I endogenize transportation costs in a heterogeneous firm model of trade by introducing oligopolistic maritime carriers that move goods from manufacturers to final consumers. Within each destination, competition among manufacturers from various source countries generates a system, across source countries, of interdependent demands for transport. I then test the model using data on Ecuadorian auto imports from 2007 to 2012. Specifically, I determine whether the prevailing freight rates and the number of vehicles transported by a given number of carriers over a given length of time are jointly rationalizable by time-varying transport demands and convex, time-invariant shipping cost functions. As expected, it is easier to rationalize shipping activity among smaller groups of carriers over shorter horizons as Cournot equilibrium outcomes. I then bound carrier marginal costs using the set of rationalizable observations, and find evidence of dwindling profit margins since the beginning of the Great Recession, thus easing fears of distortions due to market power.
I study optimal contracting in international shipping, offering the first breakdown of the delivery process into its various components. I present stylized facts using detailed Colombian transaction-level data, showing that the allocation of delivery-related tasks within buyer-seller pairs constitutes an important margin of trade. I then model the allocation of control over such tasks. The model describes a sequential production process – consisting of manufacturing and distribution – in an incomplete-contracting environment. Contracts between exporters and importers specify shipping volumes and assign responsibility for delivery to one of the parties. The pair sequentially bargain over the value added by unverifiable efforts at each production stage. Bargaining power initially resides with exporters, but transfers to the party in charge of distribution at the factory gate, owing to the latter’s residual control rights over the output from delivery related activities. Trading partners thus allocate delivery rights to minimize the distortionary effects of these bargaining externalities. In contrast to the vast holdup literature, I find that exporters have a strong motive to over-invest in quality, and should thus be deprived of consignment rights unless their efforts are particularly important in the delivery process.
Exporter-importer pairs share various shipping-related tasks, which may be divided into within-border operations like customs clearance and carriage to and from ports, and border-to-border shipping. I model the latter assignment using the Grossman and Hart (1986) property rights approach. The model predicts that exporters should assume this responsibility when they have better access to reliable carriers, and that the effect of this access advantage is magnified when shipping differentiated products. I find empirical support for both claims using Spanish transaction-level data. I also provide some stylized facts about the within-border operations. Conditional on the exporter contracting for main carriage, he is less likely to clear goods through customs at destinations with poor contract enforcement and tedious customs procedures.