Trade costs such as applied tariffs, transportation and insurance costs are amplified as they pass through the multiple production steps associated with modern supply chains. This socalled "cascade effect" arises since trade costs accumulate as intermediate goods are imported and then re-exported further downstream, going through different processing nodes before reaching the final consumer. Moreover, the financial impact of these trade costs is magnified in the "trade in tasks" rationale which governs global value chains (GVCs). Specialised processing firms need to recoup the associated trade cost applying to the full value of the good from the smaller fraction of value-added created at each consecutive productive stage. This large relative weight of transaction expenses on the profitability of individual business operations explains why trade along GVCs is particularly exposed to trade costs. The paper reviews the implications of trade costs on competitiveness at industry, national and global levels. The financial implications of trade costs at firm and sectoral level are based on trade in value-added data for 2011. The multilateral welfare effects of reducing discrete trade costs are identified using a network analysis approach, which goes beyond the traditional bilateral dimension of international trade and identifies where trade facilitation investment would have the highest social returns from a GVC perspective. The authors conclude that while the direct benefits of trade facilitation will be proportionally higher for those countries that are not well integrated into international trade because of their high trade costs, the global benefits of trade facilitation investments will also be high if they are undertaken by key traders that lie at the core of global value chains.


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  • Published online: 23 Jan 2017
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