Local Protectionism, Market Structure, and Social Welfare: China's Automobile Market
While China has made great strides in transforming its centrally-planned economy to a market-oriented economy, there still exist widespread interregional trade barriers, such as policies and practices that protect local firms against competition from non-local firms. This study documents the presence of local protectionism and quantifies its impacts on market competition and social welfare in the context of China’s automobile market. This market exhibits a salient feature that vehicle models by joint ventures (JVs) and especially state-owned enterprises (SOEs) command much higher market shares in their headquarter province than at the national level. Through spatial discontinuity analysis at provincial borders, falsification tests, and consumer surveys, we first confirm protective policies such as subsidies to local brands as the primary contributing factor. We then set up and estimate a market equilibrium model to quantify the impact of local protection, controlling for other demand and supply factors. Counterfactual simulations show that local protection leads to significant choice distortions, resulting in 18.7 billion yuan of consumer welfare loss, amounting to 40% of total subsidy. Provincial governments face a prisoner’s dilemma: according to our estimates, local protection reduces aggregate social welfare, but the provincial governments have no incentive to unilaterally remove local protection.
We thank Matt Backus, Steve Coate, Penny Goldberg, Paul Grieco, Jean-Francois Houde, Ivan Png, Paolo Ramezzana, Fan Ying, and seminar participates at Arizona State University, Cornell University, Cornell-Penn State Econometrics and IO Conference, Federal Trade Commission, HEC Montreal Conference on IO, Indiana University, NBER Chinese Economy Working Group, New York IO Day Conference, Peking University, University of California-Davis, and University of Wisconsin for helpful comments. We acknowledge generous data sharing from Tao Chen, Rui Li, and Xiaobo Zhang. Ke Liu, Binglin Wang and Jingyuan Wang provided excellent research assistance. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.