PROGRESS IN GEOGRAPHY ›› 2020, Vol. 39 ›› Issue (10): 1732-1746.doi: 10.18306/dlkxjz.2020.10.012

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A review on geographies of international trade

CHEN Tao1,2(), HE Canfei1,2,*()   

  1. 1. College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China
    2. Peking University-Lincoln Institute Center for Urban Development and Land Policy, Beijing 100871, China
  • Received:2019-12-19 Revised:2020-03-19 Online:2020-10-28 Published:2020-12-28
  • Contact: HE Canfei;
  • Supported by:
    Key Program of the National Natural Science Foundation of China(41731278)


It is expected that the world economy would be gradually integrated and interconnected by trade liberalization and progress in technology in globalization era. However, researchers have found that international trade remains significantly affected by geographies. At the same time, economic geographers put little effort on building theories about geographies of international trade and their main contribution in this field is confined to descriptive analysis on the heterogeneous patterns and network structures of international trade. In this article, how geographies affect trade in international economic studies is reviewed from three dimensions—production, circulation, and consumption. Differences on production side promote trade through the intermediation of opportunity cost while differences in circulation process hinder trade by increasing trade cost. Differences on consumption side affect trade through the intermediation of demand level. By summarizing the literature on the relationship between trade and institutional change, trade and urban agglomeration, trade and inequality, trade and innovation, and trade and pollution, we identify three major limitations of these studies. First, few studies dig into the endogeneity of geography systematically. Spatial disparity can be shaped by international trade rather than only determining international trade. Second, there is a dearth of multi-scale and inter-scale perspective despite that gains from trade at the macro level predicted by traditional trade theory are found not evenly distributed at the meso and micro levels, resulting in evident spatial disparity. Third, some of the studies do not fully explore product heterogeneity, thus cannot completely capture the various spatial impacts of trade. Therefore, possible contribution of economic geographers to international trade studies lies in thorough investigation on multi-dimensional heterogeneity and complex interactions between geographies and international trade from multi-scale and inter-scale perspective.

Key words: geography, international trade, globalization, scale