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Unit 1

1.3 Comparative Advantage and Trade

3 min readseptember 12, 2020

Jeanne Stansak

Caroline Koffke


Key Terms

  • Absolute Advantage—the ability to produce more of a good or service with a given amount of resources than someone else.
  • Comparative Advantage—the ability to produce a good at the lowest opportunity cost.
  • Terms of Trade—the rate at which one good can be exchanged for another.

Introduction

The concepts of absolute and comparative advantage are used to illustrate how individual countries or entities interact and trade with each other. These concepts also focus on how people specialize in what they are good at producing, and how they trade for goods and services that they are not as efficient at producing.
There are two types of problems within these concepts: output and input. Output problems focus on data associated with what each party can produce with a given set of resources, as well as who should specialize in each good. Input problems focus on how much of a resource is needed to produce one unit of a particular good or service.

Output Problems

The rules for these problems are:
  • To determine the absolute advantage you are simply looking for which country can produce a higher amount of the good or service.
  • To determine comparative advantage you have to calculate per unit opportunity cost using the formula give up/gain (the amount of good you are giving up divided by the amount of good you are gaining). Once you have calculated per unit opportunity cost, the country with the lowest one has a comparative advantage.
  • If the two countries can both make the same amount of the good, then we say neither country has an absolute advantage.
  • Countries export what they have a comparative advantage in and import what they don't have a comparative advantage in.
https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-gz9kmj5AGf3H.png?alt=media&token=537aba2e-14ac-4f0a-81e1-6b73ad7110f5

Determining Absolute Advantage

Using the table above, we would determine that Japan has an absolute advantage in steel (1200 > 1000) and Canada has an absolute advantage in coal (500 > 300).

Determining Comparative Advantage

The per unit opportunity cost for steel in Canada is 1/2 a unit of coal (500/1000).
The per unit opportunity cost for steel in Japan is 1/4 a unit of coal (300/1200).
Since 1/4 is less than 1/2, Japan has comparative advantage in steel.
The per unit opportunity cost for coal in Canada is 2 units of steel (1000/500).
The per unit of opportunity cost for coal in Japan is 4 units of steel (1200/300).
Since 2 is less than 4, Canada has comparative advantage in coal.
Japan will export steel to Canada and import coal from Canada.
Terms of Trade
Terms of trade are determined by looking at the two opportunity costs and choosing a number that falls between the opportunity costs in order for it to be beneficial to both countries.
Acceptable terms of trade for this situation would be:
  • 1 coal = 3 units of steel
  • 1 steel = 1/3 units of coal

Input Problems

The rules for these problems are:
  • To determine absolute advantage, you are looking for the country that uses the least amount of resources (i.e. the lower number).
  • To determine comparative advantage, you have to calculate the per unit opportunity cost using the formula gain/give up. Once you have calculated the per unit opportunity cost the country with the lowest one has a comparative advantage.
  • If the two countries can both make one unit of the good with the same amount of resources, then we say neither country has an absolute advantage.
  • Countries export what they have a comparative advantage in and import what they don't have a comparative advantage in.
https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-3xYdvNFwFM0q.png?alt=media&token=50f944cb-68ef-40d5-9ee3-7dc5ce8fec79

Terms of Trade

Terms of trade are determined by looking at the two opportunity costs and choosing a number that falls between the opportunity costs in order for it to be beneficial to both countries.
Acceptable terms of trade for the situation described above would be:
  • 1 truck for 1.5 cars—this number is between 1, the comparative advantage for a truck in Brazil, and 2, the comparative advantage for a truck in the United States
  • 1 car for 3/4 of a truck—this number is between 1/2, the comparative advantage for a car in the United States, and 1, the comparative advantage for a car in Brazil

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