Twenty-two university teachers and researchers from 20 developing countries sharpened their trade policy analysis skills October 10-14, during a Virtual Institute professional development workshop funded by the Government of Finland.
The workshop, similar in content to one held in 2006, was conducted in cooperation with UNCTAD's Division on International Trade in Goods and Services and Commodities, and Vi partners, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the International Trade Centre (ITC).
The research tools and methods workshop began with a keynote speech by Patrick Low, Director of the WTO's Economic Research and Statistics Division, outlining the main issues on the trade and trade policy agenda.
"This is a very different world from 1995, when we launched the WTO," Low said, as he referred to the rise of Brazil, Russia, India and China and the explosion of regionalism. "There are 300 active regional trade agreements; each WTO member belongs to an average of 13." Low's presentation went on to cover options for the Doha round and rising topics for the WTO, like climate change and exchange rates.
Following Low were fellow WTO colleagues, Marc Bacchetta (pictured, left) and Cosimo Beverelli, who introduced research methodologies and data sources for analyzing and quantifying trade policy, touching upon techniques, indicators and databases used for assessing a country's trade performance.
On the second day, trade theories and formulas gave way to the mechanics of accessing data through online database tools, ITC's Market Access Map (MAcMap), and World Integrated Trade Solutions (WITS). The sessions, facilitated by ITC's Olga Skorobogatova and UNCTAD's Samuel Munyaneza, included hands-on exercises allowing participants to practice building database queries and simulations.
Khutsafalo Sekolokwane, Policy Researcher at the Southern African Customs Union Secretariat (SACU), plans to "use MAcMap to identify market opportunities for regional SACU products, as part of the industrial development promotion in the region, which is currently the major issue at hand."
Hands-on practice continued on the third day, with Bachetta and Beverelli, who guided participants through the world of tariffs and non-tariff measures, trade restrictiveness indexes and sources of data.
"As an academician, I gained very exciting insights into state-of-the-art methods for using, locating and handling trade data for my research and teaching. I will use these techniques in the process of advising my students when they write their theses," said Atnafu Sore, Lecturer at Vi Ethiopian member, Addis Ababa University.
In the afternoon, WTO's Roberta Piermartini (pictured, right) kicked off a series of sessions on econometric models with the gravity model of trade -- an ex-post method to estimate bilateral trade flows. Her presentation brought more than just econometrics to a teacher in the audience:
On Thursday morning, participants were able to apply gravity model concepts and Stata® skills during a hands-on exercise involving the building of a dataset, led by UNCTAD's Marco Fugazza. Colleague Alessandro Nicita (pictured above, left) took over the afternoon, with a session on Partial Equilibrium analysis, a model used to investigate the effects of trade policy reforms. The session, which included exercises on estimating the distributional effects of trade policy, was complemented by ITC's Yvan Decreux (pictured above, centre) on Friday morning, who introduced General Equilibrium models, used to calculate the welfare effects of trade policy. These sessions sparked the interest of many participants interested in exploring the relationship between trade and poverty.
"In our study we had not been able to do any welfare analysis based on trade performance, something which we will be able to do after attending the workshop," said Tariqur Rahman, Senior Research Associate at the Centre for Policy Dialogue in Bangladesh.
"Immediately after this workshop I intend to continue with the research that I had started sometime back but could not finish due to lack of knowledge as to how to conduct analysis using these models," said another participant. "My research work is really going to improve following this workshop."
After a wrap-up session conducted by Nicita, Decreux and Piermartini, the Vi convened a round-table discussion between the participants and a panel of Geneva-based policymakers, H.E. Faizal A. K. Ismail (pictured, far right), Ambassador, Permanent Representative to the WTO, Permanent Mission of South Africa; Elijah Manyara (pictured, second from left), Minister Counsellor (Economic Affairs), Permanent Mission of Kenya; Leulseged Tadese Abebe, Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Ethiopia; and Guillermo Valles, Director, UNCTAD's Division on International Trade in Goods and Services and Commodities. The idea behind the session was to encourage dialogue between researchers and policymakers -- each side presenting its expectations and constraints -- to forge alliances that will feed solid analysis into countries' policies.
Ismail, a former researcher himself, was called to assist the African National Congress' economic policy team during the country's transition period, and soon after became lead international trade negotiator. "This task would’ve been impossible for me if I hadn’t had such a good network of friends, colleagues, professors. They were an invaluable resource," he said, explaining how many of these resources were gathered into a government-supported think-tank dedicated to researching specific policy alternatives for the new South Africa.
He added that independent thinking is necessary, but must be complemented by research expertise within the government to guide the work of external researchers and to help develop appropriate, policy-relevant research questions. "The first thing I learned was don’t rely on one methodology. This gives you a partial truth – we want to understand the 'real truth,'" he said.
Manyara's intervention emphasized the increasing complexity of international trade, as more issues get added to the "docket." He said delegates in his position need good advice and a quick turn-around, advising researchers to consider targeting their studies to WTO requirements, and how trade liberalization will impact the country at a micro level.
"We are being requested to open certain sectors, but we need to know quickly what would be the results, know what we can open, or not…There are no policy guidelines," he said. "That’s where you need to help us."
Abebe focused on the need for a multidisciplinary approach, taking into account cultural and geographical differences within the country, underscoring a consultative process so that the needs of all sectors of the population are taken into account.
"Policymaking is about giving answers, and researchers also give answers. (But) policymakers need to provide the 'right' answer."
Data and sound analysis are necessary for good policy, but is not the only basis, Valles said, recalling a day when as a researcher, he presented his findings to the ministry, and getting the response: "Really sound analysis, Guillermo. But how many votes is this going to cost me?"
"As policymakers we’re not looking for data, information...but wisdom," he explained, advising researchers to provide sets of options to policymakers to accommodate the constraints of the "political economy."