21 Sep 2016

Starting a journey of learning and discovery

Students participating in the 17th Master of International Law and Economics (MILE) master’s programme received a warm welcome to the World Trade Institute at an opening ceremony on 16 September.

In his introduction, Peter Van den Bossche – who joined the WTI as Director of Studies in July - told the students that for them, as for him, MILE 17 was likely to be a memorable experience. “You are starting out on a journey of learning and discovery,” he told them. Professor Van den Bossche warned the new arrivals that the programme would be demanding. “But I promise that you will emerge enriched and much better prepared for a career in international law.”

He told the MILE intake they could not have chosen a better time for the course, with the international trading system (WTO) currently in crisis, and amid rising anti-globalism. “We need people like you, MILE students, to take on the challenges,” he said.

The keynote address was given by Ms Tara F. Erath, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of the United States in Switzerland, who began by talking about trade relations with Switzerland. The US has a strong and growing trade relationship with Switzerland, the diplomat said, and highlighted as one example the successful cooperation taking place within the apprenticeship initiative.

Ms Erath turned next to negotiations on regional trade agreements. The Asia-Pacific region is strategically important for the US, and the United States and Asia-Pacific must grow together. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is critical for the US economy, she said. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) aims to bolster the already strong relationship between the US and the European Union and boost growth and jobs, the diplomat said. The “cutting-edge agreement” offered a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to tear down trade barriers and would generate hundreds of thousands of jobs. Much had been accomplished in negotiations on TTIP over the past three years. “We believe fundamentally that an ambitious TTIP agreement is achievable in 2016, and that remains the goal of the United States,” Ms Erath said. While the US is also pursuing its own regional and transatlantic trade agreements, it has an “abiding commitment to the WTO as the indispensable pillar of the global trading system”, Ms Erath said. Although the US has been frustrated by the difficulty of achieving results within the 164-member body, “there is simply no substitute for the WTO framework”, according to the US diplomat.

Finally, Ms Erath talked about her own diplomatic career in which law, economics and political science had come together. “I am so envious of you that you will spend the next year exploring this nexus,” she told the students.

Following an overview of the history of the WTI by its founder, Professor Thomas Cottier, it was the turn of Dr Lee Ann Jackson to address the gathering and launch the John H. Jackson Internship Fund in memory of her late father, the founding director of the Institute of International Economic Law at Georgetown University and a close associate of the WTI. The fund to honour his legacy will provide financial support of 1,500 Swiss francs per month for three months to a student undertaking an unpaid internship of an interdisciplinary nature with an NGO or public institution.

Dr Jackson was followed by Dr Fernando Piérola who welcomed the students to the WTI on behalf of the alumni and recalled how exciting it was to be one of the very first MILE intake.

In his closing remarks, Deputy Managing Director Manfred Elsig extended a welcome on behalf of WTI management. He told the students their time on the programme would pass very quickly and encouraged them to learn from each other as well as from the faculty. Describing university as the least hierarchical of places, he told them they could argue and debate with as well as challenge their teachers. He also highlighted the fascinating research going on at the WTI and urged the students to talk to the researchers and bring their research ideas.

The ceremony ended with the presentation of gifts to the students and a drinks reception.