15 Feb 2017

MILE Alumni Profiles: Susana Wong

[The professors] not only know the theory, but also the practice.

MILE 13 graduate Susana Wong works as a university teacher, project manager and researcher on cross-border trade issues. A native of Costa Rica, she maintains close ties with Switzerland and hopes to start a PhD in Lausanne this year.

Tell us about where you are working and in what capacity? 

Currently I am working in three main areas: After finishing the MILE programme, I joined the University of Costa Rica as a professor and director of the Customs Administration and Foreign Trade Bachelor´s Programme. Also, since 2014 I have being the project manager of a Central American project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and have been working with a Swiss research institution called Cross-border Research Association (CBRA).

At the University of Costa Rica, besides leading the undergraduate programme, I have being teaching different courses on topics including multilateral trade agreements, regional trade and trade facilitation, which I studied in depth during the MILE programme.

The USAID project consists of developing a Central American web and mobile platform in which customers and carriers can interact and obtain competitive freight prices; this platform also includes the creation of logistics indicators that will measure the efficiency of customs posts in Central America as well as of the carriers. The objective is to reduce the time it takes to move freight between Central American countries as well as the cost, and to avoid backhaul problems. The platform will be launched this year. 

At the CBRA, we focus on topics related to trade facilitation, supply chain security and coordinated border management, among others. The most recent research was carried out for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and is entitled ‘Improving the border agency cooperation among the OIC member states for facilitating trade’.

I have also been involved in different projects that deal with what I learned during MILE. For example: the development of the trade remedies bill in Costa Rica.

You are planning to start a PhD in Switzerland. Can you tell us more about that?

Yes, I am applying for a PhD at the University of Lausanne. If my application is successful I will be starting at the end of 2017. My project consists of enhancing customs security research and innovation through a network of customs practitioners. In general, customs practitioners interested in the uptake of security research and innovation are dedicated to performing their duty and focusing on their operation. Customs, as well as other security practitioners’ organisations, have little means to free workforces from daily operations, and to dedicate resources to monitor and influence innovation and research that could eventually be useful to them.

To explore new ways of customs interacting with the small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) active in security research and innovation – for the ultimate benefit of co-developing more accurate, faster performing, and/or cheaper customs security technologies – CBRA has put together a focused consortium of over one dozen customs administrations. This consortium provides a platform for my PhD project that aims to provide answers/scientific evidence regarding the following two research questions: How will the customs administrations benefit from systematic security research and innovation monitoring? Can the customs administrations benefit from tighter interaction with the SME sector, in terms of more accurate, faster performing, and/or cheaper customs security technologies?

Your early career included working for the Ministry of Foreign Trade of Costa Rica. Why did you decide to come to Switzerland for the MILE?

When I started to work as a trade negotiator and later at a private consulting group, I found a significant lack of experts in matters of intellectual property rights, services, trade remedies and other WTO agreements. At the time I applied to the MILE programme, Costa Rica – Member of the WTO since 1995 – only had 5 dispute settlement cases at the WTO. Even though Costa Rica had more cases to elevate to the WTO, the lack of resources and mainly the lack of experts in the area prevented Costa Rica from raising those issues. I believed that the MILE programme would prepare me to confront this kind of issue, especially the moot court, which I consider to be a very great and valuable experience.

 What for you were the main benefits of the course?

I believe that the main benefits of the WTI courses are:

The expertise and experience of the professors: They not only know the theory, but also the practice. The examples, the anecdotes and the tips that they give you are very important for an overall understanding of how things are in real life and not just how they appear in textbooks.

Updated information: Since most of the professors are working daily on the specific topic that they teach, they provide fresh information that cannot be obtained anywhere else. 

The variety of opinions: In MILE 13 we had people from Africa, Asia, Europe and America. The class discussions were very rich because of the variety of backgrounds and experiences of the students.

The experience: Besides giving me an excellent education, studying abroad provided me with a whole new vision of the world and allowed me to look at situations from different perspectives.

Making connections: During the MILE programme I met so many people that I am still in touch with, and we have even done projects together!

How important for you is the WTI/alumni network?

It has been very important. So far, I have met a couple of MILE alumni and faculty members across several activities and projects that I have participated in and carried out. For example, while developing the trade remedies bill of Costa Rica, I worked with WTI PhD graduate Carolina Palma, and also with a former professor at the WTI – Jorge Miranda. I also met Pierre Sauvé at a WTO workshop organised by the University of Costa Rica in 2016.