Research projects

Current projects

Research is a main strand of the WTI's work. See below for a list of research projects arranged by theme.


The Governance of Big Data in Trade Agreements: Design, Diffusion and Implications
This research project is part of the National Research Programme (NRP) 75 Big Data. It brings together a small interdisciplinary research team, which will, in cooperation with the University of Lucerne, and under the leadership of Mira Burri, examine the pertinent trade rules that impinge on Big Data. The 3-year project started in May 2017 and seeks to achieve not only cutting-edge basic research results but also to have palpable policy impact.
WTI project leader: Manfred Elsig
Coordinator: Rodrigo Polanco
Researchers: Rahel Schär, University of Lucerne; Sebastian Klotz, WTI
Research assistants: Rutendo Tavengerwei; Ximena Montenegro, WTI

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 below) 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 flows 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

RESPECT - Realising Europe's soft power in external cooperation and trade
Respect is an EC Horizon 2020 project spanning 2018-2021. The WTI is a work package leader and the team is focused on quantifying the non-trade policy objectives of EC trade agreements and the extent to which these objectives have been realised in practice.
WTI project leader: Joseph Francois
Coordinator: Miriam Manchin
Researchers: Lisa Lechner, Hugo Rojas-Romagosa, Achim VogtPatrick Tomberger

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 (the emergence of international production networks) on the one hand, and changes in the institutional architecture governing related trade and investment flows since the early 1990s. It is funded by the SNSF with a grant for the period 2017-2021.
WTI project leader: Joseph Francois
Team: Valentino Desilvestro, Patrick Tomberger

Heterogeneity - Regulatory heterogeneity in international trade: from measures to systems
The main objective of the project is to gain a better understanding of the impact of bilateral regulatory heterogeneity on international trade flows and policy making. The project is funded by the SNSF for the period 2018-2022.
WTI project leader: Joseph Francois
Team: Rodrigo Polanco, Irene Garcés Iriarte, Achim Vogt


BRICS - Globalisation and Labour Protections
The recent incorporation of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in the world economy, and their rapid rise as a major source of foreign investment has important and uncertain implications for labour protections in advanced and emerging economies. This project investigates under what conditions BRICS trade and foreign direct investment (FDI) enhances (or undermines) worker rights and conditions and labour market institutions, with a particular focus on European countries and the BRICS themselves. It articulates different levels of analysis (macro, meso and micro), analyses both the ‘demand’ and ‘supply’ side of the politics of BRICS globalisation, and uses a mix of quantitative and qualitative research methods. The project is funded by the SNSF for the period 2017–2020.
Project leader: Damian Raess
Team members: Wanlin Ren, Patrick Wagner, Patrick Bigler

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).
WTI project leader: Manfred Elsig
Co-leader: Rodrigo Polanco
Team:  Valentino Desilvestro, Azernoosh Bazrafkan
Partners: Wolfgang Alschner, University of Ottawa; Dmitriy Skougarevskiy, European University, St Petersburg; World Bank


NRP73 - 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 for four years from 2017.
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
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 for four years from 2017.
Project leader: Elisa Fornalé
Team members: Aylin Yildiz, Najma Rehouma

Common Concern
Towards a Principle of Common Concern in Global Law: Foundations and Case Studies

The project explores the legal potential of the emerging doctrine of Common Concern of Humankind (‘Common Concern’) in responding to collective action problems due to the lack of appropriate institutions on the global and the European levels. It consists of a theoretical part and a series of in-depth case studies exploring the potential of the principle in different areas of public international law. The four case studies envisaged will analyse existing governance arrangements in the fields of: climate change; biodiversity, with a particular focus on the law of the sea; monetary affairs, and corporate responsibility and human rights. Funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) the project runs for three years from October 2015. The project is set to conclude in June 2019 and a book containing the research outcomes is planned to be published the same year.
Project leader: Thomas Cottier
Team members: Lucia Satragno, Zaker Ahmad, Iryna Bogdanova, Alexander Beyleveld