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Essays on Firms and International Trade


This dissertation empirically examines three different questions related to the behavior and performance of firms participating of international trade.

In the first essay, I ask whether exporting allows firms to charge higher markups. To study this question, I use a unique dataset of Chilean manufacturing firms that contains product-level data on the price and average cost for all goods produced and exported. This allows me to compute direct markup measures, and to identify whether markups variation is accounted by different pricing policies or changes in the production cost. Although within firms the export markup premium is moderate -about 2%-, the study of the trajectories of markups before and after export entry reveals the presence of ongoing gains after export entry. While at the moment of export entry the markup of exported products is not different than the markup of domestic products, three periods after export entry the markup wedge increases to about 7-9%. A decomposition of the markup premium reveals that, within firms, the higher markups on exported products is accounted by both higher prices and marginal cost. In contrast, after export entry, prices and average cost tend to decrease.

In the second essay -based on joint work with Nico Voigtlaender-, we revisit the old question of whether firms become more productive after export entry. While there is strong evidence for productivity-driven selection into exporting, previous research has mostly failed to identify export-related efficiency gains within plants. This non-result is typically derived from revenue productivity, which reflects price variation. Using a census panel of Chilean manufacturing plants, we first confirm the non-result for revenue productivity. We then compute plant-product level marginal cost as an efficiency measure that is not affected by prices. We find within-plant efficiency gains of 15-25%, the same order of magnitude as selection effects across plants. Evidence suggests that technology upgrading in combination with export entry is an important driver behind these gains.

The final essay studies firms' quality patterns across destinations, when they produce products in different quality segments. I develop a quality model with non-homothetic quality demand and heterogeneity in consumers' income. The model features quality sorting of consumers according to their income level. This implies that firm's quality allocation depends not only on the average income of the country, but on the entire income distribution of the country. The main prediction of the model is related to the role of income inequality on within-firm quality patters. I find that in countries with a smaller middle classes, firms' tend to skew their exports towards products of higher quality. This effect tends to be weaker in countries with higher income. To illustrate the main predictions of the model, I use a unique dataset from the Chilean wine industry. This dataset allows me to construct measures of product quality, that are not affected by aggregation or markup issues. In line with the model's predictions, I find that firms tend export proportionally more high quality products to more unequal countries. However, I find this effect to be quantitatively important only in low and middle-income countries.

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