Swedish economists Eli Heckscher and Bertil Ohlin developed the theory of relative factor endowments to answer the question – “How do the countries acquire comparative advantage?” Heckscher Ohlin Theory of International Trade considers Factor endowments of the trading region to predict patterns of commerce and production. The key factor endowments which vary among countries are Land, Capital, Natural resources, labour, climate etc. Heckscher Ohlin model is based on the theory of Comparative advantage given by David Ricardo. This theory is also known as a theory of comparative advantage in international trade.
The model essentially says that countries will export products that use their abundant and cheap factor(s) of production and import products that use the countries’ scarce factor(s)
This two economist observed some important points which are given below –
Endowment factor is important for countries
|Saudi Arabia||Oil resources|
|South Africa and Papua New Guinea||Gold mines|
Chart: relative factor endowments of selected countries.
|Country||Capital/Labour (S Per worker)||Capital/Land (S Per hectare)||Land/Labour (Worker per hectare)|
Source: Harry P.Bowen et.al., “Multi-country. Multifactor Tests of the Factor Abundance Theory”. American Economic Review, pp.806-807.
2. In relation to land and capital, if labour is available in abundance in a country, the price of labour would be low and the price of land and capital would be high in that country. The vice-versa is true in those countries where land and capital are available in abundance in relation to labour.
3. These relative factor costs would lead countries to produce the products at low costs.
4. Countries have a comparative advantage based on the factors endowed and in turn the price of the factors. Countries acquire a comparative advantage in those products for which the factors endowed by the country concerned are used as inputs.
For example, India and China have a comparative advantage in labour intensive industry like textile and tobacco, Saudi Arabia has a comparative advantage in oil. Therefore, countries export those goods in which they have a comparative advantage due to factors endowed
Chart: principal exports of selected countries.
|Country||Principal exports||% of Principal Exports to Total Exports|
|UK||Finished Manufactured goods||57.2|
|Canada||Automobiles and Parts||22.4|
|Malaysia||Electric and Electronic Machinery||55.6|
|Singapore||Machinery and Equipment||62.4|
|India||Manufacturer & Engineering||72.1|
Source: Adapted from The WTO
5. Countries participate in international trade by exporting those products which they can produce at low-cost consequent upon the abundance of factors and import the other products which they can produce comparatively at a high cost.
Assumptions of Theory
Both countries have identical production technology
Production output must have constant Return to Scale
The technologies used to produce the two commodities differ
Labour mobility within countries: Within countries, capital and labour can be reinvested and re-employed to produce different outputs
Capital mobility within countries
Capital immobility between countries
Labour immobility between countries
Commodities have the same price everywhere
Perfect internal competition
Land Labour Relationship
|Condition (Country)||Go for||Produces||Example|
|area of land available is less in relation to the people||multistorey factories||light-weight products||clothing production in Hongkong|
|a large area of land in relation to population||–||sheep, wheat and other agricultural-related products||Canada, Australia, India|
Labour Capital Relationship:
|Labour Abundant||labour is abundant in relation to capital||export labour-intensive products||India has export competitiveness in textile garments|
|Capital Abundant||Capital is abundant in relation to labour||export capital—intensive products||Iran has export competitiveness in handmade carpets, Japan in computers, televisions, refrigerators, cars etc|
There are certain surprising aspects to the Labor Capital relationship in international trade.
Wassily Leontief observed that US exports are labour—intensive compared with US imports.
But, it is assumed that the USA has abundant capital relative to labour. Therefore, this surprising finding is known as the Leontief Paradox. This is because of the variation in labour skills.
Advanced countries have higher labour skills compared to developing countries. Therefore, advanced countries have a competitive advantage in exporting products requiring higher labour skills while developing countries have an advantage in exporting products requiring less skilled labour.
Different methods for production can be used due to technological advancements..
Canada: wheat production with machines
India: Wheat production with labour
Industries locate different production processes in different countries in order to reduce the cost of production.
This theory explains the relative advantage of the countries based on the factor endowments.
Thus, the theories discussed so far, are country-based theories rather than firm– based theories. Now, we shall discuss firm-based theories.
Firm based theories include:
1. Country similarity theory
2. product life cycle theory and
3. global strategic rivalry theory
International Business, P. Subba Rao, Himalaya Publication
Wikipedia HeckScher Ohlin Model
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