Political Limits on World Oil Trade

IDE Research Bulletin

March 2015

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International politics affects the oil trade. But why? We construct a firm-level dataset for all U.S. oil-importing companies over 1986-2008 to examine what kinds of firms are more responsive to change in “political distance” between the U.S. and her trading partners, measured by divergence in their UN General Assembly voting patterns. Consistent with previous macro evidence, we first show that individual firms diversify their oil imports politically, even after controlling for unobserved firm heterogeneity. We conjecture that the political pattern of oil imports from these individual firms is driven by hold-up risks, because oil trade is often associated with backward vertical FDI. To test this hold-up risk hypothesis, we investigate heterogeneity in responses by matching transaction-level import data with firm-level worldwide reserves.