This article reviews the state of the international trade literature on multinational firms. This literature addresses three main questions. First, why do some firms operate in more than one country while others do not? Second, what determines in which countries production facilities are located? Finally, why do firms own foreign facilities rather than simply contract with local producers or distributors? We organize our exposition of the trade literature on multinational firms around the workhorse monopolistic competition model with constant-elasticity-of-substitution (CES) preferences. On the theoretical side, we review alternative ways to introduce multinational activity into this unifying framework, illustrating some key mechanisms emphasized in the literature. On the empirical side, we discuss the key studies and provide updated empirical results and further robustness tests using new sources of data.
I survey the influence of Grossman and Hart's (1986. “The Costs and Benefits of Ownership: A Theory of Vertical and Lateral Integration,” 94 Journal of Political Economy 691–719.) seminal paper in the field of International Trade. I discuss the implementation of the theory in open-economy environments and its implications for the international organization of production and the structure of international trade flows. I also review empirical work suggestive of the empirical relevance of the property-rights theory. Along the way, I develop novel theoretical results and also outline some of the key limitations of existing contributions. (JEL D23, F10, F12, F14, F21, F23, L22, L23).
We develop a property-rights model of the ﬁrm in which production entails a continuum of uniquely sequenced stages. In each stage, a ﬁnal-good producer contracts with a distinct supplier for the procurement of a customized stage-speciﬁc component. Our model yields a sharp characterization for the optimal allocation of ownership rights along the value chain. We show that the incentive to integrate suppliers varies systematically with the relative position (upstream versus downstream) at which the supplier enters the production line. Furthermore, the nature of the relationship between integration and “downstreamness” depends crucially on the elasticity of demand faced by the ﬁnal-good producer. Our model readily accommodates various sources of asymmetry across ﬁnal-good producers and across suppliers within a production line, and we show how it can be taken to the data with international trade statistics. Combining data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Related Party Trade database and estimates of U.S. import demand elasticities from Broda and Weinstein (2006), we ﬁnd empirical evidence broadly supportive of our key predictions. In the process, we develop two novel measures of the average position of an industry in the value chain, which we construct using U.S. Input-Output Tables.