Thirty-six students and lecturers from seven Colombian Vi member universities participated in a study tour of Geneva-based international organizations November 14-18.
With the substantial reduction of the level of tariffs worldwide, countries are increasingly resorting to the use of non-tariff measures (NTMs) to regulate trade. While many NTMs pursue legitimate public policy interests, there can be cases when they act as non-tariff barriers (NTB) to trade, which can then become a concern to countries like Colombia.
It is in order to better comprehend this complex issue that the Vi university members in Colombia requested this year's study tour to concentrate specifically on this topic.
"The NTM universe is much more complex (as compared with tariffs),” said Guillermo Valles, Director of UNCTAD's Division on International Trade in Goods and Services and Commodities (DITC), the main partner of the Vi in the design and delivery of the tour. “Not only is their relative importance increasing but as they constantly evolve and are less transparent, it is difficult to have a complete picture and determine their impact."
The programme of the five-day study tour offered participants interactive presentations and discussions with experts from DITC and UNCTAD’s technical cooperation service, as well as experts on various NTM-related agreements from the World Trade Organization (WTO).
"We were very close to the entities that are involved in the management of the economy, trade and development of the global world,” said one of the students.
In addition to getting a better understanding of UNCTAD as an organization and its work on NTMs, the students familiarized themselves with various facets of the topic: economics and politics; trends and examples of their use; classification and data sources; and their use in competition and environmental policies.
"UNCTAD, in partnership with the World Bank, the African Development Bank and ITC (International Trade Centre), launched a 'Transparency in Trade' Initiative which aims to create a powerful database on NTMs,” explained Valles during his introductory speech. “The objective is to increase the capacity to analyze the level of protection and the impact of NTMs, and thus help countries identify their offensive and defensive interests for international negotiations."
The students also spent a day with WTO experts learning about WTO agreements on sanitary and phytosanitary standards, technical barriers to trade, antidumping and rules of origin. They were also introduced to the WTO dispute settlement mechanism.
Particularly valuable for their learning process was a session with the Permanent Mission of Colombia to the WTO, which outlined Colombia's trading interests and negotiations, in particular those concerned with NTMs.
"The exchange was very useful from our point of view and I sensed that the students present found it interesting as well, commented H.E. Eduardo Muñoz, Ambassador of Colombia to the WTO."We know that this activity is of utmost importance to them and they benefit immensely from their visits."
"It was a unique intellectual opportunity to get first-hand knowledge on policymaking and research supporting domestic and international trade policies," added Maria Alejandra Gonzalez-Perez, professor and Vi member coordinator at Universidad EAFIT.
The tour culminated with a group exercise where students presented their analyses of different NTM-related questions put forward by the UNCTAD's trade division experts.
"The session has been a real success," said Vi Chief, Vlasta Macku. "I was impressed by the way the students tackled the exercise and presented their positions. The topic of the tour was clearly of interest to students with different backgrounds (business, economics, international relations) -- each of them found and presented an angle related to their studies and future work."
"My expectations - having the opportunity to take all the knowledge from the classroom to a real case scenario and understanding the international environment - were all fulfilled," said one student.
The group was very active and worked hard throughout the week. The students appreciated the opportunity to deepen their knowledge in this specific area, learn "what it not in the books" and network with international experts and fellow students from other participating universities. One of the students even launched a call to create a students' network through which they could keep in touch after the study tour.
"I have learned a lot on very actual topics important for our economy. I hope to be able to contribute to our society and to have an opportunity to teach others all what I have learnt during this incredible experience abroad," concluded one of the students participating in the tour.
”It has been en enriching experience,” said another. “It is necessary to keep on organizing such study tours to empower and prepare new generations on this topic, to achieve important results in the future.”
Participating universities: • Universidad EAFIT • Universidad EAN • Universidad ICESI • Universidad Sergio Arboleda • Universidad del Norte • Universidad de la Sabana • Universidad de Santo Tomas