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Building knowledge for trade and development

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From left: Virtual Institute Chief, Vlasta Macku; Richard Kozul-Wright, Director, UNCTAD Division on Globalization and Development Strategies; and Petko Draganov, Deputy Secretary-General of UNCTADExperts from international organizations, academia and policymaking circles gathered in Switzerland, Colombia and the Dominican Republic September 8 to launch the Virtual Institute (Vi) book, “Trade policies, household welfare and poverty alleviation: Case studies from the Virtual Institute academic network.” 
 
The book, generated by researchers trained through the three-year Vi capacity building project on trade and poverty, is a collection of eight case studies examining the effect of trade on the poor in developing and transition countries in four continents.
 
The Geneva launch, held during the Vi Seminar on Trade and Poverty, convened a panel(*) representing UNCTAD, the International Trade Centre, the governments of China and Finland, and academics from the University of Geneva and Dartmouth College.
 
“The book is a tangible result of a novel way of strengthening the links between researchers and the users of their work, policymakers,” said Petko Draganov, Deputy Secretary-General of UNCTAD. 
 
“Interaction with policymakers from the North and South are key features of the Vi, and here it is completely demand-driven in concrete terms,” said Kent Wilska, of the Government of Finland, co-sponsor of the project and Vi donor since 2006. 
 
“We designed this project in a way that allowed us to cover the whole cycle of capacity building - from training to the application of what the researchers have learned on the production of country case studies for use by national policymakers,” said Vi Chief, Vlasta Macku. “We wanted to make sure that the project has a tangible impact.”
 
Co-funded by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the Government of Finland, the project was implemented in three phases: the first delivered online technical training on the empirical analysis of trade and poverty; the second provided funding and mentoring for top online course graduates to develop, in partnership with national policymakers,  policy-relevant research on trade and poverty in their countries; the last disseminated the studies’ findings through the publication of a book and national and international events for academia, government and relevant stakeholders.
 
“We did not turn to established international experts to write the book,” Macku explained. “Instead, we looked for researchers in developing and transition countries who may have been relatively new to the topic or to the methodology that we used, but who were very motivated to learn.
 
“The book is not purely academic but very much applied. Our researchers selected topics that are current and important for their countries’ economic policies, and each of them cooperated with one or more policymakers from his or her country.”
 
The book contributes to research on globalization and poverty, which seeks to determine how the poor fare as low-income countries embrace more liberalized trade policies and expose domestic markets to international competition, explained book editor, Nina Pavcnik, of Dartmouth College. 
 
“It provides useful policy-relevant insights on the welfare and poverty consequences of changes in global commodity prices and trade policies,” she said.
 
“It’s a beautiful project and a very good book,” said Marcelo Olarreaga, of the University of Geneva. “Like with every good book, I look forward to the sequel.”
 
(*) Geneva panelists included (from left): Prof. Nina Pavcnik, Dartmouth College, United States; Vlasta Macku, Chief, UNCTAD Virtual Institute; Richard Kozul-Wright, Director, UNCTAD Division on Globalization and Development Strategies; Petko Draganov, Deputy Secretary-General of UNCTAD; Zhu Hong, Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of China to the WTO; Kent Wilska, Commercial Counselor, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland; and Marion Jansen, Chief Economist, International Trade Centre. Also a member of the panel was Prof. Marcelo Olarreaga, University of Geneva, Switzerland.
 
 
The launch in the Dominican Republic, organized by Vi think tank member, FUNGLODE, was led by César Dargam, Deputy Foreign Minister for Economic Affairs and Trade Negotiations, and included representatives from the ministries of environment and natural resources, and industry and trade, the ambassador of the Presidential Commission for the Mesoamerica Project for the Dominican Republic, and other officials.
 
According to Dargam, “the book is a tool for trade policymakers and for academics. It relates globalization and poverty, and focuses on the consequences of rising food prices in international markets and how trade policies directly affect families.”
 
In Colombia, the book was presented by Vi core university member coordinator, Maria-Alejandra Gonzalez-Perez. The event, organized by Universidad EAFIT in Medellin, and the Trade, Investment and Development Observatory, hosted an audience of students and lecturers, and was streamed to Vi affiliate university members, Universidad Sergio Arboleda and Universidad EAN in Bogota.
 
The event was also an opportunity to present local studies on trade and poverty: “Effects of the Consumer/Consumption Subsidy Policy Transfer in Service Provision for the Poor: The Colombian Case,” by Carlos Medina Durango, Adjuct Research Director at Colombian Federal Bank; and “Trade, labor markets, and poverty in developing countries,” by Gustavo Canavire, Director of the Economics and Finance research center. In addition, Marcela Marín, Analyst at the Trade, Investment and Development Observatory, conducted a presentation based on two of the book’s case studies “Case Comparison in the Studies on Trade Policy, Household Welfare, and Poverty Alleviation: The Cases of China and Nigeria.”
 
For more on the seminar and the book, visit http://vi.unctad.org/tap

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