14 Sep 2019

WTI hosts world’s biggest international trade conference in anniversary year

The World Trade Institute (WTI) was proud to host the annual conference of the European Trade Study Group (ETSG), which this year marks its 20th anniversary. The conference ran from 12 to 14 September at the University of Bern.

The ETSG, a network of European researchers working on issues in international trade theory and policy, held its first conference in Rotterdam in 1999. From around 80 participants initially the number attending has grown to around 300.

Over the course of 20 years, the annual gathering of European economists has grown to become “the biggest conference in international trade anywhere”, according to Professor Joseph Francois, WTI Managing Director and one of the founders of the ETSG.

The conference featured a number of parallel sessions each day on areas including regional integration, trade and migration, multinational investment and Brexit. Two plenary sessions will consider robotisation, employment and industrial growth, and trade wars and global value chains.

The WTO prize for the best young economist was awarded during the first plenary session. This year the award was shared by two winners. A second prize – from the Review of World Economics (RoWE) – was awarded on the second day of the conference. (See related news story, Prizes presented to young economists at international trade conference in Bern).

The ETSG conference was set up 20 years ago to help promote young academics in Europe: “Now we are getting the students of people who came to the first conference participating. That shows that the model really works,” said Professor Francois.

Ian Wooton, Professor of Economics at the University of Strathclyde and one of the founders of the ETSG, added that the conference was set up in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and offered an opportunity to economists from eastern Europe to share their ideas. The idea was to make the conference as open as possible to all trade economists "from professors down to PhD students". 

The event is important for networking and has given rise to many collaborative efforts over the years, Professor Wooton said.

In terms of the contributions being made, there has been a shift from pure theory to empirical papers, he said: "Technology has done that with the availability of data and computing power, and trade economists have taken huge advantage of this." Trade policy had also taken on more importance, he said, with the focus moving from what is happening in the economy to what can be changed, specifically regarding Brexit and the current trade wars.