Tag: WTO

Trade Induced Technological Change: Did Chinese Competition Increase Innovation in Europe?

20190428 Trade Induced Technological Change Image 01

The last 30 years has witnessed a shift of the world’s manufacturing core from Europe and North America to China. A key question is what impact this has had on manufacturing workers in other developed economies, and also on innovation, patenting, IT adoption, and productivity growth. While a rigorous data analysis on these variables for developing economies, particularly in Eastern Europe, is not yet available, this brief examines the impact of the rise of China on innovation in Western Europe, and also reviews the evidence on the impact of the rise of China generally. Recent research by Bloom, Draca, and Van Reenen (2016) found that Chinese competition induced a rise in patenting, IT adoption, and TFP by 30% of the total increase in Europe in the early 2000s. Yet, we find numerous problems with the Bloom et al. analysis, and, overall, we do not find convincing evidence that Chinese competition increased innovation in Europe.

Few events have inspired the ire of economists as much as Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump, two events seen as related as both were a seeming reaction to both globalization and slowing economic growth, particularly as some (such as Trump himself) saw the former as a key cause of the latter. Both Brexit and the trade war spawned by Trump do seem to have had negative economic effects – US equities have suffered every time the trade war has escalated, while anecdotal reports and more sophisticated economic analyses seem to suggest that Brexit has cost the UK jobs.

And yet, there is a need for policy makers and economists to hold two ideas in our heads simultaneously: Trump’s trade war and Brexit may be policy disasters, and yet globalization can create both winners and losers, even if it is clear that, generally speaking, the overall gains are likely positive and large. This is likely also true of the rise of China – one of the most dramatic events in international economics in the past 50 years. Figure 1 shows the increase in trade with China from the early 1980s to 2017, a period in which US imports from China grew from 7 to 476 billion dollars.

Figure 1. Chinese Imports (in logs, deflated)

Source: World Bank WITS

The academic literature tends to show that this impact, the rise of China, may have cost the US as much as 2.2 million jobs directly (Autor et al.), and as much as 3 million jobs once all input-output and local labor market effects are included. While approximate, these numbers are large enough for the China shock to have played a role in the initial onset of “secular stagnation” – the growth slowdown which began around 2000 for many advanced nations, including the US and Europe. In addition, Autor et al. (forthcoming) found that Chinese competition also resulted in a decline in patent growth. In the European context, however, other authors have found that although China did do some damage to certain sectors, overall, it does not appear to have been quite as damaging, particularly in Germany, which also benefitted from exporting increased machine tools to the Chinese manufacturing sector. And, in a seminal paper, Bloom, Draca, and Van Reenen (2016) find that Chinese competition actually led to an increase in patents, IT adoption, and productivity in Europe from 1996 to 2005, along accounting for nearly 30% of the increase. This is important, as it implies that without the rise of competition with China, the slowdown in European growth would have been even more pronounced than it was. It also implies that, far from being a source of stagnation, Chinese competition has been a source of strength. It also makes it more likely that the slowdown in growth since 2000 was caused by supply-side factors, such as new inventions becoming more difficult over time, as is perhaps the leading explanation among economists, notably Northwestern University business professor, Robert Gordon (2017), and also supported by others (see this VoxEU Ebook featuring a “who’s who?” among economists). It would also be evidence that contradicts the “Bernanke Hypothesis” that the former US Fed Chair first laid out in a 2005 speech at Jackson Hole, in which he suggested that international factors – particularly the savings glut and US trade deficit – were behind falling interest rates in the US. Since then, Ben Bernanke has followed up with a series of blog posts suggesting that these international factors were the cause of the initial onset of secular stagnation.

Figure 2. European Growth Relative to Trend

Source: World Bank WDI

In this brief, I present new research in which my coauthor and I test the robustness of the research finding that China had a positive impact on innovation in Europe (Campbell and Mau, 2019). We find that these findings are very sensitive to controls for time trends and other slight changes in specification. We also find that the number of patents matched to firms in the sample shrinks over the sample period (from 1996 to 2005). Overall, we conclude that, unfortunately, it is unlikely that the rise led to a significant increase in innovation in Europe, although more research is needed. Our research also sheds light on the so-called “replication crisis” currently gripping the social sciences, as researchers begin to realize that many published findings are not robust.

Trade-Induced Technical Change?

Bloom, Draca, and Van Reenen (2016) – hereafter BDV – tried to isolate the impact of the rise of China on Europe using several methods, using firm-level data for Europe. They placed each firm in a 4-digit sector, where they measured imports from China over time. First, they just looked at changes in patents, IT, and total factor productivity (TFP) at the firm level for sectors in which Chinese imports increased a lot vs. other sectors. But, because economists are always weary of the difficulty of isolating a causal relationship from non-experimental data, the authors, worrying that the sectors which saw increases in Chinese imports might differ systematically from the others, the authors also used what is called an instrumental variable. That is, they used the fact that when China joined the WTO in 2001, they also negotiated a reduction in textile quotas. Thus, BDV reason that textile sectors which had tightly binding quotas prior to removal were likely to have had fast growth in Chinese imports after China’s accession to the WTO. Thus, they end up comparing textile sectors in which the quotas were binding to sectors in which they were not binding. We went back and compared the evolution of patents in these same groups (sectors with binding textile quotas vs. not binding) below in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Patent Growth in China-Competing Sectors (Quota Group) vs. Other Sectors

Notes: The vertical red lines are dates when textile quotas were removed. The blue line shows the evolution of patents in the sectors without binding quotas (non-competing sectors), and the red line is the evolution of patents in the China-competing sectors. The dotted lines are 2 standard deviation error bounds.

What is immediately obvious in Figure 3 is that patents are declining rapidly over the whole period in both groups. The overall level of patents was falling in both groups for the full period. There is a 95.8% decline in patenting for the China-competing group, vs. a 96.2% decline for firms in the non-competing (“No quota”) group. By 2005, average patents per firm are close to zero in both groups (.04 in the China-competing sectors vs. .11 in the others). However, in the “No quota” group, the initial level of patents – close to three per firm per year – was much larger than in the quota group. Since patents are falling rapidly in both groups but bounded by zero, the level of the fall in patents in the non-quota group is larger, but one can easily see that much of this decline happens before quotas are removed. If we control for simple time trends, the effect goes away. Also, given the tendency of patents to decline, we can also remove the correlation between Chinese competition and patent growth in some specifications by simply controlling for the lagged level of patents. The overall declining share of patents in the BDV data also raises questions about data selection issues, as patents granted in the BDV data in the later years were a smaller share of the total patents actually granted in reality.

BDV also look at the impact of the rise of China on IT adoption. However, here they proxied IT adoption by computers per worker, but they did not collect enough data to control for pre-trends properly in the data, so we cannot be sure whether this correlation is causal or not. (For what it is worth, on the data we do have, from 2000 to 2007, including trends in the data renders the apparent correlation between Chinese import growth and computers-per-worker insignificant.)

Lastly, BDV look at the impact of the rise of China on TFP growth. Here, unlike before, we find that their measure is robust across various estimation methodologies. However, when we look at changes in a commonly used alternative measure of productivity, value-added per worker, instead of TFP (as TFP needs to be calculated using strong assumptions about the functional form of technology), we find no impact (see Figure 4 below).

Figure 4. Value-Added per worker Growth: China-competing sectors vs. others

Figure 4 above compares the evolution of value-added per worker in the most China-competing sectors vs. the others. Trends look similar for firms in either group of sectors (China-competing or otherwise), and we do not find a correlation. We also do not find that Chinese competition led to an increase in profits, nor an increase in sales per worker (in fact, we found a significant decrease in most specifications).


All in all, we find that the BDV findings suggesting that the rise of China had a large impact on innovation in Europe is not robust. However, in most specifications, we also don’t find a negative impact as did Autor et al. (forthcoming) for the US. This might have to do with data quality, although it does seem to be closer to other work, such as Dauth et al. (2014), which suggests that the rise of China had a smaller impact in Germany than in the US.

We also felt it was a bit alarming that a simple plot of  the trends in patents for China-competing and not-competing sectors was enough to seriously question the conclusions of BDV, as their paper was published in the Review of Economic Studies, a top 5 journal in academic economics. If influential articles published in the most fancy journals can exhibit such mistakes, this underscores the extent which the profession of economics may suffer from many published “false-positive” results. The reasons why this could be the case are obvious: researchers are under pressure to find significant results, as top journals don’t often publish null results, and replication is exceedingly rare in a field in which one needs to make friends to publish. However, there are signs that replication is becoming more mainstream, and as it does, we can certainly hope that voters around the world will turn back to science.


  • Autor, D., D. Dorn, G. H. Hanson, G. Pisano, and P. Shu. Forthcoming. Foreign Competition and Domestic Innovation: Evidence from US Patents. Forthcoming: AEJ:Insights.
  • Bloom, N., M. Draca, and J. Van Reenen. 2016. “Trade Induced Technical Change? The Impact of Chinese Imports on Innovation, IT and Productivity.” The Review of Economic Studies 83 (1): 87–117.
  • Campbell, Douglas and Mau, Karsten. 2019.. Trade Induced Technological Change: Did Chinese Competition Increase Innovation in Europe?”, mimeo
  • Dauth, W., S. Findeisen, and J. Suedekum. 2014. “The Rise of the East and the Far East: German Labor Markets and Trade Integration.” Journal of the European Economic Association 12 (6): 1643–1675.
  • Gordon, R.J., 2017. The rise and fall of American growth: The US standard of living since the civil war (Vol. 70). Princeton University Press.

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

20181216 US-China Trade War Image 01

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)

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.


Environmental Implications of Russia’s Accession to the WTO

Authors: David G. Tarr, NES and Natalia Turdyeva, CEFIR.

We investigate the environmental impacts of Russia’s World Trade Organization (WTO) accession with a computable general equilibrium model incorporating imperfectly competitive firms, foreign direct investment and endogenous productivity. The WTO accession affects CO2 emissions through technique (−), composition (+) and scale (+) effects. We consider three complementary policies to limit CO2 emissions: cap and trade, emission intensity standards, and energy efficiency standards. With imperfectly competitive firms, gains from WTO accession result with any of these policies.

The Political Economy of the Latvian State Since 1991: Some Reflections on the Role of External Anchors

This brief discusses the role of external anchors or goals such as WTO accession, NATO and EU accession in Latvia’s development strategy since 1991. On the one hand the external goals ‘depoliticised’ many potentially contentious areas of Latvian life. On the other hand, some developments would not have happened or would not have happened as fast without the constraints imposed by the external goals. For example liberalisation of the citizenship laws was prompted by NATO accession and the balance was tipped when the rejection of Latvia from fast-track EU accession talks in December 1997 led Latvia to abandon its quota or ‘windows’ naturalisation system. Most recently, Eurozone accession was an externally defined exit strategy from the austerity episode induced by the economic and financial crisis. Today there are no big external goals left to guide policy making. Home grown problems such as inequality require home grown solutions. But even now an external dependency persists. For example a long needed reform of the financing model of higher education has had to wait for a World Bank report published in September 2014 for action to be taken.

On January 1st, 2015 Latvia assumed the Presidency of the European Union. This milestone represents a certain level of maturity of the Latvian state and offers an opportunity for reflection on some aspects of how politics and political economy have evolved in Latvia between 1991 and today.

After Latvia regained independence in 1991, it faced (at least) two political economy challenges: one was to disentangle the economy from the Soviet system in which it had been deeply integrated, and the second, perhaps more difficult challenge, was to create an independent nation state. At a formal level, the solution to the latter challenge appeared straightforward – assume continuity of the Latvian state. Effectively this meant reinstating the pre-war constitution, which was indeed done for the most part. Symbolically this continuity was signalled by, for example, calling the first post-Soviet parliamentary elections held in June 1993 the elections for the 5th Saeima (parliament). The elections for the 4th Saeima had taken place more than 60 years earlier in October 1931.

At a practical level the challenges were more complex – Latvia had had no practical experience of statehood for nearly fifty years and mistakes were made. For example, Latvia initially diplomatically recognised Taiwan rather than the Peoples Republic of China.

There was a presumption that newly independent Latvia should become a market economy but little consensus on how this should be achieved. This is in contrast to Estonia where a group of ‘young market economy Turks’ were able to implement a kind of zero option i.e. zero tariffs, fast privatisation, etc. In Latvia there were strong protectionist sentiments and the initial privatisation was a muddled process.

Advice and advisers were abundant in post-independence Latvia. In the early 1990s, Latvia was awash with international advisers: the IMF and the World Bank were both present, the Germans were advising on a constitution for the Bank of Latvia, the British were active in public administration reform, the Danish advised on research and higher education and so on. Advice was often conflicting with different advisers promoting their own visions of structures as models that Latvia should adopt e.g. on legal and education systems. Today, we see something akin to this in the Eastern Partnership countries such as Moldova and Ukraine.

There was a general sense of the desirability of a ‘return to Europe’ but no plan or strategy. Nevertheless, even without a conscious plan a strategy emerged – namely a strategy of external anchors.

The external goals or anchors that emerged included the following:

  • World Trade Organisation, 1998
  • NATO, 29 March 2004
  • European Union, 1 May 2004
  • Eurozone, 1 January 2014

The most important effect of the external anchors was that they ‘depoliticised’ many potentially contentious areas of Latvian life. This has been particularly important given the fragmentation that has historically dominated Latvian politics. Thus, in the interwar period, no less than 32 different political parties were represented in the Saeima. In the early post-Soviet parliaments, similar tendencies were observed with newly created parties being the winners in terms of the number of seats in the first four elections. The election of 2006 was the first in which the previously largest party returned as the largest party. Between the first post-Soviet election in 1993 and the 2014 election, there have been no less than 17 governments which mostly have been uneasy coalitions of 3 or 4 partners with divergent views and interests. In this context the benefit of external anchors is self-evident.

The external anchors each contributed in different ways: WTO accession contributed to modify the protectionist sentiments that were rife in the early years of independence. Rather curiously, Estonia, which adopted a radical free trade policy right from the first days of independence, had more difficulties in achieving their WTO membership than ‘protectionist’ Latvia. Estonia was obliged to implement additional economic regulations in order to conform to the rules of the WTO and the EU (to which it was committed to join as its WTO application proceeded), and as a consequence, Estonian WTO accession was delayed to 1999. The WTO accession process also gave Latvia’s fledgling Foreign Ministry invaluable experience of multi-lateral negotiation.

Apart from the obvious security benefit, NATO membership was conditional on the creation of the Latvian anti-corruption Bureau (KNAB) and on the liberalisation of citizenship legislation, the latter because NATO was concerned about the prospect of a member state with a large number of non-citizen residents.

EU accession represents the biggest and most significant anchor. The requirement of candidate countries to accept the EU acquis communautaire took huge swathes of economic and social legislation out of the political arena. While the economic criteria for accession presented few difficulties of principle for Latvia – most people were in favour of a market economy – the requirement of respect for and protection of minorities presented problems for many Latvian politicians and liberalisation of the citizenship law was resisted until after 1997 when the rejection of Latvia from fast-track EU accession talks in December 1997 prompted a rethinking of Latvia’s intransigent position on the quota or ‘windows system’.

It is hard to over-estimate the impact of EU accession on Latvia. What would Latvia be like today if it were not a member state of the EU? There are sufficient tendencies even now in Latvia to suggest we would observe something like a tax-haven, off-shore economy, probably with weak democratic institutions. EU accession has saved the Latvian people from something like such a fate.

Even later in Latvia’s largely self-inflicted financial and economic crisis of 2008-10 it was the ‘Holy Grail’ of accession to the Eurozone that politically anchored Latvia’s famous austerity programme.

What of today? The ‘big’ external anchors are used up, and Latvia today:

  • Is the fourth poorest country in the EU with GDP per capita in 2013 at 67% of the EU average (only Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria are poorer);
  • Is a particularly unequal society – Latvia has some of the worst poverty and inequality indicators in the EU;
  • Has a shadow economy at 23.8% of GDP (data on 2013; Putniņš and Sauka (2014)); and
  • Has an internationally uncompetitive higher education system.

These and other problematic aspects of Latvian life and society are home grown and it is hard to imagine external anchors that can improve poverty or inequality, that can reduce the size of the shadow economy, or which can improve the quality of the Latvian higher education system.

Nevertheless, Latvian policy makers seem to be addicted to the external anchor concept and often find difficult to progress without it. The recent experience of reform of the financing of higher education illustrates. Latvia has historically had a funding mechanism for universities and other higher education institutions based entirely on student numbers. The lack of a link between funding and quality has resulted in a Latvian higher education system that is strong on enrolment but low on quality e.g. as measured by peer-reviewed publications. At some level this has been understood and there has been much talk of reform. Although various reports and evaluations have been published, there has been little progress on concrete reform until the Ministry of Education commissioned the World Bank in December 2013 to produce a report on funding models for Latvia. The final report was delivered in September 2014 and action has now been taken to adopt the World Bank recommended three-pillar model where the funding criteria will now include performance and innovation.

Of course, the new model will not solve all the problems of Latvian higher education – far from it – but it illustrates the pervasive nature of policy makers seeming dependency on external anchors.


  • Putniņš, Tālis & Arnis Sauka (2014). “Shadow Economy Index for the Baltic Countries. 2009-2013,” The Centre for Sustainable Business at SSE Riga, May 2014.

The Eurasian Customs Union among Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan: Can It Succeed Where Its Predecessor Failed?

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In 2010, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan formed the Eurasian Customs Union and imposed the Russian tariff as the common external tariff of the Customs Union. This resulted in almost doubling the external average tariff of the more liberal Kazakhstan. Russia has benefited from additional exports to Kazakhstan under the protection of the higher tariffs in Kazakhstan. However, estimates reveal that the tariff changes have resulted in substantial transfers from Kazakhstan to Russia since importers in Kazakhstan now purchase lower quality or higher priced Russian imports which are protected under the tariff umbrella of the common external tariff. Transfers from the Central Asian countries to Russia were the reason the Eurasian Economic Community (known as EurAsEC) failed, so this bodes badly for the ultimate success of the Eurasian Customs Union. What is different, however, is that the Eurasian Customs Union and its associated Common Economic Space aim to reduce non-tariff barriers and improve trade facilitation, and also to allow the free movement of capital and labor, liberalize services, and harmonize some regulations. Estimates by my colleagues and I show that if substantial progress could be made in trade facilitation and reducing non-tariff barriers, this could make the Customs Union positive for Kazakhstan and other potential Central Asian members. Unfortunately, so far the Customs Union has made these matters worse. On the other hand, Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization will eventually substantially reduce the transfers from Kazakhstan to Russia, but this will need a strong political commitment from Russia which we have not yet seen. If that Russian political leadership is forthcoming, the Eurasian Customs Union could nonetheless succeed where its predecessor has failed.

In January 2010, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan formed the Eurasian Customs Union. Two years later, the three countries agreed to even closer economic ties, by signing the agreement to form a “common economic space.”  Regarding tariffs, the key change was that the three countries agreed to apply the tariff schedule of the Customs Union as their common external tariff for third countries. With few exceptions, the initial common external tariff schedule was the Russian tariff schedule. Kazakhstan negotiated exceptions from the common external tariffs for slightly more than 400 tariff lines, but was scheduled to phase out the exceptions over a period of five years (World Bank, 2012). In addition, the members agreed to have the Customs Union determine the rules regarding sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards (SPS) and standards on good. Fearing transshipment of goods from China through Kazakhstan and from the European Union through Belarus, Russia negotiated and achieved agreement on stricter controls on the origin of imports from countries outside of the Customs Union. The common economic space (CES) stipulates that, in principle, there will be free movement of labor and capital among the countries, there will be liberalization of services on the CES and coordination of some regulatory policies such as competition policy.

In February 2012, the Eurasian Economic Commission began functioning. It is intended to act as the regulatory authority for the Customs Union in a manner similar to the European Commission for the European Union.

The Economics of Tariff Changes — Gains for Russia and Losses for Kazakhstan

Some proponents of the Eurasian Customs Union have argued that as a result of the Customs Union firms in the three countries will have improved market access through having tariff free access to the markets in all three countries. Prior to 2010, however, along with other countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the three countries had agreements in place that stipulated free trade in goods among them. Thus, the Customs Union could not provide improved market access due to reducing tariffs on goods circulating among the three countries.

Since the common external tariff was essentially the Russian tariff, there was little change in incentives regarding tariffs in Russia. The big change occurred in Kazakhstan, who had a much lower tariff structure than Russia prior to implementing the Customs Union tariff. Despite the exemptions, Kazakhstan almost doubled its tariffs in the first year of the Customs Union (see World Bank, 2012). The increase in tariffs on many items which were not produced in Kazakhstan but produced in Russia, led to a substantial increase in imports from Russia and displacement of imports from Europe. Many of Russia’s manufacturing firms, which were not competitive in Kazakhstan prior to the Customs Union, were now able to expand sales to the Kazakhstani market. This represents gains for Russian industry.  Given the deeper manufacturing base in Russia compared with most of the CIS countries and the resulting uneven benefits of the common external tariff in favor of Russia, acceptance of the common external tariff has been a fundamental negotiating position of Russia regarding acceptance of members in the Customs Union.

Some cite the expanded Russian exports in Kazakhstan as evidence of success of the Customs Union. But the displacement of European imports, to higher priced or lower quality imports from Russia, represents a substantial transfer of income from Kazakhstan to Russia and is an example of what economists call “trade diversion”. Moreover, it is the reason the World Bank (2012) has evaluated the tariff changes of the Customs Union as a loss of real income for Kazakhstan.

Furthermore, the three countries together (and even a broader collection of CIS countries) constitute too small a market to erect tariff walls against external competition. They would lose the benefits of importing technology from advanced countries and would rely on high priced production from within the Customs Union. Some would argue that there are political benefits of trade to be taken into account, but experience has shown that when a customs union is inefficient and the benefits and the costs of the customs union are very unequal, the customs union can inflame conflicts (see Schiff and Winters, 2003, 194-195).

Non-Tariff Barriers — Extremely Costly Methods of Regulating Standards Worsened by the Customs Union

Non-tariff barriers, in the form of sanitary and phyto-sanitary (SPS) conditions on food and agricultural products and technical barriers to trade (TBTs) on goods, are a very significant problem of the Customs Union. There are standards based trade disputes between Belarus and Russia on several products, including milk, meat, buses, pipes and beer (see Petrovskaya, 2012). Anecdotal evidence indicates that Kazakhstani exporters complain bitterly regarding the use by the Russian authorities of SPS and TBTs measures, either to extract payments or for protection.

If the Customs Union could make substantial progress on reducing these barriers, it would be a significant accomplishment. My colleagues and I have estimated that progress on the non-tariff barriers and trade facilitation could outweigh the negative impact of the tariff changes for Kazakhstan (see World Bank, 2012). Unfortunately, so far the Customs Union has taken a step backward on both non-tariff barriers and trade facilitation.

A big problem in reducing standards as a non-tariff barrier is that standards regulation, in all three countries, is still primarily based on the Soviet system. As a holdover from the Soviet era, mandatory technical regulations are employed where market economies allow voluntary standards to apply. This regulatory system makes innovation and adaption to the needs of the market very costly as firms must negotiate with regulators when they want to change a product or how it is produced. Legislation in both Russia and Kazakhstan calls for conversion to a system of voluntary standards, but this is happening too slowly in all three countries. The problem is that the Customs Union has worsened the situation. Technical regulations are now decided at the level of the Customs Union, so firms that previously negotiated with their national standards authority, have had to now get agreement from the Customs Union. This has reportedly caused further delays, impeding innovation and the ability of firms to meet the demands of the market.

A second problem with efforts to reduce the non-tariff barriers is that the Customs Union is trying to harmonize standards of the three countries by producing mandatory technical regulations.  The alternative is to use Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs). Experience has shown that no customs union has been able to broadly harmonize standards based on mandatory technical regulations, with the exception of the European Union. In fact, even in the European Union, they have had to use MRAs and only harmonized technical regulations after decades of work. While each member of the Customs Union is expected to create a system of mutual recognition of certificates of conformity, these certificates are not presently recognized in the other countries of the Customs Union. There is little hope for a significant reduction in standards of non-tariff barriers unless the system of mutual recognition is more widely recognized and adopted.

Trade Facilitation —Participation in International Production Chains Made More Difficult by the Customs Union

Customs posts between the member countries have been removed and this has reduced trade costs for both exporters and importers in the three countries. Russia’s concerns regarding transshipment have, however, led to an opposite impact on trade with third countries, i.e., the costs of trading with countries outside the Customs Union have increased. Participation in international production chains has become a key feature of modern international production and trade. If goods cannot move easily in and out of the country, multinational firms will look to other countries to make their foreign direct investment and for international production sharing. Addressing this significant problem will take a change of emphasis on the part of Russia.

Russian WTO Accession —Liberalization That Will Significantly Reduce Transfers to Russia

It has apparently been agreed by the Customs Union members that the common external tariff of the Customs Union will change to accommodate Russia’s WTO commitments. As a result, the applied un-weighted average tariff will fall in stages from 10.9 percent in 2012 to 7.9 percent by the year 2020 (see Shepotylo and Tarr, forthcoming).[1]  This will have the effect of lowering the trade diversion costs of Kazakhstan. In addition, the Customs Union will be expected to adapt its rules on standards to conform to commitments Russia made as part of its WTO accession commitments. In the case of Belarus, it remains to be seen if it will implement the changes, as this will increase competition for its industries.

Conclusion — the Need to Russia to Exercise Political Leadership for Standards and Trade Facilitation Reform for Success of the Customs Union

In 1996, the same three countries formed a customs union. Later the same year, they were joined by Kyrgyzstan, then by Tajikistan and in 2005 by Uzbekistan. As Michalopoulos and I (1997) anticipated, the earlier Customs Union failed because it imposed large costs on the Central Asian countries, which had to buy either lower quality (including lower tech goods) or higher priced Russian manufactured goods under the tariff umbrella. The present Customs Union also started with the Russian tariff, which protects Russian industry and suffers from the same problem that led to the failure of the earlier Customs Union. Nonetheless, the present Customs Union could succeed. Crucially, due to Russia’s accession to the WTO, the tariff of the Customs Union will fall by about 40 to 50 percent.[2]  This will make the Customs Union a more open Customs Union, very significantly reduce the transfers from Kazakhstan to Russia, and thereby reduce the pressures from producers and consumers in Kazakhstan on their government to depart from enforcement of the tariffs of the Customs Union.  Further, the present Customs Union aims to reduce non-tariff barriers and improve trade facilitation, as well as it has “deep integration” on its agenda, i.e., services liberalization, the free movement of labor and capital and some regulatory harmonization. Although, to date, the Customs Union has moved backwards on non-tariff barriers and trade facilitation, one could optimistically hope for substantial progress. In the important area of non-tariff barriers, given the common history of Soviet mandatory standards, Russia will have to take the lead in moving the Customs Union toward a system of voluntary standards where no health and safety issue are involved, and toward a system of mutual recognition agreements and away from commonly negotiated technical regulations. On trade facilitation, Russia will have to reverse its pressure and find a way to allow the freer movement of goods with third countries while addressing its transshipment concerns.


  • Michalopoulos, Constantine and David G. Tarr (1997), “The Economics of Customs Unions in the Commonwealth of Independent States,” Post-Soviet Geography and Economics, Vol. 38, No. 3, 125-143.
  • Petrovskaya, Galina (2012), “Belarus, Rossia, Ukraina. Obrechennye na torgovye konflikty” (Belarus, Russia, Ukraine. Doomed for trade conflicts), Deutsche Welle, June 14. www.dw.de/dw/article/0,,16023176,00.html.
  • Schiff, Maurice and L. Alan Winters (2003), Regional Integration and Development, Washington DC: World Bank and Oxford University Press.
  • Shepotylo, Oleksandr, and David G. Tarr (2008), “Specific tariffs, tariff simplification and the structure of import tariffs in Russia: 2001–2005,” Eastern European Economics, 46(5):49–58.
  • Shepotylo, Oleksandr, and David G. Tarr (forthcoming), “Impact of WTO Accession on the Bound and Applied Tariff Rates of Russia,” Eastern European Economics.
  • Shymulo-Tapiola, Olga (2012), “The Eurasian Customs Union: Friend or Foe of the EU?”  The Carnegie Papers, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, October. Available at: www.CarnegieEurope.eu,
  • World Bank (2012), Assessment of Costs and Benefits of the Customs Union for Kazakhstan, Report Number 65977-KZ, Washington DC, January 3, 2012. Available at: http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/2012/01/15647043/assessment-costs-benefits-customs-union-kazakhstan

[1] The final “bound rate” of Russia is higher at 8.6 percent on an un-weighted average basis; but there are about 1,500 tariff lines where the applied rate of Russia is below the bound rate.   The applied weighted average tariff will fall from 9.3 percent in 2012 to 5.8 percent in 2020.

[2] Russian tariffs fall more on an un-weighted average basis than they do on a weighted average basis. See Shepotylo and Tarr (forthcoming).

Russia and the WTO

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Eighteen years after the start of the accession process, Russia is closer than ever to joining the World Trade Organization (WTO). The negotiations have been long and hard as Russia had to agree the accession terms with 57 out of the 153 WTO member countries which formed the working group. Moreover, the number of goods for which the extent and timeframe of the change of Russian tariffs were agreed exceeded 10,000. The negotiation team led by Maxim Medvedkov has done an immense amount of work and found compromises on sensitive issues such as pay for the flights of foreign planes over Siberia, compensating European producers for the discriminatory law on industrial assembly, the amount of support for the agricultural sector, access to the market of banking services, etc. Now, all these differences have been ironed out and the WTO has agreed with all the participants, and put on the table the final terms of Russia’s accession.

Terms of Accession

It has to be noted that the change of tariffs after Russia’s accession to the WTO will be insignificant. Average tariffs on goods after all the agreements have come into force will decrease to 7.8% from 10% in 2011.

The tariffs on agricultural goods will drop to 10.8% compared with the current level of 13.2%, and for manufactured goods from 9.5% to 7.3%. The duties on some goods will, however, drop significantly. For example, the tariff on new cars will be cut by half from 30% today to 15%. On the other hand, one has to bear in mind that the agreed decrease of all tariffs will not happen overnight after the Russian accession. It will rather take place gradually at a rate which has also been agreed on with the WTO members. The tariff for new cars will drop to 25% immediately after accession and will remain at that level for the next three years before the cuts resume at an annual rate of 2.5% over the following four years to reach the targeted level of 15%. Russia has no commitments to reduce tariffs any further. The tariffs on used cars up to 7 years old will be fixed at 25% at accession and will not change over the next five years before being cut to 20% over the following two years. Duties on cars older than 7 years will not change at all. On the whole, tariffs will be changed completely immediately upon accession only on one-third of the goods. For many goods the process will extend over three years, and for some over 8 years after accession.

Not only trade in goods, but also service and foreign direct investment spheres will be liberalized. One of the most difficult negotiation items was the banking sector, where some WTO member countries (notably the USA) demanded a total opening up of the Russian market of banking services to foreign financial and lending institutions. Moscow, for its part, insisted on preserving the current situation where only the subsidiaries and not branches of foreign banks operate in the Russian market. The difference between the former and the latter is that the activities of subsidiaries on Russian territory are regulated by the Russian Central Bank, while branches are regulated by the laws of the country of origin. The Russian position prevailed, which means that the situation for foreign banks will not change and the cost of entering the Russian market will remain at the current level. Accordingly, the cost of banking services for Russian clients will not change. This is not good news for Russian small and medium-sized enterprises which had hoped that a massive entry of foreign banks could help bring down the interest rates on loans.

Major changes may take place in the insurance market when Russia allows branches of foreign insurance companies. However, a nine-year transitional period appears to be enough for all the stakeholders to prepare themselves.

Assessment of the Consequences of Russia’s Accession to the WTO for the Economy

The question that is uppermost in the minds of all Russians is whether the economy stands to gain or lose as a result of WTO accession. On the one hand, opponents of accession point to the not very successful experience of accession to the WTO of some former Soviet republics. These opponents paint lurid pictures of the social consequences of the closure of a large number of Russian enterprises. By contrast, the advocates of accession cite the success of China whose export-led growth accelerated significantly after the country joined the WTO. Time will tell what the results of a WTO accession will be for Russia. The result will in many ways depend on well-thought-out and coordinated actions of the Russian federal and regional authorities. In the meantime, we can only talk about what we expect from accession and what its potential consequences may be. The Russian government and the World Bank have conducted several major studies, seeking to determine the economic consequences of a WTO accession. While there are some discrepancies in evaluating the quantitative changes in specific sectors and at the economy-wide level, researchers more or less agree in qualitative terms. The general consensus is that the changes in outputs, consumption, prices and welfare due to the new tariff agreements are likely to be fairly small. Because the overall reduction of import tariffs in Russia will be insignificant, one may expect that changes in specific sectors, too, will not be dramatic (within plus-minus 1-3% of the base level).

CEFIR jointly with the Belgian TML Centre and the German ZEW with the support of the European Union Seventh Framework Programme, recently build a general equilibrium model of the Russian economy SUST-RUS (CEFIR 2011) which makes it possible to assess the effect of a Russian WTO accession on specific sectors. Several scenario calculations have been made to model the short term (one or two years after the reduction of all the tariffs) and long-term (five or six years after the reduction of all the tariffs) effects of a Russian WTO accession. The results of the scenario modeling should be seen as an indication of the direction of market processes caused solely by a WTO accession without taking into account any other possible changes in the economic environment (for example, a change of energy prices, the strengthening or weakening of the ruble against the leading world currencies, changes in the domestic market, etc.).

The short-term scenario assumes only a change of the tariff timetable. The long-term scenario has a further assumption concerning the return on foreign direct investments for the business service sector. Business services include banking insurance, financial services, transport services, wholesale trade, etc. Some terms of Russia’s WTO accession pertain to the business service sphere and envisage considerable liberalization of foreign companies’ access to these sectors. One can expect that lower barriers to entry would push down prices in these sectors and make them more accessible for Russian enterprises, which in turn would reduce their costs, boost production and create more jobs. The general equilibrium modeling of this mechanism assumes a conservative reduction of barriers for foreign investments of about 10% of the current level.

According to CEFIR’s results, the potential growth of welfare in the economy caused by a WTO accession in the short term will be 0.4% per year, and in the long term 1% per year. Budget revenues will fall due to diminished tariffs, and there may be a dip in the rate of GDP growth in the short term. Model calculations show a significant change of the trade balance, possibly a reduction of the trade surplus to 10%. At the sectorial level, a WTO accession will reduce domestic prices of timber and articles made from wood, foodstuffs, transport means, as well as equipment, clothes, chemicals and petrochemical products by 1.5-2.5% in the short term and by up to 3% in the long term. This will increase consumption by between 0.2% and 0.4% in the short term and up to 1.5% in the long term. It has to be noted that the liberalization of the service sphere is a very important assumption of these calculations as it accounts for half of the long-term gains for consumers.

The World Bank has also carried out a study of the consequences of a Russian accession to the WTO in 2004 (Jensen et al, 2004). That study put the net positive gain from liberalization of tariffs at 3.4% of the GDP. That analysis was based above all on the economic effect from a change in import tariffs. Trade liberalization is historically associated with lower tariffs. Most sectors stand to gain from accession. Because the authors identify two main causes of the gains from liberalization – easier access to foreign markets and cheapening of the ruble in proportion to the change of tariffs – the sectors that will benefit are those which has a high share of exports, and which have not been heavily protected by tariffs to begin with.

The biggest beneficiary will be metallurgy, with a 25% increase in output and employment in ferrous metallurgy and 15% in non-ferrous metallurgy. The growth in the chemical and petrochemical industries can be up to 10% and in coal mining up to 6%. The significant gains predicted by the World Bank study owe something to the optimistic view of the possible terms of Russia’s accession to the WTO. For example, it assumed that all the import tariffs would be cut by 50% and all (100%) of the administrative barriers to investment in business services would be removed. More modest assessments of the potential gains for Russia in other studies reflect the smaller Russian commitments to liberalization of import tariffs and the services sphere. For example, CEFIR’s results show that steel-making enterprises will not experience difficulties after a WTO accession and may grow by about 2% in the long term.

Along with the cut of import duties, Russian producers will face tougher competition on the part of foreign goods for which prices will be cut. Accordingly, Russian producers will also have to cut their prices to be competitive. This is good news for consumers. Not all domestic producers will be able to cut their prices. The enterprises whose production costs turn out to be higher than the new prices, and which fail to cut their costs, will be pushed out of the market. The sectors where one can expect a drop in production are above all those which have long been protected against international competition by high import duties. CEFIR’s study has shown that in the short term, negative consequences may ensue for the food industry, pharmaceutical companies and textile enterprises which may see their output drop by between 0.5% and 2%.

According to the World Bank study, the biggest decline in output and employment may occur in the machine-building sector (12%) and in the food and light industries as well as in the construction-material industry (up to 7%). The above figures of decrease or increase refer to the summary effect from liberalization accumulated over a period of 7-10 years after a Russian accession to the WTO. Several studies have been devoted to the consequences of a WTO accession for regional economies. For example, World Bank experts (Rutherford and Tarr, 2006) point to positive, but uneven consequences of a WTO accession for Russian regions. The biggest beneficiaries from lower tariffs are likely to be the Tyumen region, the North Western District as a whole, and in particular, St. Petersburg, where welfare may increase by 1%. Low growth or no growth may be expected in the Central District and in the Urals. These results tally with the assessments of the consequences of WTO accession for the Russian regions made by the Independent Social Policy Institute (ISPI 2004) which also included some regions of the Volga Federal District among the high-risk regions.

Results of studies of changes in the labor market in the wake of WTO accession, generally accord with the other findings. The International Labor Organization (ILO 2003) predicts an average loss of 6000 jobs in industry in the year following accession and up to 1000 jobs in seven or eight years’ time. The biggest number of jobs will be lost in the light-industry sector (up to 15,000 during the transitional period). Such a drop in employment will hardly make any difference to the unemployment situation in the country as whole, but may differ from one region to another.

Most studies agree that Russia may gain from easier access for Russian enterprises to foreign markets after a WTO accession, but that the gain will not be great compared to the potential gain from the liberalization of the service sphere. There are not many export-oriented enterprises in the country, but they exist. There are about 6,000 export-oriented enterprises in the processing industry. These enterprises include chemical, metallurgical and high-tech enterprises, and are the most efficient and competitive producers in the country. These enterprises may be expected to pick up the slack in the labor market due to redundancies in sectors that will be affected by a WTO accession. The coordinating role of the state is very important in creating conditions for movement of labor. The gradual reduction of tariffs may dampen the social consequences of Russia’s WTO accession. In the regions where some production facilities are “doomed”, programs for retraining of labor must be launched without delay, especially in information technologies, and the services and skills required for starting a new business. The aim of such retraining should be to enable those who lose their jobs to be employed in other spheres of the economy. It is equally important to develop new forms of financing migration of the population within the country. The solution of this task may become one more – and very important – result of the WTO accession for Russia.


  • CEFIR. 2011. SUST-RUS project. www.sust-rus.org
  • ILO. 2003. “Social consequences of Russia accession to WTO.” Moscow office of ILO (in Russian)
  • ISPI. 2004. “Russia’s accession to WTO: real and imaginary social consequences.” (In Russian)
  • Jensen, Rutherford, Tarr. 2004. “Economy-Wide and Sector Effects of Russia’s Accession to the WTO.” World Bank
  • Rutherford, Tarr. 2006. “Regional Impacts of Russia’s Accession to the WTO.” The World Bank

Does Service-Sector Liberalization Increase Productivity in the Manufacturing Sector?

20111219 Does Service-Sector Liberalization Increase Productivity Image 03

Authors: Oleksandr Shepotylo and Volodymyr Vakhitov, KEI.

This policy brief summarizes the results of recent research on the effect of service-sector liberalization in Ukraine, 2001-2007, on productivity in the manufacturing sector. We use a sample of manufacturing firms and construct a firm-specific index of service-sector liberalization. We find that the manufacturing firms which more intensively use liberalized services, on average, have gained 9 percent in total factor productivity (TFP). The service liberalization is associated with increased foreign presence which also has a positive and significant effect on TFP. The effect is stronger for domestic and small firms.