Research projects


Current projects

Research is a main strand of the WTI's work. See below for a list of research projects arranged under the three main thematic areas of trade, investment and sustainability, as well as information on past projects.

Making Agricultural Trade Sustainable (MATS): EU Horizon 2020

The WTI is one of the 14 partners to the EU funded Horizon 2020 programme “Making Agricultural Trade Sustainable” (MATS). MATS is a 3.5-year duration programme ending in December 2024. It comprises partners with a wide spectrum of expertise and competences, substantial and longstanding experiences, and wide geographical spread in Europe and Africa. 

The programme aims to identify key leverage points for changes in agricultural trade policy that foster positive and reduce negative impacts of trade on sustainable development and human rights.

Under the MATS programme, the WTI is responsible for two multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional discussion papers

  • Discussion paper on the political economy of trade regimes
  • Discussion paper on the feasibility of changes in trade relations and instruments.

These research papers will be available in the course of the year 2024.

With a hopefully immediate impact, WTI also conducts the MATS/Ukraine project “Repairing Broken Food Trade Routes Ukraine – Africa”. The aim is to identify and explore “broken” Ukrainian-African food trade routes due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

  • Starting with a food trade flow chart pre- and post-24 February 2022, it will assess, first, whether and which Ukrainian (or African) traders can again supply these products (Output 1).
  • Failing that, whether the new EU-financed “Crisis Management” (or another) programme can possibly make up for lost Ukrainian agri-food exports (Output 2).
  • It will also identify alternative exporters which might already have supplied new agri-food to Africa under war conditions (Output 3).
  • Importantly, the Project also looks at the potential effect of these developments on competing farm production in Africa (Output 4).

For further information and/or offer to assist in project implementation, please write to Christian Häberli ( or to Bogdan Kostetsky (

Database Projects

The Electronic Database of Investment Treaties (EDIT), is a new systematic and comprehensive database on international investment agreements, including available texts in one single language (English) and format (XML). During the implementation of the SNIS-funded project “Diffusion of International Law: A Textual Analysis of International Investment Agreements” (2015–2017), treaty texts were collected, digitised and non-English texts translated through machine translation software. Articles and paragraphs of the agreements were categorised using different techniques (automated labelling and based on a keyword dictionary, as well as on manual annotation).

Project leaders: Manfred ElsigRodrigo PolancoWolfgang Alschner, University of Ottawa
Team:  Valentino Desilvestro, Azernoosh Bazrafkan, Dmitriy Skougarevskiy, (European University, St Petersburg)

Project website:


An off-shoot of the NCCR, the Design of Trade Agreements collaborative research project collected systematic data on the design of preferential trade agreements signed since 1945. More information can be found on the DESTA website.


RESPECT - Realising Europe's soft power in external cooperation and trade
The WTI has been a partner in the EU’s Horizon 2020 project RESPECT from 2018 to 2021. The WTI team has focused on the development and analysis of measurements (indicators) of non-trade policy objectives (NTPOs), as well as data on the provisions in trade agreements related to NTPOs. The project databases developed by the WTI team are available here. The dataset “Non-trade Issues in EU Preferential Trade Agreements” covers non-trade issues (NTIs), such as civil and political rights (CPR), economic and social rights (ESR), environmental protection (EP), and security issues in 665 preferential trade agreements (PTAs) signed between 1945 and 2018.  The database “non-trade policy outcome indicators” covers an extensive range of non-trade policy outcomes grouped along four main categories: (1) economics and social rights, (2) political and civil rights, (3) environmental issues, and (4) security issues. The data covers the period from 1960 to 2018 for 217 countries.

WTI project leader: Joseph Francois
Coordinator: Miriam Manchin
Researchers: Lisa Lechner, Hugo Rojas-Romagosa, Achim VogtPatrick Tomberger
Project website 


The TAPED (Trade Agreements Provisions on Electronic-commerce and Data) dataset
The TAPED dataset seeks to comprehensively map and code all preferential trade agreements (PTAs) that directly or indirectly regulate digital trade and related areas. TAPED covers more than 370 PTAs concluded since 2000. A total of 110+ different items have been coded, including provisions on digital trade, intellectual property, key services sectors, government procurement, trade in goods, as well as general and specific exceptions. The TAPED dataset was initiated under the National Research Programme (NRP) 75 Big Data (2017-2020); it was undertaken in collaboration with the World Trade Institute. TAPED now falls under the project ‘Trade Law 4.0: Trade Law for the Data-Driven Economy’, hosted at the Faculty of Law of the University of Lucerne and funded under the European Research Council’s (ERC) European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme. The Trade Law 4.0 project is scheduled to run from 2021 to 2026. The team is led by Prof. Mira Burri, who is supported by María Vázquez Callo-Müller (Post-doctoral researcher) and Kholofelo Kugler (PhD fellow). The team members of the Trade Law 4.0 project have a long-standing affiliation with the WTI.

Project leader: Mira Burri
Team: María Vázquez Callo-Müller, Kholofelo Kugler
Project website: TAPED’s website and Trade Law 4.0’s website


Policy Uncertainty And Market Access in Services

The project will develop analytical (and empirical) frameworks that build on the decision under uncertainty literature. This allows for the incorporation of market access uncertainty into the modern frameworks of mode selection by firms and structural gravity based models of trade, following from the use of certainty equivalence (i.e. CE, or the mean and variance components of trade costs linked to non-tariff measures or NTMs.)

WTI project leader: Joseph Francois
Team: Kirti Jhunjhunwala, Roudayna El Chammaa, Miriam Manchin

BATMODEL - Better Agri-food Trade Modelling for Policy Analysis
The BATmodel project (Better Agri-food Trade Modelling for Policy Analysis) aims to create better cross-border agricultural trade models, thus helping decision-makers to achieve better outcomes in multilateral and regional agreements. The project aims in particular to address shortcomings of current modelling tools with better treatment of non-tariff measures. The project includes 15 organizations and research institutes from 10 European countries. The WTI team is focused on:

  • quantifying the impact of regulatory divergence on agri-food trade;
  • estimating cost and demand-side effects of non-discriminatory, quality-increasing technical measures;
  • introducing different impact channels of non-tariff measures to CGE-based scenarios. 

The project is funded by the European Commission, runs for 4 years from 2020-2024, with a budget for the WTI of €290.000.

WTI project leader: Joseph Francois
Team: Octavio Fernandez, Achim Vogt
Project website: 


Complexity - Complexity and the structure and regulation of trade and investment
The main objective of the project is to better understand the interaction between the geographic disintegration of production (i.e., the emergence of international production networks) on the one hand, and changes in the institutional architecture governing related trade and investment flows on the other hand. The project is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). It ran from 2017 to 2021 with a budget envelope of 465,220 Swiss francs. The data developed in the project are feeding into ongoing PhD research projects at the WTI.

WTI project leader: Joseph Francois
Team: Valentino Desilvestro, Patrick Tomberger


Global Value Chains and Provisions in PTAs
The project builds on the existing Design of Trade Agreements dataset and uses inputs from the EDIT dataset on bilateral investment treaties (see above) and the Big Data project. It codes over 180 variables on areas such as GVCs, investment, market access for goods and services e-commerce and data flow in over 600 PTAs. The project partner is the OECD.

Project leader: Manfred Elsig
Research coordinator: Rodrigo Polanco, Jenny Surbeck
Research assistants: Julina Canga, Martina Pons, Livia Tomas, Selina Hauser


Heterogeneity - Regulatory heterogeneity in international trade: from measures to systems
The past 50 years have seen unparalleled reductions in tariff barriers to international trade. As a result, we have seen a shift in attention to so-called non-tariff measures (NTMs). This research project studies heterogeneity and system aspects of NTMs and their impact on international trade flows. Overall, the project participants aim to make contributions to the trade cost literature and advance relatively scarce findings on regulatory heterogeneity and its impact on trade policy outcomes. The work can help inform the debate around 21st century trade agreements.

This project runs from 2018-2022 and has funding of 636,238 Swiss francs.

WTI project leader: Joseph Francois
Team: Irene Garcés Iriarte, Achim Vogt


Trade and Democracy (TRADEM)
The project’s main objective is to develop new and test existing arguments related to the types of outside-in effects through trade agreements that lead to positive or negative effects for various types of democracy parameters. We aim to study the conditions under which treaties are democracy-enhancing and compare these to conditions that are democracy-hindering. Providing better data and exploring and testing more nuanced causal relationships will help policy-makers better understand the observable democratization effects of trade agreements.

WTI project leader: Manfred Elsig
Team: Kirthana Ganeson, Andrew Lugg, Marine Roux


Sustainability and Diversity

Human Rights Justifications (HR Just)

HRJust aims to develop a theory of HRJ and a process for Systematic Ongoing Civil Society Engagement as a tool for a gender and intersectional inclusive Civil Society engagement. HRJust is to identify gaps in human rights regulations and protection, serving as underpinning data for our recommendations to EU in support of a multinational human rights system and promotion of transnational democratic governance. HRJust will also identify geopolitical elements that influence States’ use of HRJ. This will be done through 5 countries: Sweden, Finland, Taiwan, India and Ukraine, through three actions: human rights dialogue, inclusive democratic participations, and protection of human rights defenders, and operationalised through three themes: Covid, Migration and Climate.

Project leader: University of Gothenburg (Sweden)
WTI, University of Bern Team member: Prof Elisa Fornalé

General equilibrium econometrics for sustainable development

This project aims at improving the estimates of the parameters governing the dynamics of multi-country, multi-sector general equilibrium models used in the analysis of energy and climate change policies to obtain more reliable predictions of the effects of such policies. The project uses Bayesian econometric modeling to estimate the parameters targeted and incorporates the estimates obtained to a multi-country, multi-sector general equilibrium model. The expected output will be

  • a new set of parameter estimates that are key to policy experiments; and
  • a quantification of the economic, environmental and social effects of the implementation of a carbon border adjustment mechanism on developed and developing economies. 

Project leader: Octavio Fernandez
Team members: David Baumann, Martin Jehli

NRP 73 - Switzerland’s Sustainability Footprint: Economic and Legal Challenges

The project focuses on a number of complex, contemporary policy problems and tackles these using an interdisciplinary approach. The research team will develop new measures of sustainability footprints for the Swiss economy, extend the literature on the effectiveness of alternative tax-based and voluntary instruments in meeting sustainability targets, and address treaty-based constraints on the use of alternative instruments. Funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, the project runs from 2017 through 2022 and has base funding of 863,950 Swiss francs

Project leader: Joseph Francois
Team members: Eddy Bekkers, Octavio Fernandez, Doris Oberdaberning, Ilaria Espa, Patrick TombergerBrigitta Imeli

Framing Environmental Degradation, Human Mobility and Human Development as a Matter of Common Concern (CLI_M_CO2)

Our growing exposure to catastrophic natural disasters worldwide has paved the way for an increased awareness of the effects of environmental changes. The project aims to go one step further, and inquire about the often overlooked consequence of environmental degradation: human mobility. CLI_M_CO2 aims to approach environmental migration from a fresh perspective, regarding the issue as a 'common concern of humankind'. The project involves a case study in the South Pacific region that focuses on the 'sinking islands' in order to propose a novel approach to migration governance and state responsibility. Funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), the project runs from 2017 to 2022.

Project leader: Prof. Elisa Fornalé
Team members: Tamara Köhler

Project website:


Gender Equality in the Mirror (GEM): Clothing the Invisibility of Women’s Participation at International Level

The pandemic has made it clear how current structures of power risk perpetuating gender inequality and that the underrepresentation of women is no longer sustainable. Instead, it is imperative to understand the normative implications of participatory rights, how affirmative actions can foster and/or undermine participation, and how institutional practices still prevent equal participation by creating de facto inequality between men and women.

The GEM project’s overall aim is to put forward a two-dimensional approach (internalization/externalization) to investigate potential “building blocks of women’s participation” at domestic and international level by making plain the need to strengthen their complementarity.

GEM has the following objectives:

  • understanding the roots of participatory rights in human rights law;
  • investigating the role of affirmative actions in accelerating participatory equality by providing the first comprehensive analysis of measures adopted by Member States of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW);
  • conducting in-depth empirical case studies in international domains (international organizations, international jurisdictions and diplomacy) selected for their exposure to women’s underrepresentation.

Project Leader: Prof. Elisa Fornalé
Team members: Tamara Koehler

Project Website: