altMaria Alejandra Calle, of Vi core Colombian member, Universidad EAFIT,  had the opportunity to “pick the brains” of international experts during her second Vi fellowship, June 26 to July 11.

Calle is analyzing how environmental concerns raised by internationally active NGOs are reflected in WTO law and legal system, the topic of her PhD studies.

Her interest in the subject grew from her involvement in the design of the 2010 Vi study tour on trade and environment for Colombian universities, and the research work on biotrade she undertook during her first Vi fellowship in 2010, when she began to prepare her PhD proposal.

“I get my best ideas here,” Calle exclaimed.

Currently a first-year PhD candidate at the Faculty of Law of the University College Cork, Ireland, she came to Geneva to complement her desk research by interviewing Geneva-based experts at UNCTAD, the WTO and the permanent mission of Colombia to the WTO. The topics of the interviews included process and production methods (PPMs) and voluntary sustainability standards and labels in the context of WTO law and international environmental governance. She also gathered information about WTO dispute 381, filed by Mexico against United States regulations on the use of a “dolphin‑safe” label on tuna products.

"The objective of my stay in Geneva was to clarify some points of my research, get feedback on my ideas and preliminary conclusions, and get an update on current developments," explained Calle. "I believe that this is an interesting area for developing countries as environmentally friendly goods and services can also be a trade opportunity for them.”

During her fellowship, Calle held meetings with UNCTAD experts Eduardo Escobedo and Alexey Vikhlyaev, WTO Colombian Ambassador, Eduardo Muñoz, the mission's counsellor on trade and environment, Rafael Barbosa, and a number of legal experts and counsellors at the WTO's Legal Affairs and Trade and Environment divisions, and Appellate Body Secretariat.

 "The fellowship has been very useful for my research,” Calle added. “The meetings with experts have helped me test my assumptions and do a "reality check. The feedback obtained and the information collected are unlikely to be found in books, reports and official documents because they are mainly related to the experience of the experts I have consulted.

"This information will complement two chapters of my thesis and facilitate the elaboration of a paper presenting my preliminary findings. In this paper, I will argue that non product-related environmental PPMs and private ecolabels can be seen as a decentralized mechanism for addressing urgent environmental objectives in the context of sustainable development. Such mechanisms can serve the purposes of global environmental governance and international environmental law, without necessarily undermining the multilateral trading system."