Intra-industry Trade between Similar Economies

Self-Check Questions

How can there be any economic gains for a country from both importing and exporting the same good, like cars?


There are a number of possible advantages of intra-industry trade. Both nations can take advantage of extreme specialization and learning in certain kinds of cars with certain traits, like gas-efficient cars, luxury cars, sport-utility vehicles, higher- and lower-quality cars, and so on. Moreover, nations can take advantage of economies of scale, so that large companies will compete against each other across international borders, providing the benefits of competition and variety to customers. This same argument applies to trade between U.S. states, where people often buy products made by people of other states, even though a similar product is made within the boundaries of their own state. All states—and all countries—can benefit from this kind of competition and trade.

Table shows how the average costs of production for semiconductors (the “chips” in computer memories) change as the quantity of semiconductors built at that factory increases.

  1. Based on these data, sketch a curve with quantity produced on the horizontal axis and average cost of production on the vertical axis. How does the curve illustrate economies of scale?
  2. If the equilibrium quantity of semiconductors demanded is 90,000, can this economy take full advantage of economies of scale? What about if quantity demanded is 70,000 semiconductors? 50,000 semiconductors? 30,000 semiconductors?
  3. Explain how international trade could make it possible for even a small economy to take full advantage of economies of scale, while also benefiting from competition and the variety offered by several producers.
Quantity of Semiconductors Average Total Cost
  10,000 $8 each
  20,000 $5 each
  30,000 $3 each
  40,000 $2 each
 100,000 $2 each


  1. Start by plotting the points on a sketch diagram and then drawing a line through them. The following figure illustrates the average costs of production of semiconductors.
    The graph shows a downward-sloping line that levels and continues horizontally at point (40, 2).
    The curve illustrates economies of scale by showing that as the scale increases—that is, as production at this particular factory goes up—the average cost of production declines. The economies of scale exist up to an output of 40,000 semiconductors; at higher outputs, the average cost of production does not seem to decline any further.
  2. At any quantity demanded above 40,000, this economy can take full advantage of economies of scale; that is, it can produce at the lowest cost per unit. Indeed, if the quantity demanded was quite high, like 500,000, then there could be a number of different factories all taking full advantage of economies of scale and competing with each other. If the quantity demanded falls below 40,000, then the economy by itself, without foreign trade, cannot take full advantage of economies of scale.
  3. The simplest answer to this question is that the small country could have a large enough factory to take full advantage of economies of scale, but then export most of the output. For semiconductors, countries like Taiwan and Korea have recently fit this description. Moreover, this country could also import semiconductors from other countries which also have large factories, thus getting the benefits of competition and variety. A slightly more complex answer is that the country can get these benefits of economies of scale without producing semiconductors, but simply by buying semiconductors made at low cost around the world. An economy, especially a smaller country, may well end up specializing and producing a few items on a large scale, but then trading those items for other items produced on a large scale, and thus gaining the benefits of economies of scale by trade, as well as by direct production.