The Trade Policy Research Network

The world of trade policy research has evolved substantially over the past decade.

The nature of trade policy – and the range of policies that are addressed in trade agreements – has become radically more complex.

The old tariffs and non-tariff barriers distinction is inadequate for analysis of 21st century trade and investment agreements. The definition and understanding of barriers to trade and investment has expanded with the shift from local to regional and global production. This is reflected in efforts to conclude mega-deals such as TPP and TTIP and has major implications for the multilateral trading system and international cooperation on cross-border trade and investment flows of goods, services, knowledge, business people and services providers. Government policies in a supply chain world increasingly revolve around interventions in markets and regulatory measures that are neglected by trade research.

Data on some trade policies is rapidly expanding, but others are being neglected.

Governments and international organisations are investing considerable effort to collect information on the policies that are increasingly the focus of trade and investment agreements. Many researchers in academia are participating in initiatives to collect data on nontariff measures—an important example is the Global Trade Alert initiative; others are deeply involved in multi-region datasets on global production linkages such as WIOD, TiVA and GTAP or are active in the collection and analysis of firm-level data and trade transactions data. But important gaps remain and there is a clear need for greater communication and coordination.

The large-scale simulation models used to analyse the economic effects of mega-deals has in recent years taken large steps forward in terms of sophistication and realism.

Great improvements have been made in the last decade in the ability to incorporate household-level data into empirical models and to integrate FDI (and foreign affiliate sales) into the models. Work is ongoing to integrate firm-level data. The work on modelling the sectoral and activity- or task-centric regulatory and “industrial” policies that are increasingly the focus of trade agreements and national policymaking is more nascent.

These three factors – a heightened need to understand complex trade and investment barriers, ongoing but disparate efforts to improve available data on relevant policies, and a need for better simulation models – motivate the TPRN initiative.

The policy community – government officials, policy advisors in government and in international organizations, civil society groups, and business – is looking for conceptually solid, theoretically well-grounded analysis that is directly relevant to informing the design of further economic integration initiatives and managing the process of globalization. There is a perception, often justified, that trade policy analysis often does not adequately address the substance of the issues that are on the table or simply ignores important dimensions of applied policies and international cooperation initiatives.

About the network

The TPRN is led two co-directors, Joe Francois (University of Bern) and Bernard Hoekman (EUI). Researchers affiliated with the TPRN include CEPR Research Fellows and Affiliates with an interest in trade policy analysis and Research Associates comprising leading practitioners and researchers at the forefront of trade policy analysis from around the world, including staff members of international organizations, government departments, academic institutions and research institutes. The TPRN is explicitly global in scope, with links to research centres around the world.

Bernard Hoeckman profile picture

Co-Director Bernard Hoekman, Global Governance Programme, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, EUI

Joseph Francois

Co-Director Joseph Francois, World Trade Institute, University of Bern


The TPRN will include a number of projects/pillars, with specific activities to be determined by the interests of participants and members.

One activity that has already been launched is the Trade Policy Modelling Forum, a consortium of modellers and their institutions that aims to promote technical transparency and better understanding of applied ex-ante analysis of trade and foreign investment policy and to develop guidelines for documentation and replication of computational tools and serve as a repository for policy benchmarking estimates.

Others activities are likely to include research centring on policy dimensions of supply chain trade and firm- and industry-level strategies in a GVC world (regulation as a source of market segmentation; regulatory cooperation; issues relating entry/investment/moving up in value chains; product standards); and research on enforcement and dispute settlement mechanisms, both State-to-State and firm-to-State.

The TPRN will hold an annual symposium – the first to be held in 2015 at the World Trade Institute (WTI) at the University of Bern in conjunction with the WTI’s World Trade Forum. A sequence of TPRN events and meetings is foreseen, hosted on a rotating basis by the Global Governance Programme of the EUI, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva and the WTI.

Activities will include participation by business, NGOs and officials (both government and international organizations) to ensure two way flows between researchers and practitioners.

An Advisory Board comprising senior executives from government, business, and international agencies as well as leading academics will be established to inform TPRN activities.

Co-funded by the Global Governance Programme of the EUI and the WTI (Bern), as well as by contributions from partner institutions and project funding.