The Heckscher-Ohlin Model

In the Heckscher-Ohlin model of trade, what determines a country\'s comparative advantage? Choose a country (eg. Australia or an East Asian country) and discuss the usefulness of the model for explaining the changing pattern if trade in this country. What other models of trade might be useful in this regard.


The Heckscher-Ohlin model of trade, proposed by two Swedish economists Hecksher and Ohlin, is based on the differences of factor requirements in commodities and difference in relative factor endowments. It believes that these factors explain the cause of trade. According to the Heckscher-Ohlin theory, it predicts that countries will export those goods that make intensive use of factors of production, which are locally abundant, while importing goods that make intensive use of factors that are locally scarce (Salvatore, 1995). It extends the trade model to examine the basis for comparative advantage and the effects that international trade have on factor earnings in the nations. This essay will focus on how the Heckscher-Ohlin model of trades determines a country\'s comparative advantage. As an example of this model, two countries will be analysed, particularly on change patterns of trade in the country. Finally, this essay will outline briefly the alternative models that can be used under the same condition.

A few basic assumptions of the Heckscher-Ohlin model or known as "2x2x2" model because of the assumption that there are two countries with different factor endowments with two homogenous factors labour and capital, as the only factor production and produces two products differing in their relative factor intensity. The other assumptions are that the market is perfectly competitive, there are no transportation costs, taste and preferences are identical for both countries have the same capability in terms of technology.

What determines a country\'s comparative advantage?
Comparative advantage is a principle which stated that it will pay the country to produce more of those goods in which it is relatively more efficient and to export them in return for goods in which its relative advantage is least. The assumptions that have previously been outlined need to be analysed in order to explain the determinants for a country\'s comparative advantage using the Heckscher-Ohlin model. When there are two countries with different relative prices in autarky, then there is a basis for trade because of different factor endowments. In other words, factor endowments determine what country should produce and export and what it should import. Thus, the difference in factor endowments (in the face of equal technology and taste) is a basic determinant of comparative advantage and forms the basis for mutually beneficial trade.

Factor endowment for a country can be viewed in two ways, namely; the physical and price definition. Physical definition usually uses labour and capital as the key indicator for comparison. To determine which country is capital abundant and which is labour abundant, the ratio of the countries capital to labour need to be calculated. First, assume two factors of production, K and L, and two countries, A and B. Each country is capable of producing both of the two goods, X and Y. One country is assumed to be capital-abundant and the other country is labour-abundant. If country A has more capital per unit of labour than country B, then (KA/LA)>(KB/LB). So country B must have more labour per unit of capital than country A, (LB/KB)>(LA/KA). Thus labour is relatively cheap in country B and capital is relatively cheap in country A.

As an illustration, two countries were chosen for comparison, there are Australia and China. Obviously, Australia and China have different factor endowment. The former with a population of approximately 19 million should be a capital abundant country compare to China with a population of 1 billion. Therefore, from the example above, Australia ratio of capital to labour is greater than China, hence Australia is a capital abundant country. Thus Australia has a comparative advantage in terms of capital and China is advantageous in its labour. Meanwhile, price definition compare the relative prices of capital and labour in those two countries to determine their factor abundance. According to the Heckscher-Ohlin model, a country is a capital abundant country if it prices of capital to labour is less than the prices in the other country. Australia is still a capital abundant country because when technology, tastes and preferences of