order to address this point, we performed the same type of analysis using the change in the number of measures introduced. The results were again not affected, and we still do not find any statistically significant relationship between NTMs and exports dynamics.

Despite the absence of an effect of NTMs, this paper reveals an important and policy-relevant finding: the home country’s business environment and institutional factors are important determinants of export performance. It is rather the monetary costs and more complicated exporting procedures imposed by the NTM measures that hamper product and market diversification of the country’s exporters. Hence, policy makers, especially in developing countries, should not only be concerned with removing external barriers to exports (like NTMs) but should also aim to reduce internal barriers and costs imposed on exporting firms by corrupt practices and burdensome regulatory procedures.

Another important dimension for domestic policies towards exporters stems from the work by Melchior (2015, forthcoming) who studies Norwegian exports to BRICS countries overtime and shows that export growth largely depends on the intensive margin (it explains 93 percent of the export growth). Using firm-level data for seafood exports, he finds that only 54% of “trades” – measured as firm/importing country/product combinations – survive from one year to the next. Hence, there is massive “churning” (entry and exit at the same time), and churning is relatively more important in small and in growing export markets. In other words, exporting companies constantly enter and exit foreign markets, add new products, or discontinue exporting some products. A policy implication from this finding is that export-promotion offices should help firms stay in export markets rather than focus on entering these markets. Hence, while it is important to enable domestic firms to enter foreign markets, it seems equally important to ensure their survival in foreign markets, which can be facilitated by a removal of both external and internal barriers.


  • Disdier, A-S, L. Fontagné and M. Mimouni (2008), “The Impact of Regulations on Agricultural Trade: Evidence from the SPS and TBT Agreements”, American Journal of Agricultural Economics 90(2): 336-350.
  • Fontagné, L., F. von Kirchbach, and M. Mimouni (2005). “An Assessment of Environmentally-related Non-tariff Measures”, The World Economy 28(10): 1417-1439.
  • Medin H. and A. Melchior (2015) ”Trade barriers or trade facilitators? On the heterogeneous impact of food standards in international trade”, NUPI mimeo
  • Melchior (2015) ” Non-tariff barriers, firm heterogeneity and trade: A study of seafood exports, with a particular focus on BRICs”, NUPI mimeo
  • Melitz, M. J. (2003), “The Impact of Trade on Intra-Industry Reallocations and Aggregate Industry Productivity,” Econometrica, 71(6): 1695–1725.
  • Moenius, J. (2004), “Information versus Product Adaptation: The Role of Standards in Trade”, Working Paper, International Business & Markets Research Center, Northwestern University mimeo.
  • UNCTAD (2010), Non-Tariff Measures: Evidence from Selected Developing Countries and Future Research Agenda (UNCTAD/DITC/TAB/2009/3). New York and Geneva.
  • World Bank (2012), Non-Tariff Measures – A Fresh Look at Trade Policy’s New Frontier, ed. O. Cadot and M. Malouche, The World Bank, Washington D.C.

Export Costs of Visa Restrictions

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We study the role of visa restrictions in determining export flows between firms and countries, and find a significant negative impact of visa restrictions. Our results indicate that visa costs not only diminish the value of export, but also the probability of new firms to enter visa restricted foreign markets. We interpret these results as evidence that visa restrictions contribute to trade costs faced by exporting firms.

There is no doubt that policy decisions in the area of foreign relations influence economic links between countries. However, quantifying these effects is usually very difficult – not least because visa regimes are relatively stable over time, not allowing for sufficient variation to estimate the effect of a regime change. As a result, decision-making is often based on very limited quantitative grounds, and mostly driven by qualitative intuition and strong political preferences. However, these decisions might have very important redistributive effects and create unequal access to markets for producers from different countries. For example, while WTO emphasizes a nondiscrimination clause to be one of the main principles of trade policies for member countries, foreign policy might become a very important source of discrimination in international trade.

An example of such policy decisions is visa requirement for foreign visitors. The channel of the effect is rather intuitive – visa requirements on foreign nationals might affect the intensity and costs of business visits needed to establish trade relations between firms in different countries.

In Kapelko and Volchkova (2015) we test the impact of foreign visa requirements on the international trade based on the Russian case. The Russian economy represents a unique setting to study the effect of visas on trade flows. Over the first decade of 2000, there were more than 30 visa regime changes between Russia and foreign countries. Thereby, there is sufficient variation for quantifying the export costs of visa restrictions.


Economists observe that when a pair of countries has visa restrictions – both bilateral and unilateral – their bilateral trade flows, tourist exchanges, and FDI flows are smaller compared to pairs of similar countries without these restrictions (Neumayer, 2011). The anecdotal evidence also indicates that business meetings, conferences and other interactions which involve people from different countries are often cancelled or delayed due to the failure of some participants to obtain visa stamps on time. Therefore, we can assume that costs of visas for international transactions include not only simple monetary costs associated with the visa fee but also less predictable components such as the risk of refusal, time costs, etc.

Economic research often relies on some intrinsic features of goods or industries as a way to test the hypothesis. Namely, if the extent of the studied effect depends on these features then one would compare the effects across goods or industries controlling for the features. In our case, if the effect of visas is due to risks associated with the inability of businessmen to attend meetings or negotiations, then we can expect a negative effect of visa restrictions on trade flows, which will be stronger for goods trade since it requires more interactions between the buyer and seller. For this study, we rely on Rauch’s (Rauch, 1999) definition of relation specific goods and compare the effect of visas across goods with different degrees of sensitivities to the relations.


The recent developments in trade theory and empirical research provide a specification of structural relations between country-level bilateral costs of trade and firm level decision to export. The heterogeneous firms approach brought by Marc Melitz (Melitz, 2003) to the international trade framework emphasizes that fixed costs of exporting play an important role in shaping patterns of exports. The literature distinguishes between fixed and variable costs of exporting, but the empirical evidence on cost composition is very limited and very little is known so far about the fixed costs of exporting. We proxy both these costs with visa restrictions, and use heterogeneity in firms’ decisions whether to export or not, to various destinations, to estimate the effect of visas on market access and trade flows.


We combine annual data on exporters, volume of export of each exporter to each destination from the Russian Customs Transaction Database with data on all bilateral visa constraints for the period 2003-2010 between Russia and 180 foreign export destinations.

First, we test whether Russian firms export less to countries which impose strict visa restrictions compared to countries with less restrictive visa regimes or visa waiver programs, other things being equal. We test these effects separately for trade in goods which are more specific to the parties involved in the transaction (relation-specific goods, such as manufactured goods, and equipment with specific technical requirements on part of buyer) and trade in goods that depend less on the parties involved in the transactions (non-relation specific goods, such as more homogeneous, standard goods) (Rauch, 1999). Then, we estimate the effects of visa restrictions on the value of trade to chosen destinations.

The obvious concern is that visa decisions are dependent on trade. Politicians might facilitate visa negotiations if the country’s economic interests expand toward some destinations. It might for example affect visa waivers between countries. To deal with this issue we use tourist flows between countries as an instrument to allow for more accurate measurement of visa effects.

Our empirical strategy is to use the two-stage least squares approach with weighing in the second step to eliminate the potential bias due to selection into exporters to particular destination (Imbens and Wooldridge (2009)).


Our results indicate that visas have a strong negative effect on market access, and it is twice as high for export of relation-specific goods as for export of non-relation specific goods. Controlling for the choice of destination, visas have a significant negative effect on the value of exports of relation-specific goods as well.

More specifically, our estimations indicate that:

  • the probability of the firm to export to visa-restricted destinations is below the probability of export to visa-free destinations. The probability gap is estimated to be about 36 percent for the overall sample, 40% for relationship specific transactions and 26% for non-relationship specific export.
  • the value of exports for relation specific goods is negatively affected by visa restrictions while there is no effect of visa restrictions on the export of non-relation specific goods. Our estimations indicate that the effect of visa is quite substantial so the value of relation specific export is twice as low to visa restricted as to visa free destinations.

These results emphasize the economic importance of visa restrictions and they are consistent with the assumption that visa restrictions do, in fact, contribute to the costs of market access. The negative effect of visa restrictions on the value of exports of relationship specific goods indicates that they also contribute to the variable costs of export.


The implications of this analysis may be very important. It demonstrates that visa regimes play a role as a non-tariff restriction or as a barrier, and can have significant effects on the development of trade relations between countries. The losses in trade due to visa restrictions are both extensive and intensive in nature: fewer firms are engaged in trade between countries with strong visa restrictions and they trade less in terms of more sophisticated goods. Therefore, we document at least two types of distortions in trade flows due to visas: visa distorts trade relations across countries with different visa requirements, and visa distorts trade flows across different types of goods to destinations with different visa requirements. Given the substantial negative effects of visas on trade relations, it is worth accounting for these economic costs when Ministries of Foreign Affairs engage in negotiations toward visa waivers.


  • Helpman, E., M. Melitz, and Y. Rubinstein. 2008. Estimating Trade Flows: Trading Partners and Trading Volumes. Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 123 No2, 441-487.
  • Imbens, G., and J. Wooldridge . 2009. “Recent developments in the econometrics of program evaluation”. Journal of Economic Literature, 47(1) pp5-86
  • Kapelko, N., and N. Volchkova. 2015. “Export costs of visa restrictions”, CEFIR Working Paper, http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2243136
  • Melitz, M. J. 2003. “The impact of trade on intra-industry reallocations and aggregate industry productivity.” Econometrica 71(6).
  • Neumayer, E. 2011. “On the Detrimental Impact of Visa Restrictions on Bilateral Trade and Foreign Direct Investment.” Applied Geography 31 (3): 901–907.
  • Rauch, J. E. 1999. “Networks Versus Markets in International Trade.” Journal of International Economics 48 (1): 7–35.

Culture, Cold War, and Trade

Culture, Cold War, and Trade Image

This study evaluates how the impact of cultural differences on trade evolves over time, especially after the Cold War. We show that the negative influence of cultural differences on trade has increased over time. More specifically, it is more prominent in the post-Cold War era than during the Cold War. For instance, two countries with distinct religious majorities have 35% lower bilateral trade flows in the post-Cold War period compared to countries sharing the same majority religion. This negative effect was less than half during the Cold War (16%). In addition, we provide an explanation for the differential impact of cultural differences over time. By mapping out the transition of the effects of cultural and ideological dissimilarities, we show that cold-war ideological blocs might be a reason for the suppression of cultural differences during the Cold War. Therefore, long-term cultural determinants of trade gain more significance by the end of the Cold War and replace ideological differences as a major impediment to international trade.

Tajikistan Joining the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan: Pros and Cons

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Authors: I.A. Densiova, A.M. Malokostov, and N.A. Turdyeva, CEFIR

In this brief we summarize the results obtained in a CEFIR research project on the economic impact of Tajikistan joining the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan conducted for the Eurasian Development Bank in 2013 (EBD, 2013). We argue that integration has to be comprehensive to be mutually beneficial: indeed, trade effects are marginal, and the highest stakes are at migration regulation in the CU member-countries and the investment opportunities in Tajikistan.

The Customs Union Between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan: Some Evidence from the New Tariff Rates and Trade Flows

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Author: Arevik Mkrtchyan, European University Institute.

This brief addresses the Customs Union between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan that was established in 2010. It argues that the external tariff schedule reflects a compromise between the interests of its members rather than simple expansion of Russian influence on the CU partners, and that the reduction in trade costs due to elimination of internal borders, benefits both the members of the CU and their external trade partners. Moreover, the impact of alleviated non-tariff trade costs on trade flows is strong and significant, while the tariff impact is insignificant for all members.