Heckscher-Ohlin Model: Concept, examples, features

Feb 27, 2023

Also known as the Heckscher-Ohlin-Samuelson model, this model describes the pattern of international trade based on differences in resource availability between countries.

The fundamental idea of the Heckscher-Ohlin model is that countries export what they can produce more easily and abundantly.

Specifically, the model postulates that:

Countries differ in the relative abundance of factors of production, such as labor, capital, and land.

Goods vary in the factors of production required for their production, with some goods requiring relatively more labor, capital or land.

The Heckscher-Ohlin model is an original and still very relevant work in the field of international trade theory.
Robert Solow


Availability of factors

The model assumes that countries differ in the relative abundance of factors of production, such as labor and capital. For example, a country with abundant capital but scarce labor will tend to export capital-intensive goods and import labor-intensive goods.

Production technology

The model assumes that the technology of production is the same in all countries and that it is possible to switch between the production of different goods using different degrees of factor intensity. This means that a country can shift its production towards goods that use more of its abundant factor production.

Factor prices

The model assumes that the prices of factors of production, such as wages and profits, are set by supply and demand in each country's domestic market. These prices have an impact on the production costs of goods and the output of factors of production.

Trade patterns

The model suggests that countries will export abundant factor-intensive goods and import scarce factor-intensive goods. For example, a capital-abundant country will export capital-intensive goods and import labor-intensive goods.

Factor price equalization: The model predicts that trade will tend to equalize factor prices between countries as the relative scarcity or abundance of factors changes in response to trade.


For example, a country with a large amount of labor and a small amount of capital will tend to export labor-intensive goods (such as textiles) and import capital-intensive goods (such as machinery).

Similarly, a country with a lot of land and relatively little labor will tend to export agricultural products and import manufactured goods.

The United States is abundant in capital and skilled labor, while Mexico is abundant in unskilled labor. According to the Heckscher-Ohlin model, the United States should export capital and skilled labor intensive goods, such as machinery and high-tech products, and import labor intensive goods for Mexico's textile factories.

Saudi Arabia is prosperous in oil reserves, while India is abundant in labor. According to the Heckscher-Ohlin model, Saudi Arabia should export oil and import labor-intensive goods from India.

Australia is abundant in natural resources such as minerals and metals, while China is relatively abundant in unskilled labor. According to the Heckscher-Ohlin model, Australia should export natural resources and import labor-intensive goods from China.



The model assumes that all markets are perfectly competitive, which may not reflect the reality of many markets. In reality, markets may be imperfectly competitive, which may have a significant effect on the trade patterns predicted by the model.

Limited factors of production: The model only takes into account two factors of production, labor and capital; thus it may not reflect the full range of factors affecting production and trade, such as technology, natural resources and entrepreneurship.

The model assumes that goods are homogeneous and can be exchanged at no cost, but in practice there may be differences in quality and transport costs that influence trade patterns.

The model assumes that countries will specialize entirely in the production of goods using their abundant factors of production. In reality, however, countries often do not specialize entirely and produce a range of goods.

The issue of unemployment is a determining factor in any trade conflict. In its formulation, however, the Heckscher-Ohlin theory does not take unemployment into account, since it assumes that all factors of production, including labor, are employed in the production process.

The model does not take into account the weight of changes in factor inputs over time, such as changes in population growth, education and technological advances, which can have a significant impact on trade patterns.

The model does not take into account non-economic factors, such as political and cultural differences and trade policies, which can also condition trade patterns.

The Heckscher-Ohlin model is like a skeleton, providing the basic structure for trade theory. But it needs to be fleshed out by incorporating many other factors that affect trade, such as technology, transportation costs and political considerations.
Avinash Dixit

Alternative or complementary theories

These are some of the most popular theories that also try to explain the patterns of international trade based on different assumptions and factors to those of Heckscher-Ohlin:

Ricardo's theory of comparative advantage.

This classical theory argues that countries should concentrate on the production of goods in which they have a comparative advantage, based on differences in their relative productivity and cost structures.

New trade theory

This theory emphasizes the role of economies of scale and product diversification in explaining patterns of international trade, in addition to factor endowments. It proposes that countries can gain a competitive advantage by specializing in the production of differentiated products.

Gravity model of trade

This empirical model posits that trade movements between countries are influenced by factors such as geographic proximity, economic status and cultural similarity.

Factor-price equalization theory

This theory suggests that international trade can lead to the equalization of factor prices between countries over time, as factors of production such as labor and capital move to where they are most productive.

Product life cycle theory

This theory suggests that trade patterns are influenced by the stages of the product life cycle, with different countries specializing in different stages based on their corresponding technological capabilities and factor endowments.

Each theory has its own strengths and weaknesses and may offer a different perspective on international trade patterns.


The model owes its name to two economists, Eli Heckscher and Bertil Ohlin, who developed the theory in the early 20th century. The model was later improved by Paul Samuelson in the 1940s.

The Heckscher-Ohlin model provides a useful framework for understanding the basis of international trade and has influenced the development of trade theory and policy. However, the model is based on a number of simplistic assumptions, so its effectiveness in fully capturing the complexity of real-world trade patterns is insufficient.

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