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.

Project leaders: PD, Dr Mira Burri, University of Lucerne; Prof. Manfred Elsig, World Trade Institute, University of Bern
Coordinator: Dr Rodrigo Polanco, World Trade Institute, University of Bern and University of Lucerne;
Researchers: Rahel Schär, University of Lucerne; Sebastian Klotz, World Trade Institute, University of Bern
Research assistants: Rutendo Tavengerwei (MILE 17) and Ximena Montenegro (MILE 17), World Trade Institute


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.

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


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 with a personal grant to Damian Raess (SNSF Professorship) for the period 2017–2020.

Project leader: Damian Raess
Team members: Wanlin Ren, Patrick Wagner,Yell Leutenegger, 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 and Azernoosh Bazrafkan


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 footprint targets for the Swiss economy, extend the literature on the effectiveness of alternative tax-based and voluntary instruments in meeting these targets, and address treaty-based constraints on the use of alternative instruments. Funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, the project runs for 4 years.

Project leader: Joseph Francois
Team members: Eddy Bekkers, Octavio Fernandez, Doris Oberdaberning, Doina Radulescu, Tetyana Payosova, Ilaria Espa and Patrick Tomberger

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 4 years from the beginning of 2017.

Project leader: Elisa Fornalé
Team members: Aylin Yildiz, Najma Rehouma

CLISEL is a coordination and support action (CSA) funded under the Horizon 2020 Programme, which is exploring the climate-security nexus from the perspective of local administrations and communities. CLISEL proposes an innovative approach to the question of how Europe can be secured from the impacts of climate change in third countries. The aim is to understand the extent to which migrants are perceived as a security issue, as well as the policies and actions through which local administrators can ward off the emergence of a security crisis within their territory, with a special focus on the Italian region of Sardinia, taken as a pilot case study. The 36-month project, which started in May 2016, involves five institutions from around Europe, including the World Trade Institute (WTI). CLISEL is mainly involved in accompanying measures like dissemination, networking, coordination or support activities, policy dialogues and mutual learning exercises and studies in different countries.

WTI scientific coordinator: Elisa Fornalé
WTI team members: Federica Cristani, Francesco De Fino, Susan Kaplan and Pierre Vanhulst

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.

Project leader: Thomas Cottier
Team members: Lucia Satragno, Zaker Ahmad, Iryna Bogdanova, Alexander Beyleveld