Traders in the food value chain - firm size and international food distribution (TRADERS)

2014 - 2019 (Completed) Project number: 233836
Research Project
The project focuses on patterns of distribution in Norway's seafood exports and agricultural trade (exports and imports).

The project examines organization, market structure and distribution along the value chains in international food trade, focusing on Norway's seafood exports and agricultural exports and imports.

To what extent is the export success for salmon due to skilled traders? Does the organization of trade vary across seafood products, and which mode is more efficient? Is the organization of trade different for large and small firms?

These are among the questions raised in this inter-disciplinary research project carried out by NUPI, SNF/Bergen and Ruralis/Trondheim, with international partners in the USA, UK and India. While the organization of seafood exports is studied by NUPI and SNF, Ruralis has undertaken case studies of Norwegian exports of differentiated goods. Do the firms have what it takes to export, or is distribution limited to the local markets?

NUPI and SNF analyse Norwegian imports of agricultural goods:

  • How is import organization and market structure affected by tariffs and quotas?
  • How do the ever more stringent rules for food safety affect the organization of trade; are small firms able to handle this?
  • Norway is a small country with peripheral location: Imports of e.g. flowers occurs indirectly via the Netherlands or Germany. What role do intermediaries play in trade?
  • Through case studies and analysis of trade data we will find out how Norway differs from other countries: Are flower imports into the UK, or agricultural imports into Switzerland, organized differently from Norway?
  • Imports from Asia are doubled in value on the way to Norway; is this true also for other European countries?

In cooperation with customs authorities, we track trade for selected goods, to develop new tools for control and analysis. A reference group with key seafood and agriculture firms also contributes in the project.

In the following, we provide some key words about some work in the project:

  • Frank Asche has jointly with American colleagues in two articles analysed how aquaculture has transformed global seafood markets. The growth in aquaculture globally has led to higher seafood consumption and stimulated larger scale, modern logistics and new approaches to marketing.
  • Hege Medin has, using Norwegian trade data, shown that the large majority of exporters and importers use customs brokers for the clearing of their goods. Small firms rarely have the capacity to declare the goods by themselves. In another article published in the project, Medin shows theoretically and empirically that the share of firms that are exporters, tends to be larger in small countries.
  • Jostein Vik and Gunn-Turi Kvam have in two articles analysed agriculture-based Norwegian exports, where producers often cooperate with traders in order to obtain market access. In their contributions, the authors analyse how export is organised and its potential.
  • In various contributions, Hans-Martin Straume, Frank Asche and Erling Vårdal have analysed seafood exports at the firm level, and whether changes in trade are driven by firm exit or entry, or changes in sales for firms that are already in the markets. One article shows that transport costs have a stronger impact on trade than what has been expected from earlier research. Another article shows that in cod exports of, the trade relations between exporters and importers are of short duration, and this volatility is high for seafood exports.
  • The international participants have contributed new insight on food trade in developing countries: Flower trade in developing countries and the UK (Jodie Keane, ODI), the fisheries sector in India (Meenakshi Rajeev, ISEC), and the meat exports of Botswana/Namibia including trade with Norway (Ben Bennett, NRI/Univ. of Greenwich and Karl Rich, Lincoln University/CGIAR).
  • In the project, there have also been a large number of presentations in academic seminars/conferences but also for users in Norway and abroad.


Research Council of Norway

Funding program



Publication : ARTIKKEL

Trade barriers or trade facilitators? The heterogeneous impact of food standards in international trade

  • Hege Medin
Recent research shows that the effect of food standards can be heterogeneous across sectors or countries: they sometimes act as barriers to trade, but ...

Customs-brokers as facilitators in international trade

  • Hege Medin
Recent studies suggest that firms can reduce fixed trade costs by hiring intermediaries like trading companies. I argue that customs brokers – a type ...
Publication : ARTIKKEL

Darwinistisk seleksjon i en global økonomi

  • Hege Medin
(This article is available in Norwegian only): Det siste tiåret har det blitt utviklet en ny retning innen samfunnsøkonomisk teori om internasjonal handel, ...
Publication : ARTIKKEL

Market-specific Sunk Export Costs: The Impact of Learning and Spillovers

  • Per Botolf Maurseth
  • Hege Medin
Firms may face sunk costs when entering an export market. Previous studies have focused on global or country-specific sunk export costs. This study analyses ...

Project Manager

International economics  Trade

Hege Medin

Senior Research Fellow (part time)


Ruralis, Institute for Rural and Regional Research, Trondheim

Centre for Applied Research at NHH (SNF), Bergen

Natural Resources Institute (NRI), University of Greenwich, Gillingham, UK

ISEC (Institute for Social and Economic Change), Bangalore, India

ODI (Overseas Development Institute), London, UK

Directorate of Norwegian Customs, Oslo

Publications written by external partners:

Mon 20 Aug 2018
Time: 10:00 Europe/Oslo
Location: NUPI

Feeding India: Poverty, prices and value chains

With India’s massive poverty, food issues rank high on the policy agenda, including food consumption and food prices, and the income and power distribution along the food value chains. In recent work, NUPI researchers and partners have shed new light on key issues in the field.

Mon 20 May 2019
Time: 09:00 Europe/Oslo
Location: NUPI

International food trade: From seafood exports to meat from Africa

Why does the price of flowers from Africa multiply on its way to Norway? What explains the success of Norwegian seafood exports?