16 Feb 2018

MILE Alumni Profiles: Mohamad Fakhreddin

Mohamad Fakhreddin, a graduate of the MILE 15 intake, studied industrial engineering before changing tack to follow an interest in business and social entrepreneurship. After working at the International Trade Centre in Geneva, he is now studying for a doctorate in Germany. Mohamad had the opportunity to talk about his research on trade facilitation at the Think Track of the recent WTO Ministerial Conference in Argentina.

You are currently doing a PhD in Hamburg. What is the topic and how is it going?

The working title of my thesis is ‘The New Era of World Trade Organization Agreements’; I study the implications of the agreements dealing with issues from the Doha Development Agenda. Specifically, my PhD explores the characteristics of treaties that have been concluded or are still under negotiation within the Doha Agenda with a focus on the Trade Facilitation Agreement. For example, my first paper looks at the innovative model of the Special and Differential Treatment of developing and least developed countries in the Trade Facilitation Agreement.

The topic builds on my experience at the International Trade Centre (ITC) in Geneva, where I served as a consultant. I am fortunate that my research has generated a lot of interest at international conferences. Simultaneously, I managed to maintain my connections with Geneva through participation in missions as an International Consultant for the ITC.

The city of Hamburg is quite a fitting place to study trade facilitation, being the primary marine logistics hub of Germany and the third busiest port in Europe. It is also home to the Kühne Logistics University and the highly ranked Bucerius Law School.

You recently attended the WTO Ministerial Conference in Argentina. What were your reasons for attending, and what were your impressions?

I was invited as a panelist for the session on trade facilitation in the Think Track of the Ministerial Conference. At the event, I presented the results of my first paper addressing the effects of corruption on the choice of countries when selecting among implementation schemes in the Trade Facilitation Agreement.

Although the negotiations in Buenos Aires seemed to end in stalemate, the events were quite dynamic and the place was teeming with academics, experts, and practitioners – it was not just an event for negotiators. I was able to attend several sessions relevant to my research and had the chance to reconnect with professors and colleagues I got to know during the MILE. I also connected with established publishers in the field. And, of course, it was great to be in the southern hemisphere in December.

You graduated in 2015. What were your first moves on graduation?

Upon finishing my course work in Bern, I sought training or employment opportunities in Geneva. My background in social entrepreneurship research at INSEAD Business School had already piqued my interest in joining the International Trade Centre, not least because of its focus on the support of trade and growth of small and medium enterprises. Through access to the network provided by the WTI, I was able to join the Trade Facilitation team at the ITC as a trainee.

Many of us from my MILE class found Geneva was starting to take a toll on us, particularly financially. Nonetheless, we maintained a tightknit network of support. When the going got tough, a fellow MILE, Rishab Raturi, and I managed to provide consultancy for the Ministry of Economy and Planning of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to support our living costs in Geneva for a brief period. We organised the topics, speakers and the flagship publication for the second-largest global economic forum: the Jeddah Economic Forum.

Later, I was offered an International Consultant position at the ITC. During my work at ITC, my interest in the subject of trade facilitation grew further and I decided to embark on PhD studies on the subject. In 2016, I was awarded a full PhD scholarship at the Institute of Law and Economics of the University of Hamburg. Being a PhD student has allowed me to explore several questions that arose during my internship and to continue working occasionally as an international consultant.

Your background is in industrial engineering. What made you decide to embark on the MILE?

Despite being an industrial engineer by training, I moved to social sciences when I joined the world leading business school INSEAD. At the school, I conducted research on social entrepreneurship and private equity investments. After four years of research on the corporate realm in the Middle East, it was rather conspicuous that business activities were grossly hindered by the volatility of the political and economic environment of the region. On that account, I became more drawn to the policy side of development and business, which drove me to pursue a graduate degree in the field of international law and economics. I learned about the WTI from a colleague and was awarded a partial tuition scholarship. While I faced challenges in grasping the workings of the field of law in only a couple of months, my engineering background did help with the economics courses. Moreover, I was able to bring a multidisciplinary perspective to the class, which I incorporated in my thesis. While we’re at it, it is worth noting that the current Director General of the WTO, Roberto Azevêdo, is himself an engineer!

I gather you are involved in the MILE mentoring programme. How are you finding the mentoring experience?

As a mentee, I was fortunate to receive prompt guidance throughout my time at the MILE. What I found particularly useful was the fact that the mentorship involved aspects beyond finishing the coursework, such as finding professional opportunities and surviving Switzerland. As a mentor, I am trying as much as possible to replicate this experience. This is not only to pay it forward, but also to invest in establishing strong connections with MILEs who often become leaders in the field of international trade after graduation. In general, the community at the WTI was open to providing advice and support beyond the mentorship programme.