MITP Study Tour ‘24

By Vanessa Mason

On June 6, 2024, I was part of Cohort 21 from the University of the West Indies (UWI) Master of Sciences Programme in International Trade Policy (MITP), which embarked on the annual 2-week study tour to Geneva, Switzerland. Every year, this tour marks the culmination of a rigorous multidisciplinary programme in trade policy, to which the tour combines theoretical classroom concepts with the practical world of trade policy through engagement with experts in the field and students from other universities pursuing trade-related studies. The 2024 UWI contingent comprised twelve students enrolled in the current cohort, including myself, three from previous cohorts, and three supervisors. Study Tour ’24, as I like to term it, was an overwhelming success in bringing together old and new minds in trade with well-orchestrated, riveting sessions. It would be remiss of me not to begin this piece without crediting the UWI organisers, MITP Director Dr. Jan Yves Remy, and the Programme Coordinator, Mrs. Desiree Evelyn, for their hard work and dedication in planning and coordinating the logistical details of the tour.

During the first week of the trip, we participated in the Joint University Study Tour (JUST), which provided an opportunity to engage and network with students from the Academy of International Economic Law and Policy, Carleton University, Geneva Graduate Institute, Queen’s University, University of Amsterdam, University of Geneva, and University of Newcastle. The JUST component was organised by supervisors from these eight universities and was tailored not only to facilitate interaction between students hailing from all over the world but also to encompass informative and interactive sessions led by officials from the International Trade Centre (ITC) and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

I participated in the sessions at our home base, the Geneva Graduate Institute, as well as the ITC and WTO. It was indeed a surreal experience visiting the secretariats of the ITC and WTO for the first time, gracing the halls and rooms where pivotal trade decisions are made and programmes are conceptualised. The visit to the WTO on June 13 coincided with the birthday of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Director-General of the WTO, and we had the privilege of witnessing her cake-cutting ceremony and managed to snap a few photos. During the Director-General’s birthday session, I also had the opportunity to meet and engage with trade technocrats from the CARICOM region.

In my opinion, the highlight of the JUST week was the research session, where some of my colleagues along with those from the other universities, presented their research papers. This student-led forum showcased not only the adept presentation skills of students but also their command of the matters under investigation, which included topical areas such as artificial intelligence, industrial policy, trade facilitation, and solutions to enhance sustainable development and trade. I was particularly intrigued by the interest of fellow students, who sought clarification and offered input on how research could be improved. A significant takeaway was that I gained invaluable ideas and insights for finalising my research paper. In retrospect, I wish I had presented my paper to benefit from discussing my topic among the academics and students present. My advice to future MITP cohorts would be to seize the opportunity of this session. After participating in the JUST research session, I believe that the future of international trade is in good hands and will be led by bright minds keen on ensuring inclusive, sustainable trade.

Week two meant that Cohort 21 said farewell to many of our peers from other universities of the JUST programme and participated in UWI-organised sessions. The week began with a visit to the United Nations, where we had the opportunity to witness the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the UWI, the Shridath Ramphal Centre for International Trade Law, Policy and Services (SRC), and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). I felt privileged to witness this momentous agreement, as it solidified the relationship and benefits for the SRC and future MITP cohorts.

Following the session at the UN, we headed to the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Mission, where we had the opportunity to interact with representatives from several Caribbean states. They candidly provided accounts of their careers in trade and engaged us on matters affecting the Caribbean region. Coming out of the session at the OECS, it was particularly interesting to hear how the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) states collaborate to share resources and expertise, given their small size and limited resources in Geneva. Intriguingly, I saw and felt more regional integration during this session than I do when witnessing and reading accounts of the current pace of integration within CARICOM.

During the second week, our cohort was divided into two groups. Students on scholarships funded by the Government of Barbados through the Customs and Excise Department headed to Brussels for three days, while the others were attached to Caribbean Missions in Geneva. As a scholarship recipient, I was privileged to join the group that travelled to Brussels. Over the three days, we visited the World Customs Organization (WCO), the Brussels OECS Mission, and the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS).

The highlight of the Brussels trip was the visit to the OACPS, where Assistant Secretary-General, Mr. Junior Lodge, delivered an intriguing presentation without notes or visual aids on the organisation’s work and how south-south collaboration could be a turning point for developing countries. Mr. Lodge emphasised that the vast resources on the African continent and their value in the global supply chain have the potential to change the status quo of trade if value creation is undertaken with raw materials. This point resonated with me, as it echoed arguments made by renowned economist Raúl Prebisch regarding industrialisation in developing nations. Mr. Lodge’s articulation of the potential within the grouping reminded me of the significant achievements possible through such an alliance. Overall, the MITP 2024 tour proved to be an invaluable experience. It brought to life the concepts we had studied throughout the programme through interactions with skilled, informed, and relatable trade professionals. Being on-site at pivotal trade organisations made the experience tangibly real and deeply engaging. This tour serves as the penultimate event in Cohort 21’s MITP programme, effectively bringing our academic journey to a close. However, the insights and experiences gained during this tour will undoubtedly contribute significantly to our professional careers in trade.

Vanessa Mason is a MSc Student of International Trade Policy University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.