Three Essays in Empirical Economics

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Virginia Tech


This dissertation consists of three essays. The first essay estimates a demand function for compressed natural gas as a fuel substitute to diesel fuel for firms with hybrid fleets. The data is from the Energy Information Administration, for the years 1989 to 2009, for 47 states. Results show that an increase of $0.10 in the price of diesel fuel will increase compressed natural gas demand by 5.59%.

The second essay focuses on regional trade agreements (RTAs). A number of studies have found that RTAs significantly increase members' trade flows. While recent studies have begun to explore the reasons for this, none have examined whether the RTA trade effect varies systematically with the number and type of policy areas covered by the agreement. While the empirical trade literature has shed considerable light on the trade-creating ability of RTAs (Grant and Lambert, 2008), much less is known about why these agreements are so successful. In this study, we draw on a new database from the World Trade Organization of trade policy areas covered by RTAs to examine whether the degree of trade liberalization is an important determinant of the RTA trade effect. An augmented, theoretically consistent gravity equation is developed to explore the effects of RTAs on trade, conditional on the policy areas they include. In particular, we investigate two policy areas that are particularly important for agricultural trade, sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS) and technical barriers to trade (TBT). The results suggest that harmonization of non-tariff measures inside RTAs matters: Agreements that liberalize these policies increase members' agricultural trade by an additional 62 percent compared to agreements that do not. We conclude that studying the components of RTAs -- in particular, the policy areas covered by these agreements -- is important when analyzing the determinants of RTA trade effects.

The third essay uses Bayesian Model Averaging (BMA) to study the effect of membership in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the predecessor to the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the WTO on trade flows. Existing GATT/WTO literature is not univocal as to whether membership in the GATT/WTO increases trade flows. In this study, Bayesian model averaging (BMA) is used in the presence of theoretical uncertainty to address whether membership in the GATT/WTO plays a role in the gravity model. Several datasets are examined: a dataset from a previous study; and two datasets compiled for this study, world trade and agricultural trade. Results show, for all three sets of data, that membership in the GATT/WTO does belong in the gravity equation and increases trade flows.



Natural Gas Vehicles, Regional Trade Agreements, Bayesian Model Averaging, World Trade Organizations