Experts from UNCTAD's Division on International Trade in Goods and Services and Commodities and the WTO's Economic Research and Statistics Division on Tuesday launched “A Practical Guide to Trade Policy Analysis,” a joint publication developed to enhance developing countries' capacity to analyze and implement trade policy.
The idea began in 2005, when Vi Chief, Vlasta Macku, and WTO’s Chief Economist, Patrick Low, great believers in evidence-based policymaking, decided to create a tool to help researchers conduct policy-relevant research based on sound economic analysis.
“The first outcome, in early 2008, was the teaching material on trade and trade policy analysis,” said Macku during the book launch conducted at the annual meeting of the WTO Chairs, 10 of whom are also Vi member universities. “In its first year of existence, the material was used by 19 university members of the Virtual Institute to teach more than 2300 students.”
The new book, based on the original Vi teaching material, takes “the reader by the hand and helps him or her ask the right questions, choose the most efficient methodology (…), find the data, avoid the pitfalls in the databases and analysis, and provide useful answers to the questions raised,” explained book co-author, WTO’s Marc Bacchetta.
“Good policy needs to be backed by good analysis,” said WTO Deputy Director-General, Alejandro Jara. “Analyzing the effects of changing a tariff in an undistorted textbook market is very different from responding to the request of a minister who envisages opening domestic markets and who wants to know how this will affect income distribution. This book attempts to fill the gap between the world of textbooks and the real world.”
In addition to the six chapters outlining analytical tools and explaining when and how to use them, the book’s authors have developed accompanying exercises and applications that allow a hands-on learning experience for the reader. All datasets and command files have been included in an accompanying DVD, and are freely available on a dedicated website hosted by the Vi (http://vi.unctad.org/tpa), which also provides an online discussion forum allowing readers to post questions and interact with the book’s authors.
“Trade policy analysis has become the top capacity-building priority for our member universities,” Macku said.
Since the publication of the teaching material in 2008, the Vi has funded its local adaptation, including translations into Spanish and Arabic, by member universities in Chile and Jordan.
The governments of Finland and Spain also made it possible for the Vi to offer national workshops in Africa and Latin America. The Vi also organized two international workshops* primarily aimed at academics from the Least Developed Countries and Sub-Saharan Africa. Held in Geneva in 2006 and 2011, the two one-week workshops counted with the participation of experts from UNCTAD, the WTO and the International Trade Centre.
“The workshops have produced concrete results in teaching, research and policy advice to governments in participating countries,” Macku said, referring to a recent survey of workshop participants.
But the book’s life story does not end here.
The Vi is currently developing an online course which will provide participating academics with the empirical tools needed to assess the impact of trade and trade-related policies on poverty and income distribution. Thanks to the support from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the Government of Finland, the selected participants will be exempt from course fees. They will also receive the course CD/DVD and the Vi teaching material on trade and poverty free-of-charge. The course will take place September 10 to November 30.
“We will first train academics on trade and poverty analysis through the online course,” Macku explained. “The best graduates will then submit research proposals on a trade and poverty issue of particular interest to their countries, and on which they will work in cooperation with policymakers -- to ensure that the analysis is not purely academic, and that the outcome can be used by their respective governments.”
Vi support to the research projects will include e-mentoring by international experts, and participation in two research conferences in Geneva. The top papers will be compiled into a book at the end of the project.
“With regard to the use of the book in the future,” Macku said, “it will of course be distributed by the WTO and UNCTAD to our respective audiences, but whether we will be able to actively support its use (translations, development of online courses, more training for academics, research projects, etc.) will depend on the generosity of donors.”
* The second international workshop was funded by the Government of Finland.