Skip to main content Accessibility help

Barriers to Trade: How Border Walls Affect Trade Relations

  • David B. Carter and Paul Poast


Since trade must cross borders, to what extent do border walls affect trade flows? We argue that border walls can reduce trade flows. Even if the objective is to only stem illicit flows, border walls heighten “border effects” that can also inhibit legal cross-border flows. Using a gravity model of trade that reflects recent developments in both economic theory and econometrics, we find that the creation of a wall is associated with a reduction in legal trade flows between neighboring countries. We provide a battery of evidence that suggests this reduction is not simply a function of worsening bilateral relations. Our findings have implications for understanding how governments have taken measures to assert sovereign control of their borders in an age of increasing economic globalization.



Hide All
Abramson, Scott F, and Carter, David B.. 2016. The Historical Origins of Territorial Disputes. American Political Science Review 110 (4):675–98.
Ahlfeldt, Gabriel M., Redding, Stephen J., Sturm, Daniel M., and Wolf, Nikolaus. 2015. The Economics of Density: Evidence from the Berlin Wall. Econometrica 83 (6):2127–89.
Akera, Jenny C., Klein, Michael W., O'Connell, Stephen A., and Yang, Muzhe. 2014. Borders, Ethnicity and Trade. Journal of Development Economics 107:116.
Allen, Treb, de Castro Dobbin, Cauê, and Morten, Melanie. 2018. Border Walls. Technical report, National Bureau of Economic Research.
Amodio, Francesco, Baccini, Leonardo, and Di Maio, Michele. 2017. Security, Trade, and Political Violence. Working paper.
Anderson, James E. 2011. The Gravity Model. Annual Review of Economics 3 (1):133–60.
Anderson, James E., and van Wincoop, Eric. 2003. Gravity with Gravitas: A Solution to the Border Puzzle. American Economic Review 93 (1):170–92.
Avdan, Nazli, and Gelpi, Christopher F.. 2017. Do Good Fences Make Good Neighbors? Border Barriers and the Transnational Flow of Terrorist Violence. International Studies Quarterly 61 (1):1427.
Baldwin, Richard, and Taglioni, Daria. 2006. Gravity for Dummies and Dummies for Gravity Equations. Technical Report, National Bureau of Economic Research.
Barbieri, Katherine, Keshk, Omar M.G., and Pollins, Brian M.. 2009. Trading Data: Evaluating Our Assumptions and Coding Rules. Conflict Management and Peace Science 26 (5):471–91.
Bautista-Chavez, Angie. 2018. Communication with United States Department of Homeland Security Attaché to Mexico.
Brown, Wendy. 2010. Walled States, Waning Sovereignty. MIT Press.
Bueno de Mesquita, Ethan. 2007. Politics and the Suboptimal Provision of Counterterror. International Organization 61 (1):936.
Carter, David B., and Goemans, H.E.. 2011. The Making of the Territorial Order: New Borders and the Emergence of Interstate Conflict. International Organization 65 (2):275310.
Carter, David B., and Poast, Paul. 2017. Why Do States Build Walls? Political Economy, Security, and Border Stability. Journal of Conflict Resolution 61 (2):239–70.
Carter, David B, Poast, Rachel L. and Huth, Paul K.. 2017. Why Do States Build Walls? Political Economy, Security, and Border Stability. Journal of Conflict Resolution 61 (2):239–70.
Carter, David B, Wellhausen, Rachel L. and Huth, Paul K.. 2018. International Law, Territorial Disputes, and Foreign Direct Investment. International Studies Quarterly 63 (1):5871.
Clinton, Bill. 1994. Accepting the Immigration Challenge: The President's Report on Immigration. Government Printing Office.
Douglas, Ian R. 2000. Globalization and the Retreat of the State. In Globalization and the Politics of Resistance, 110131. Springer.
Freiden, Jeffry, Lake, David A., and Schultz, Kenneth. 2019. World Politics: Interests, Interactions, Institutions. W.W. Norton, 4th ed.
French, Hilary. 2013. Vanishing Borders: Protecting the Planet in the Age of Globalization. Routledge.
Gavrilis, George. 2008. The Dynamics of Interstate Boundaries. Cambridge University Press.
Getmansky, Anna, Grossman, Guy, and Wright, Austin. 2019. Border Walls and Smuggling Spillovers. Quarterly Journal of Political Science 14 (3):329–47.
Gibler, Douglas M. 2008. International Military Alliances, 1648–2008. CQ Press.
Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede. 2002. Expanded Trade and GDP Data. Journal of Conflict Resolution 46 (5):712–24.
Glick, Reuven, and Rose, Andrew K.. 2016. Currency Unions and Trade: A Post-EMU Reassessment. European Economic Review 87:7891.
Goldstein, Judith L., Rivers, Douglas, and Tomz, Michael. 2007. Institutions in International Relations: Understanding the Effects of the GATT and the WTO on World Trade. International Organization 61 (1):3767.
Gowa, Joanne. 1994. Allies, Adversaries, and International Trade. Princeton University Press.
Gowa, Joanne, and Hicks, Raymond. 2013. Politics, Institutions, and Trade: Lessons of the Interwar Era. International Organization 67 (3):439–67.
Guimarães, Paulo, and Portugal, Pedro. 2010. A Simple Feasible Procedure to Fit Models with High-Dimensional Fixed Effects. Stata Journal 10 (4):628–49.
Hassner, Ron, and Wittenberg, Jason. 2015. Barriers to Entry: Who Builds Fortified Borders and Why? International Security 40 (1):157–90.
Hinrikus, Taavet. 2017. The Fall and Rise of Global Borders. World Economic Forum: Annual Meeting of the New Champions, 26 Jun 2017. Available at <>.
Huth, Paul K., Croco, Sarah E., and Appel, Benjamin J.. 2011. Does International Law Promote the Peaceful Settlement of International Disputes? American Political Science Review 105 (2):415–36.
Keegan, John. 1993. A History of Warfare. Hutchinson.
Kieck, Erich. 2010. Coordinated Border Management: Unlocking Trade Opportunities Through One Stop Border Posts. World Customs Journal 4 (1):313.
Mansfield, Edward D., and Milner, Helen V.. 2012. Votes, Vetoes, and the Political Economy of International Trade Agreements. Princeton University Press.
Mansfield, Edward D., Milner, Helen V., and Rosendorff, B. Peter. 2000. Free to Trade: Democracies, Autocracies, and International Trade. American Political Science Review 94 (2):305–21.
McCallum, John. 1995. National Borders Matter: Canada–US Regional Trade Patterns. American Economic Review 85 (3):615–23.
Oneal, John R., and Russett, Bruce. 2001. Triangulating Peace: Democracy, Interdependence, and International Organizations. Norton.
Oster, Emily. 2019. Unobservable Selection and Coefficient Stability: Theory and Evidence. Journal of Business and Economic Statistics 37 (2):187204.
Peters, Margaret E. 2015. Open Trade, Closed Borders: Immigration in the Era of Globalization. World Politics 67 (1):114–54.
Poast, Paul. 2016. Dyads Are Dead, Long Live Dyads! The Limits of Dyadic Designs in International Relations Research. International Studies Quarterly 60 (2):369–74.
Reuter, Tina. 2018. The Political, Socio-Economic, and Cultural Implications of Man-made, Visible Barriers at International Borders: A Case Study of the US–Mexico Border. “International Barriers in the Globalized World” Workshop. Perry World House, University of Pennsylvania.
Rosière, Stéphane, and Jones, Reece. 2012. Teichopolitics: Re-considering Globalisation Through the Role of Walls and Fences. Geopolitics 17 (1):217–34.
Silva, J.M.C. Santos, and Tenreyro, Silvana. 2006. The Log of Gravity. The Review of Economics and Statistics 88 (4):641–58.
Simmons, Beth A. 2005. Rules over Real Estate: Trade, Territorial Conflict, and International Borders as Institution. Journal of Conflict Resolution 49 (6):823–48.
Simmons, Beth, and Kenwick, Michael. 2019. Border Orientation in a Globalizing World: Concept and Measurement. Available at SSRN <>.
Strange, Susan. 1996. The Retreat of the State: The Diffusion of Power in the World Economy. Cambridge University Press.
Thompson, William R. 2001. Identifying Rivals and Rivalries in World Politics. International Studies Quarterly 45 (4):557–86.
Vallet, Élisabeth, and David, Charles-Philippe. 2012. Introduction: The (Re) Building of the Wall in International Relations. Journal of Borderlands Studies 27 (2):111–19.
Van Bergeijk, Peter A.G. 2014. Economic Diplomacy and the Geography of International Trade. Edward Elgar.
Wilson, John S., Mann, Catherine L., and Otsuki, Tsunehiro. 2003. Trade Facilitation and Economic Development: A New Approach to Quantifying the Impact. The World Bank Economic Review 17 (3):367–89.


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Carter and Poast supplementary material
Carter and Poast supplementary material

 Unknown (33.1 MB)
33.1 MB

Barriers to Trade: How Border Walls Affect Trade Relations

  • David B. Carter and Paul Poast


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed