In a joint initiative, the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland and the World Trade Organization (WTO) have embarked on a research project aimed at investigating the intricate relationship between trade and peace. The project, which commenced on September 28th, was inaugurated with a workshop hosted by the WTO Accessions Division in partnership with the WTO's Knowledge and Information Management, Academic Outreach, and WTO Chairs Division (KMD), in collaboration with the University of St. Gallen. This endeavor involves students conducting in-depth analyses of historical case studies to explore the dynamic interplay between trade and peace.
The workshop, held at the WTO headquarters, also saw the participation of key stakeholders from the WTO Trade for Peace Programme (T4P), including institutions such as the Geneva Graduate Institute, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
WTO Deputy Director-General Zhang Xiangchen delivered opening remarks, highlighting the pivotal role of policymakers and trade experts in mitigating conflict risks. Zhang emphasized the importance of effective communication, trust-building, and the identification of common ground as essential components for facilitating agreements. He also underscored that the research outcomes generated by the students would contribute to empirical evidence regarding the impact of trade on peace, thereby informing the decisions of policymakers.
Dr. Xinyu Yuan, who leads the T4P Interdisciplinary Master's (MINT) Course at the Geneva Graduate Institute, drew attention to the current global conflict landscape, noting that 2022 witnessed the highest number of battle-related deaths since 1984, with over 200,000 fatalities occurring in 55 state-based conflicts. Yuan also highlighted a shift in conflict patterns, with a decline in inter-state conflicts but an increase in intra-state or civil conflicts.
Mr. Nahom Gebremariam from the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) emphasized the potential connection between the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and peace. He stressed the belief in the African continent that improved economic conditions can contribute to creating an environment conducive to peace. Additionally, Mr. Gebremariam presented UNECA's report on trade, peace, and development.
Mr. Mustapha Sadni Jallab, Head of the Knowledge Management Section in KMD, provided an overview of the existing literature on the trade-peace nexus. Quoting figures from the latest WTO World Trade Report, he highlighted recent trade policy trends in response to conflicts and emphasized the role of the multilateral trading system in promoting peace through transparency.
Mr. Franck Bousquet, Deputy-Director for Fragility, Conflict, and Violence at the IMF, outlined the IMF's approach to dealing with fragile and conflict-affected states (FCAs). He underscored the IMF's unique strengths in building institutional capacity, mobilizing donor support, fostering macroeconomic stability, and providing financial assistance—all crucial elements for helping FCAs break free from the cycle of conflict and fragility.
Former WTO Deputy Director-General Alan Wolff revisited historical intersections between trade and peace, emphasizing periods when trade played a pivotal role in advancing regional and international peace and stability. He provided insights into the dynamics of trade and peace negotiations, drawing examples from various parts of the world.
Professor Simon Evenett of the University of St. Gallen (HSG) provided guidance on conducting case study research, emphasizing methodology and recommended strategies. The workshop concluded with a group exercise in which students discussed their ideas for trade-peace case studies with the WTO Secretariat's Trade for Peace (T4P) team.
This collaborative project will culminate in a closing workshop scheduled for December 5th. During this session, students will present their T4P case studies and receive feedback from experts within the WTO Secretariat and HSG academics. The international collaboration was further showcased as students from St. Gallen were joined by peers from the T4P course at the Geneva Graduate Institute and a visiting group of students from the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.