15 Jan 2013

Academic Cooperation in Trade Governance: A Roundtable on Measuring Aid Effectiveness

‘Localized knowledge’, ‘sustainability’, ‘quality’, measurement, and ‘results’ were the catchwords at a roundtable discussion held at the World Trade Institute on Monday, 14 January.

A group of leading experts met in the context of the Annual Steering Committee Meeting of the SECO/WTI Academic Cooperation Project, a comprehensive four year academic capacity building initiative aimed at supporting the project partners’  intent to become centres of excellence in trade regulation and to create a sustainable and academically productive cooperation network between the partner institutions. Panellists from academia, government, NGOs and the private sector shared insights on how to best measure the aid effectiveness of academic cooperation programmes in the trade field.

Hosted by Pierre Sauvé, Deputy Managing Director of the WTI, the event aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of such programmes in promoting greater proximity, dialogue and collaborative work between governments and universities at the national and regional levels. Improving project design and monitoring and debating whether and how proper metrics for measuring the effectiveness of aid for trade assistance directed towards academic institutions was the roundtable’s overall goal. In his opening remarks, Pierre Sauvé emphasized how developing credible ways of documenting the outcomes, outputs and impacts of the project would have for its sustainability, recalling the chain of accountability that ran from project partners to the WTI as lead implementing agency, from SECO as the donor and ultimately to Swiss taxpayers. A major aim of the project was to reduce the “distance” between academic institutions and key trade-related stakeholders in the public sector and in civil society (including the business community), such that partner institutions form a credible and sustainable part of the trade policy formulation supply chain in partner countries.
In his keynote address, Hans-Peter Egler, Head of Trade Promotion, Economic Cooperation and Development at the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), recalled the main aims of SECO’s collaboration with the WTI in implementing this highly innovative project. He noted how working closely with a world class institution like the WTI was allowing the partner institutions in Chile, Indonesia, Peru, South Africa and Vietnam to develop a networked platform with which to compare experiences and promote mutual learning in trade-related training and research.

Claudio Dordi, Head of the European Union’s Multilateral Trade Promotion (MUTRAP) project in Vietnam and Director of the Doctoral Programme in Law at Bocconi University in Milan, elaborated on this point, highlighting the importance of connecting the dots between various stakeholders to create a true ‘partnership’ model. Universities in his view should be seen as centrally important sources of knowledge and independent expertise in providing technical assistance to government bodies and to the private sector.

Gerardo Thielen, Head of the Academic Programme Unit In the World Trade Organization’s Institute for Training and Technical Cooperation, addressed the question of how best to ensure that outputs generated by academic institutions become more prevalent inputs in the trade decision-making process of governments. He cited the WTO Chairs Programme as one such initiative, supporting as it does academic institutions in developing countries in trade-related curriculum development, teaching, research and outreach activities in much the same way as the SECO/WTI Academic Cooperation project does.

Stefano Inama, from UNCTAD’s Division on International Trade in Goods, Services and Commodities, emphasized the importance of linking training modules with ‘tangible’ research directed at the real life challenges – in legal drafting terms, in helping identify elements of an offensive trade agenda, in mapping alternative policy and rule-making scenarios – that many developing country governments face in the conduct of trade negotiations.  

Carlos A. Primo Braga, Professor of International Political Economy, IMD Lausanne and Director of the Evian Group concluded the discussion by emphasising the growing pressures all aid recipients (and those who deliver it) are likely to experience in the current period of fiscal austerity. There is, simply put, an ongoing race over scarce aid resources, and in such an environment donors need to justify their investments on the basis of concrete, measurable, outcomes. He cautioned against undue expectations regarding impact analysis in trade-related technical assistance (TRTA) matters, recalling how difficult it would be to attribute trade policy decisions to specific academic inputs but said that the trade policy community – including that in academic circles, needed to develop better means of measuring the return on TRTA investments.

In his closing remarks, Thomas Cottier, the WTI’s Managing Director, described the interaction between academic institutions and policy-makers as an ongoing process, and expressed the widely felt feeling that the SECO/WTI project would ultimately be deemed a success if it positioned the partner institutions as credible and sustainable interlocutors in the complex and multi-faceted process of trade policy formulation at the national, regional and multilateral levels.   

The SECO/WTI Academic Cooperation project features the following partner institutions: the Universidad del Chile, in Santiago, Chile; the Universitas Pelita Harapan, in Jakarta, Indonesia; the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru, in Lima, Peru; the Mandela Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand School of Law, in Johannesburg, South Africa; and the Foreign Trade University, in Hanoi, Vietnam.